Science Club – Acids

We had a fun Science Club exploring Acids and Bases. You can download the activity book here:

Changing Materials Story
We read the pancake story from Science Through Stories, but you could use any story that included changing materials. Then I asked the children to recall as many instances of materials being changed in the story as possible. We talked a bit about different ways of changing things, e.g. heating, cooling, chemical reactions. Then the children had a go at retelling the story in pictures in their activity books.

All the children rated how much they enjoyed the story – on a scale of 1-10 – then we calculated the mean of our ratings. This story scored 6.5, slightly higher than the last story at 6.

Atom Picture
Everything is made out of atoms. Atoms look a bit like tiny solar systems with a nucleus in the middle and very tiny electrons orbiting around it.
Different types of atoms have different numbers of protons inside their nucleus. Atoms of the same element always have exactly the same number of protons inside their nucleus.
A Hydrogen atom has one proton in the nucleus and one electron orbiting. This is what a Hydrogen atom looks like:

A Nitrogen atom has seven protons and seven neutrons in its nucleus and seven electrons orbiting the nucleus:

An Oxygen atom has eight protons and eight neutrons in the nucleus, and eight electrons orbiting outside. Can you draw an Oxygen atom?
(NB – There are two circles of electrons. The inner circle can only hold two electrons, the other six must go in the outer circle).

A Water Molecule
Atoms join together to form molecules. When two Hydrogen atoms join together with one Oxygen atom they make a single molecule of water. Every water molecule has two Hydrogen atoms and one Oxygen atom.
We’re going to make water molecule models out of playdough.
Make two small balls of red playdough.
Make one larger ball of white playdough.
Stick two cocktail sticks in the ball of white playdough, sticking out a bit like antennae.
Put the red balls on the other end of the cocktail sticks.

Universal Indicator Paper Colouring

Colour in the picture, using the colours from the pH scale.

I gave the children books of universal indicator paper, which have the pH scale printed inside. You can get these pretty cheaply online.

Testing the pH of substances
One of the ways we describe different substances is their pH – are they acidic, neutral, or alkali? First, predict what you think the pH will be. Then dip in universal indicator paper to find out the actual pH. Finally, mix your substance with some red cabbage water to find out what colour it goes.
We filled in tables in the activity book to record our predictions and results.

I used Bicarbonate of Soda, Citric Acid, Water, Laundry Detergent, Borax, Hydrochloric Acid and Lemon Juice; but anything you have available would be fine. It’s a good idea to include at least one base, one neutral, and one acid, though!

The children also filled in these sentences by way of a conclusion:

What colour is red cabbage when mixed with a strong base?______________
What colour is red cabbage when mixed with a strong acid?______________

What is an Acid?
An acid is any substance that increases the amount of H+ ions in water. The higher the percentage of H+ ions, the stronger the acid (and the lower the pH, because low pH’s are acidic).
These loose H+ ions break the bonds between most organic molecules – which is why strong acid destroys things.

What is an Alkali?
An alkali is a liquid which increases the number of OH- ions in water. The higher the percentage of OH- ions, the stronger the alkali (and the higher the pH, because high pH’s are alkaline). These OH- ions react with most organic molecules – which is why strong alkalis destroy things.

What is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis is using electricity to split up molecules. When we do this to water, we get OH- at the anode and H+ at the cathode. So the liquid by the anode is alkaline and that by the cathode is acidic.

We completed the Electrolysis experiment from this kit. It’s a brilliant kit that uses powdered sweet potato (a natural indicator like red cabbage) to show the pH change around the cathode during electrolysis.

Make Your Own Sherbet Sweets

We had a go at making our own version of flying saucer sweets. Here’s my recipe!

Wash your hands.
Mix one tablespoon of icing sugar with half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and half a teaspoon of citric acid.
If you want you can taste your mixture to check it is good.
Lay your sherbet onto a rectangle of rice paper.
Fold your paper over the sherbet to make an envelope. Seal the edges with water – not too much or your paper will disintegrate.
Draw a design on top using the edible pens.
Finally, a good product needs a good brand! Think of a name for your sherbet sweets and design a logo.

This was a lot of fun – though a little bit fiddly!

