A week of Home Ed – Primary

Last year, I blogged about a week of home ed for each of my boys. I thought that it would be fun to do the same this year, to see how things have changed. I’m going to start with my Youngest. This is what he was doing last year: Home Ed Reception

A year is a long time for little ones. Youngest has come a long way since last year! He’s  reading much more fluently, writing pretty well, and he’s discovered a new love of drawing. He still enjoys Lego a lot.

We have also moved house since last year, so all our home ed groups have changed! Youngest has found the house move unsettling, and is taking a little while to relax with our new groups.

Monday

This is a quiet day for us, we don’t have any groups, so it makes a relaxing start to the week.

Youngest began the day by continuing his duplo game from yesterday. We left his duplo out overnight.

Youngest was very engaged with this game (he’s built our family as superheroes) and needed quite a few reminders to eat his breakfast and get dressed.

Just before ten, Youngest took a break from duplo to read to me. He’s been enjoying the Project X Alien Adventures series by Oxford Reading Tree. We’re on the short chapter books now, so he generally takes a week to read each book, at one chapter a day. This week it’s ‘Operation Holotanium’.

After reading, Youngest returned to duplo, and played until I asked him to come and do his workbooks.

Youngest does a couple of pages of workbooks four days a week. Today he did a bit of handwriting from his Wild About workbook:

Youngest enjoys these books because they have animal facts on each page. We read about polar bears sneaking up on seals and acted it out in the kitchen.

Then Youngest did his maths. This is a CGP workbook. 

I joined Youngest for a bit of duplo play before snack time. He had an orange for his snack.

Youngest played duplo again until lunch time. He had ‘cold cheese on warm toast’.

Then we had our History lesson. We’ve been using Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer for a few weeks now. I bought this because I thought that it would be good for Youngest to start doing some history. But, in the event, the older two have been joining in as well. It’s an interesting book, with an American emphasis that makes a very nice contrast to the more British-centric books that the older two use.

I read the chapter and Eldest and Youngest took turns answering some questions.

I use the Story of the World Activity Book as well, which has photocopiable colouring sheets and maps in the back, and a nice selection of three of four hands-on activities to do after reading each chapter.

We looked at the map and I showed Youngest where the Great Pyramid is. He made an attempt to draw it, but them drew ‘Ancient Egyptian gods fighting’ over the top.

For our history activity this week I choose to make scented oils. 

I picked a short activity this week because we have follow-up from our last activity. Last week we made clay tablets and paper scrolls and began an experiment to see how they stood up to the weather. My tablet and scroll have been sat on our patio for the last week (the scroll was weighted down with a rock, to prevent it blowing away).
This week we looked at the tablet, which survived well, and the scroll, which looked as though it had been nibbled by sonething! 

We put them both in water,to simulate a flood.

Then we baked them in the oven on a low heat, to simulate the heat of a desert. 

Admittedly, it would have been an even more effective experiment if I hadn’t used permanent marker for the scroll. 

Eldest and Youngest ran off to play in the garden. Recently they’ve been playing a game where they pretend to solve mysteries with the aid of Eldest’s rabbit. From what I can tell, it involves a lot of running up and down interspersed with whispering coded messages to one another. They needed a bit of help listening to each other and agreeing on how to play today, but, after I calmed them down and asked a few questions, they managed to resume playing.

When Eldest decided to read, Youngest returned to his epic duplo game. He was briefly upset when his plant monster collapsed twice, but a hug cheered him up and we talked about how bigger feet might make the next monster more stable.

Youngest played duplo for quite a while. Middly joined him for a bit, and the game became very noisy indeed!

Youngest asked me for some string, to build a model hammer. I reminded him that he needed to put away one game before starting another, and we tidied up the duplo together. I gave Youngest string and elastic bands. Then we had a snack (he had chocolate milk, crackers and cherry tomatoes) while he decided how to make his hammer.

Here’s what he came up with:

He ran outside to join his brothers and show them his ‘hammer’. They played in the garden for a while. When they returned to the house, Youngest was a bit tired and emotional, so I put on ‘Hulk’. All the boys settled to watch that before tea.

After tea, my husband put Youngest to bed. They read ‘Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland‘ together. Youngest asked me to buy this after seeing it advertised in the back of one of his other books. It arrived at the weekend.

Tuesday

First thing, Youngest gathered pillows from our beds, made himself a nest and read to himself. He read his Lego movie book and some old ladybird books.  He stopped to eat breakfast.

Then he read the next chapter of ‘Operation Holotanium’ to me. When he finished that, he asked me to get the duplo out again. This morning he’s built Pokémon out of duplo.

There was a short duplo pause, when Youngest asked me to help him go online and order a Guardians of the Galaxy mask with his pocket money. We placed the order, then he picked up his duplo game again.

We’ve been going to a fortnightly roller-skating meet-up with local home ed families. Youngest was a bit unsure the first few times, but he’s warming to the idea. This was his fourth go. He skates for about half an hour, then spent the rest of the time drawing pictures of super hero costume designs. Youngest had a cake and squash for his snack and spent some time playing with another little boy.

After the skating session we joined some friends at a nearby park for a picnic lunch. Youngest played with the other children and his brothers, they ran around a lot.

Back home, he returned to his duplo game. After a while, he had a snack, and did a couple of workbook pages. The writing book is from CGP; the maths book is from Schofield and Sims.

Then we had to take Middly to a club. Youngest and I popped into the shop and he chose a baking kit to do. Back home, Eldest helped him bake cupcakes using the kit.

I began reading ‘The Twits’ to Youngest as a bedtime story.

Wednesday

Youngest read Mr Men books when he woke up. Then the rabbit escaped from his run, so Youngest scampered around the garden in his pyjamas helping me catch the rabbit.

After he’d eaten breakfast and got dressed, Youngest read the rest of ‘The Twits’ to himself.

He read the next two chapters of ‘Operation Holotanium’ to me, then sat down to read Robert Winston’s Home Lab to himself. He asked if we could do one of the experiments from the book, it involves freezing water in balloons, so I found a couple of balloons and helped Youngest fill them with water, I had to tie the necks for him. Then he put them in the freezer.

We’ve started playing tennis with other home ed families, we meet at a local court once a fortnight. Eldest is a keen player, so Youngest has been dragged along, really. This is only our second time attending, and on the first go, Youngest didn’t play any tennis at all. This time he joined in for about three quarters of an hour (the session’s one hour long), which was great. He played various ball games with about a dozen children of primary age. He was very pleased to see some friends from skating were there too.

On the way home, he read in the car. When we got back, Youngest did a couple of pages of workbooks. He was delighted to write ‘poo’ and ‘poop’ when the book asked for two words with ‘oo’ in them! Both of these are CGP books.

Then he played with duplo again. 

Youngest had another look at the Home Lab book and asked to make slime. 

He needed a bit of help with measuring. He read the explanation from the book and we talked about viscosity. Then he played with the slime, and made gloop men.

We put the slime away for another day, then I helped Youngest clean himself up. Usually, I like the boys to help clean up after themselves, but I thought that might be more trouble than it was worth today. There was sticky gloop everywhere!

So I let Youngest get back to reading the Home Lab book.

Youngest played tennis in the garden with Middly until tea. My husband read ‘The Twits’ for his bedtime story.

Thursday

A slightly later start to the day today. Youngest put some stickers in the Usbourne Ancient Egypt sticker book. Them he read another couple of chapters of ‘Operation Holotanium’ to me.

He performed some magic tricks for me and Eldest, making a shiny medal ‘appear’ inside books. Then he dressed up in a spiderman costume and a cape to perform more magic tricks with ribbons, cards and a toy snake.

After a snack, Youngest did a bit of his science workbook and made a ‘clapping cat’ from his Kumon craft book. Youngest’s folding isn’t always very precise, so he made more of a ‘face-hitting cat’, which he found hilarious!

The older boys found a frog at the end of the garden and fetched Youngest to go and see it.