We finished the session with a quiz. I put the questions in the booklet. The answers were printed off and hidden all around the garden. You can download them here:

If you enjoy using the free resources I post, please consider having a look at my new business venture: the Frogotter Box – a complete primary school education kit in a box – all equipment provided and ready to use!

Science Club – Teeth

We had a lot of fun investigating teeth at science club. I put together separate workbooks to help everyone follow along, despite social distancing. You can download one here:

First we read a story about teeth. I read ‘The Three Princes’, from ‘Science Through Stories’; but any tooth-related story would work.

We drew comic strips of the story.

Then we made felt pictures out of the parts of teeth.

Types of Teeth

I handed out lazer-cut teeth models for the children to examine. But, I also put pictures of the teeth in the workbooks, so you don’t need to do that!

Look at these different animals’ teeth. What do you think the different shapes are good at?

Then I gave the children each some crisps, some cheese, some bread and an apple; to try and break up into smaller pieces.

I gave them meat mallets, pestle and mortar, cheese grater, butter knife, skewers; to use as tools.

I asked the children to: Try breaking down different types of food with various tools. Which tools are best at breaking down each food? They recorded their results in the booklets.

Investigating Toothpaste

I handed out children’s and adults’ toothpastes. Along with small bowls, pippettes and water, and universal indicator paper. The children conducted their investigations, completing the booklet as they went:

How does the toothpaste feel if you rub some between your fingers? ___________________

What does it smell like? __________________

Mix some toothpaste with a little water, can you get it to make bubbles? ___________________

What is the pH of your toothpaste? __________

Why do you think toothpaste manufacturers give toothpaste these features?

Making Your Own Tooth Powder

We talked a bit about the history of tooth cleaning. Then, we made our own tooth powders.

A tablespoon of salt will make your Tooth Powder abrasive.

You need to choose a scent for your Tooth Powder. Peppermint is popular for freshening breath. Myrrh is antibacterial. Clove is good for your gums. Smell them all and pick your favourite. Which do you prefer? _____________

A teaspoon of Bicarbonate of soda will make your toothpaste alkaline.

If you add a few grains of Citric acid, your toothpaste will froth too! Are you going to add some? ______________________

Finally, a good product needs a good brand! Think of a name for your Tooth Powder and design a logo.

I also had a quiz in the back garden. The questions were in the booklet, but the children had to run around to find the answers. You can download those here:

Books to read to the whole family

Reading together is wonderful. I don’t think that we should ever stop reading to our children, however old they are. But, it’s certainly trickier to find books to read to teens.

I love reading with the younger ones.

We don’t read together all the time. Every few months, I choose a book to share and we make time in the evenings to read together until the book is finished.

We like books with beautiful pictures and words that flow easily. We prefer chapter books to books we can read at one sitting – it’s good to talk about the book we’re reading between chapters, that’s a big part of sharing the journey together. The chapters have to be reasonably short, so my listeners don’t have time to lose interest.

Great stories that inspire interesting conversations are perfect for reading with the whole family. I am definitely drawn to stories with big ideas behind them. We prefer a young reading age, though, I don’t want the smaller ones to be confused.

Here are some of the books that we have really loved reading together as a family:

The Iliad by Gillian Cross – the stylised drawings are lovely to look at. The story is retold in simple language. Most of the scenes are there, though I was a bit sorry that Cross missed out the fantastic designs on Achilles’ shield. Cross’ adaptation of The Odyssey, again with Neil Packer’s striking illustrations.

Jotham’s Journeythis is one of a series of books, written to be enjoyed over the course of Advent, telling the story of the Nativity from the perspective of children. It’s become a much loved annual tradition. We’ve read several now. Ishtar’s Oddessy stood out for its inclusion of foods to eat while we read, adding a whole new dimension. There’s a follow up to the series set at Easter, which we also enjoyed. I imagine these books might appeal less to non-Christian families, though the stories are very exciting for any child, regardless of beliefs. Though the stories obviously mention the Bible stories on which they’re based, there’s a lot of extra excitement in there.

Life of the Buddha – this is part of a series too. We’ve also enjoyed Muhammad – Life of the Prophet from this series. The books are small, so less easy to share the pictures than the others I’ve mentioned. But, those pictures are lovingly made colour sketches. It’s written to be read aloud. We had very limited knowledge of Buddhism or Islam before reading these books, so we learnt a lot! Recounting stories of people was the ideal way to engage them in learning more about other faiths.

Our favourite games for multiple ages

I have four children, ranging from 16 to 1, it’s not always easy to find games that we can all play together. These are our current favourites.

Often, when we play games altogether, we ignore the scoring system altogether. These games are all fun without keeping score.

Rule following is inversely proportional to age – at least, that’s how it goes in our house. So, toddlers can break all the rules, small children are permitted to break quite a few rules, only adults really follow the rules! Playing together doesn’t have to mean that everyone is taking a turn in the game. Sometimes it means that the older ones play a game while the little ones enjoy fiddling with some of the pieces. We aim for a fun, shared experience, and all these games help to create that.

Beasts of Balance – the game is played with an app. That immediately appeals to many of my children. It also includes wonderfully tactile animal blocks. Everyone loves to hold, stack and move the blocks. Baby Girl enjoys making noises for the animals. There are several games, the app guides the player through them. But, it’s all about stacking the blocks on the base plate in a particular order. The app makes noises and shows cartoons – we are particularly delighted with the cartoons of animals combining to make exciting hybrids. Only one person can place a block at a time, so it’s not the best game for children who struggle with turn taking.

Dixit is another unusual game. Players are dealt cards with pictures on. During their round, each player comes up with a story or phrase to describe one of their cards. All the other players choose a card from their own hands which fits the story. Then the first player reveals all the cards at once and the other players try to guess which was the original card. The cards are beautiful. The pictures are unusual and interesting, inspiring many different flights of fancy. The game also includes wooden rabbit counters on a flower board. Anyone who can talk can play, and even pre-talkers enjoy looking at the cards and playing with the wooden rabbits. Any number of people can play (though there are only six sets of voting counters, so you would need to team up, or create extra counters for bigger numbers of players). Everyone plays in every round, so this is the perfect game for people who hate waiting for their turn!

Five Second Rule is only playable for people who can talk. It does include a fantastic timer with mini ball-bearings inside, which appeals to toddlers. We have a few handicaps to make the game playable by all ages – younger children get twice as much time (we just turn the timer over again) and sometimes have their cards made easier – ‘names beginning with A’, might become ‘words starting with A’. Any number of people can play, though more people does mean a longer wait until your turn. The turns are very short, though, so it’s never a very long wait!

Finally, Q-bitz. I love this one douch, we bought Q-bitz Extreme as well. It’s a fun game, you choose a card and try to replicate the pattern using a collection of cubes. It’s easy to give younger players a headstart, I usually count to thirty before starting, so little ones get an extra half minute to begin forming their pattern. Toddlers love to arrange the cubes too – not necessarily in the same pattern as everyone else – so we can all join in. There are only four sets of cubes, however, so a maximum of four people can play, and it isn’t a game that lends itself to teams – you tend to get in one another’s way.

Do you have any games that work well for your whole family?

The New Three R’s: Relate, Relax, Repeat

I spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about, and practising education. At the moment, I have focused my approach into three words: Relate, Relax, Repeat. No matter what or who I’m teaching, this is the core of how I try to teach it. It’s the same approach for academic skills as social skills.

Relate

Before you can teach, you need to build a relationship. Humans need connection. They need to feel understood before they can start to understand new material.

In essence, most learning is transformative. It changes who you are. It’s not only learning to control your temper or express your opinions that changes your character. Learning to read, learning to play a piano: these things change your nature. Not always in a huge way. But, every new skill mastered or fact learnt changes the way you think.

So learning makes us vulnerable. We can’t risk it unless we are safely in a relationship with our teacher.

Teaching at a distance, ignoring the students in front of us, insisting that teachers are specialists in their subject but not in their pupils – that attitude denies the importance of relationship in education.

I need to know if my children are having a bad day, or if they’re eager to get school work out if the way because they’ve got a fun afternoon planned. I need to be aware of which topics excite them and which ones are a bit tougher to get into.

My children know when I’m having a bad day. They know that I prefer simultaneous equations to vectors. They know some of my favourite books and historical figures. I think this adds another layer of interest to their learning. My biases affect the way I talk about our learning. I’m not a blank slate any more than the children are. Our relationship is at the heart of everything, for better or for worse. As the parent, it’s my job to try and make sure it’s for the better!