Then he remembered the balloons we froze yesterday, so we finished that experiment together. 

His brothers came over to have a look, which gave Youngest a great opportunity to explain about salt melting ice.

Eldest and Youngest played with Lego until lunch time. Then, after lunch, we went to the library to change our books. We met another home ed family there, and Youngest showed them some books he’d enjoyed.

Back home, Youngest had a milkshake, then continued to play with Lego for a while. 

Then his Starlord mask arrived, so he ran out into the garden with it to play with Middly.

He came back to watch me refill the dishwasher with salt. Then played with Lego until tea time.

Middly has been going to a weekly after-school club at a nearby church. This is his third visit. Youngest went with him the first week, but wasn’t sure he liked it. He didn’t go last week or this week. It’s a bit later in the evening than the club he used to attend at our old house, so I think he might just be too tired. We’ll have another go when he’s a bit older.

Friday

Youngest read library books first thing, and continued after breakfast.

We don’t have any scheduled work books on a Friday, it’s used to catch up on any work that didn’t get completed the rest of the week. I’m really pleased with this recent change to our system. Having a weekly catch-up day takes away a lot of the stress of unfinished work, and results in more work getting completed. This week, Youngest has completed all the planned workbooks.

He helped me put on a load of laundry, then played with Lego.

We have a weekly home ed sports group. This is our third time going. The first time, Youngest didn’t join in at all. The second time, he joined in, but I had to stay by his side for the whole session. This time, he joined in, with some encouragement, for almost the whole session without me. Hurrah!

After the sports session, we played in a playground with some friends and Youngest had a snack.

Back home, Youngest played with Lego again. We had a late lunch.

Youngest has been really enjoying our history sessions and asked if we could have another one today. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared to do history today, so I suggested we do some Geography instead. I got out a puzzle, a model and the Treasure Hunt Map Game.  When the older boys saw, they decided to join in. We talked about the oceans and the continents and the boys took it in turns to identify a continent or ocean from my clues. First, they put a puzzle piece in for every continent they identified. Once the puzzle was finished, they put flags on the big map when they identified a continent or ocean.

Youngest helped tidy up the geography toys. Then he played with Lego again.

I offered to read to Youngest, he chose A Place for Zero, and Middly decided to listen too. So we snuggled up on the sofa and read together. Then Youngest read me the last chapters of ‘Operation Holotanium’. 

After another quick snack, all the boys decanted the scented oils they made on Monday. Then Youngest returned to his Lego, he built a robo-goat and a terrifying fairground ride for Lego men.

Youngest helped make tea tonight. He got some herbs from the garden to season our chips.

Reflections

I’m not always certain what Youngest reads now that he can reach books (and even put them away) for himself. But, these are the books that I’ve noticed him reading this week:

We have plenty of books at home, most of which I’ve selected. I want the boys to choose books for themselves as well, so I think our weekly library trips are an important opportunity to choose from a different range. At the moment, Youngest likes to take Lego books out.

Looking back over the week, it strikes me that Youngest probably considers school work and trips as an interruption of his important games. He has always played independently for a lot of the day by necessity. I’m so busy with the older ones, that Youngest occupying himself has been vital. I think he gets a lot out of his free-play time, which is lovely to see.

Making this record of exactly what he’s up to has definitely made me pay a bit more attention to Youngest than usual. I’m definitely going to do it again.

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Letter box

Once a year, I write a letter to my boys’ birth family.

Calling them ‘my boys’ birth family’ sounds oddly distant, as though they had no connection to me at all. I feel like there ought to be a term for our relationship. They’re not just my boys’ other parents, they’re surely something to me. We’re not co-parents, as we haven’t exactly parented together. But, they’re hardly predecessors, either, they are still an important part of our family. I do wonder​ whether if there was a word for what they are to me, it would be easier. If I could name our relationship, maybe I could understand it better.

We talk sometimes about whether, and when, the boys would like to meet them again (provided, of course, that their birth family would like this too!). I support the boys in making such a decision for themselves. But, I think it will be strange, and sad, if I never see them face-to-face again. I feel a strong bond with those other parents of my sons. I don’t know if they would feel the same about me, of course!

The letters – in our set-up – are from me and my husband, not the children. So, there’s no concern about whether or not to call them ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. We just use first names.

I have written every year since the boys came home, which means that I have just sent our eighth letter.

I have a pattern for the letters, which I thought might be of interest.

  • Address the letters to birth family by first name​s.
  • First, assure them that the boys are well. If I were receiving these letters, that would be my greatest concern. So I like to put it up top.
  • Mention that the boys think about their birth family and hope they’re doing ok.
  • Cover the boys getting older. One of the purposes of these letters is to prepare birth family for a potential reunion. I try to help them imagine the little ones they knew growing into young adults by mentioning signs of growing up. In the event of a reunion, I don’t want the birth family to half-expect to see those tiny little boys they said goodbye to.
  • Mention some of the fun things that we do together. I want them to know that we are doing our very best to give the boys a wonderful childhood with holidays, trips and fun activities.
  • Give some indication that life isn’t perfect. Again, I have one eye on the future here, I don’t want any disappointment or unpleasant surprises, so I try to mention the boys’ difficulties as well as their joys. I temper this with an assurance that we are all doing our best to support the boys. But, this is real life, not an idyllic utopia, so I want to share some struggles as well as successes.
  • Drop in a few of the boys’ interests that they could share. I tell them about films, TV shows or books that the boys particularly like. If they wanted, the birth family could see the same films, read the same books, and have a kind of connection with the boys.
  • Finish with an assurance that we love the boys and remain utterly commited to their happiness.

When I’ve written the letters, I ask the boys to read them and give their opinion. Sometimes, the boys are interested; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they ask me to take something out; sometimes they ask me to add something. As yet, the boys haven’t wanted to write their own messages.

One day, I might find out what the birth family think of my letters and whether they find them helpful. In the meantime, I cling to my pattern, hoping that the ritual of it will assure success.

Playing Consequences

Consequences is a parlour game. Everyone takes a sheet of paper and writes a name, then folds the paper to hide what they’ve written, and passes it to the person on their left. On this new sheet, everyone writes a second name, conceals it and passes it on. This goes on, until each piece of paper tells a story:

X met Y. X said this. Y said that. They did this. Then that happened. And the consequence was . . .

It’s a good game. It usually gets a few giggles, mainly drawn from the absurd incongruity of the story parts. The consequence often receives the biggest laugh. How funny these disconnected consequences are.

‘Consequences’ are talked about pretty liberally in parenting. They’re a key part of the carrot-and-stick approach to getting people to do what you want. Pleasant consequences can be provided to encourage people to repeat behaviours that you like. Unpleasant consequences aim to discourage behaviours that you dislike.

When I was a child, my mum sometimes talked about leaving someone to stew in their own juice. The idea being that if someone had caused their own problems, they should be left to deal with those problems alone. Natural consequences sound like that to me.

I don’t think that there’s anything particularly natural about them. The consequence only kicks in if I refuse to help.

Honestly, I think a large part of my job as a parent is to protect my children from natural consequences. Nature is cruel. I don’t want my boys suffering from exposure.

If the boys don’t brush their teeth, for example, the natural consequences include mouth ulcers, bad breath, and rotten teeth. Standing back and watching the boys suffer that seems pretty harsh to me.

If Eldest doesn’t feed his rabbit, the natural consequence would be a dead rabbit. I cannot imagine any parent who would consider that acceptable.

So, we don’t use natural consequences. But, we often use what I think of as Mitigating Consequences.

If the boys refuse to brush their teeth, I refuse to give them sweets. I can’t force them to brush, but I can try to limit the amount of sugar that sticks there. I would call that a Mitigating Consequence. It’s basically the opposite of a natural consequence. I deliberately stand between the boys and the natural consequence.

If I set consequences, I am usually trying to undo whatever damage I think has already been done. I am quick to offer a dustpan and brush when bowls of cereal get thrown across the room. I pull over the car if anyone undoes their seatbelt and refuse to drive again until they are safely buckled in.

If the boys don’t do school work, I don’t stand back and wait for them to fail exams. I keep pestering until the work is done.

Sometimes, I am just trying to prevent the damage happening again. When one of the boys climbed out of his bedroom window, the consequence was that we locked his windows and took away the keys. I figured we could at least prevent a repeat performance of that stunt. According to the same logic, I have disposed of toys that were too effective as weapons, such as the lovely puppet theatre which was held together by long metal posts.

Other times, I don’t set any consequences for the boys at all. If Eldest doesn’t feed his rabbit, I feed his rabbit for him. The rabbit needs to be fed. I suppose that I could take away the rabbit, that would prevent this issue coming up again, bit we’d lose all the benefits of having a rabbit. So, sometimes, I just shrug it off and move on. I don’t think that everything has to be a teaching moment and I don’t want everything to turn into a fight.

I like to think that our model of discipline is of solving problems together.

If Eldest doesn’t feed his rabbit, the problem is a hungry rabbit. Obviously the solution is to feed the rabbit.

If Middly has a tantrum and breaks a favourite toy, the natural consequence would be for him to no longer have that toy. But, he knows that we can afford to replace his toys. He isn’t stupid.

If we refuse to replace the toy, what are we actually teaching Middly? Surely that would show him that we don’t care enough to help.

If Middly has a tantrum and breaks a favourite toy, the problem is that his toy is broken. The solution is to try and fix it. If that doesn’t work, then, the solution is to replace it. Often I will suggest that we put it on his Amazon wishlist, in the hopes that he’ll get a new one for his birthday, Christmas, Easter, or whatever celebration is upcoming. We never seem to be very far from a celebration! Sometimes, he might be able to buy a new one using pocket money. But, if we’re miles from his birthday and he can’t afford it, I am quite prepared to buy another one.

I want my children to come to me when things go wrong and I want them to trust me to do my best to fix the problem.

I want the boys to have a solution-focused view of life. Everyone does the wrong thing from time to time. When they do, they need help to make it right.

When I mess up and yell at the children. I apologise and give them a hug. That can only work if they help me by listening to my apology and accepting my attempt at reconciliation. So it seems reasonable that when they mess up, I am there to help them make it right.

When they were younger, if they hurt someone, I apologised on their behalf. I held their hand and showed them how to make up with people they hurt.

That didn’t seem to teach them that hitting was ok. They had no trouble understanding that hurting others is wrong. The trouble was working out how to fix it. Now – generally – they apologise without prompting.

I used to make chocolate milk when one of the boys hurt the other (not every single time, there is such a thing as too much chocolate milk). First, I made it and gave them each a cup. Then, as they got older and more capable of participating, I made it and asked them to give their brother the chocolate milk to make up. Now they can make it themselves and attempt to repair their relationship on their own. Sometimes the boys make me a cup of tea when they’ve been unkind. I like to think that we’ve modelled reparations for the boys so they can begin to use them for themselves.

In our family, the problem has never been knowing what was right or wrong. Nobody ever really thought it was right to hurt people or break things. So, I don’t think that I need to spend much time telling them this.

The problem has been coping with getting it wrong, making the move from someone who caused problems to someone who solves them. I like to ask ‘what are we going to do about this?’ Usually, the boys don’t know, and I will offer some suggestions. But, as time passes, as we keep practicing, we’re slowly getting there.

And the consequence is we’re learning how to clean up after ourselves.

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfectly calm. The boys aren’t perfectly behaved. We certainly aren’t always in tune with each other. But, focusing on solutions feels kind in a way that natural consequences just don’t.

There are so many problems that I can’t fix for my children. I can’t make injuries vanish. I can’t make other children be their friends. I can’t take away awful memories.  Sometimes my boys (just like me) will make mistakes that I can’t fix. Sometimes they will cause hurts that I can’t take away. I am in no hurry to cause more.

Of course, all families are different. And I am wrong about lots of things! I’d be fascinated to hear how you handle consequences in your family.