Relax

People on high alert are not learning. Anyone who feels hungry, tired, ill, or afraid, isn’t learning.

Most of us know this instinctively. It’s common sense not to have a serious conversation with an adult who’s upset. Yet, often we forget it with children – expecting them to focus on some instruction in the midst of stress.

Telling children to focus on maths when they need the toilet is not only unkind, it’s also a complete waste of time. Stressed minds are not open to being changed. They cannot learn.

Learning happens in a low stress environment, once all the basic needs have been met.

Sometimes learning itself causes stress. When that happens, a good teacher – one with a relationship with the student – will notice the stress and prioritise relaxation before attempting to convey any new information.

Sensory breaks, movement breaks, calm classrooms, can all play a part in relaxing students. But, relaxation is built on a foundation of relationship. What relaxes me, may not do the same for you! I love reading Anthony Trollope novels, for example. A few minutes immersed in Barcestshire has my heart rate down and my breathing steady. But, I know plenty of people who would find the same books infuriating – I certainly wouldn’t hand one to any of my children when they’re stressed. There will never be a one stop relaxation kit. Relaxation kits have to be tailored to people. First relate, then relax.

Repeat

Learning is not programming. We don’t slot new data into a person, expecting them to store it permanently.

Learning is transformation and it happens in a spiral shape, not a line. We cover the same ground over and over, adding more detail and more certainty each time.

If you want to learn to drive, you practice driving over and over, until your body is transformed. Your muscles have new movement sequences. Your brain has new defaults. Only practice can transform a non-driver into a driver. There is no reason to assume that learning to read is all that different. We practice until it is a part of us.

This means that sometimes learning looks dull from the outside. If you’re an accomplished driver then practising gear changes probably looks rather dull. But, it’s not dull for the learner who is still training themselves to perform those gear changes. Nor is it dull for children to practice skills until they have grasped them.

Children don’t need ‘Sensational Starters’ or class parties to make learning exciting for them. In fact, the ‘fun’ extras intended to engage students often get in the way of them learning the required skills. Repetition is how we learn. And, if students are in relationship with their teacher and relaxed, they don’t need bells and whistles to help them engage with the material.

When I started home education, I wasted a lot of energy making things too exciting. The result being that the skills we were meant to be practicing kept getting drowned out by the surrounding fuss. Nobody learnt anything and we all found it frustrating.

When I began to simplify, the children had more space to practice. They repeated activities and they made far more progress. The excitement came from learning. It was the end result, not the opening salvo.

Relate, Relax, Repeat

None of this is new to many people, even if it took me a lot of trial and error to establish it. It sounds obvious because it is. It sounds well known because it is all knowledge that we have had for years. It is proven by research and by practice, however. Not new, not flashy, but true

My family have been happier since I stopped looking for flashy tricks that sound cutting edge and turned to tried and tested ideas. Relate, Relax, Repeat.

We have used these principles to create our own National Curriculum in a Box, have a look at frogotter.co.uk if you’d like to know more.

Snacks are a key part of keeping the Frogotter household relaxed!

Why I home educate using the National Curriculum

I’ve been home educating for more than seven years now, and have tried a lot of different materials and techniques. One thing that I have been consistent with, however, is referring to the National Curriculum. Though it is by no means the sum total of what we learn together, the National Curriculum is the foundation of what we study, and I like to ensure I cover it fully. I thought it might be interesting to talk about why.

Available Materials

Home education remains less common in the UK than education at school. So, most educational suppliers aim at schools or parents and tutors who are suplementing a school education. That means workbooks, websites, even trails at busy attractions, are often linked to the National Curriculum. By teaching the National Curriculum, I have access to the highest number of materials related to the subjects I’m teaching.

Of course, home education is popular worldwide, and international resources aren’t usually linked to the National Curriculum. Sometimes, I use international resources, particularly from the USA – which has a huge home education market and a massive choice of materials. I think that this gives my children a broader education.

Expert Consultation

I think that the National Curriculum can get a bad reputation in the UK. Every time it’s changed there are vociferous debates in the media about these changes and whether or not they will benefit the students.

It’s an incredible opportunity. There is no home education curriculum so closely scrutinized. No plans that I can up with on my own would be as fully assessed as the National Curriculum.

The National Curriculum is produced and adjusted by teams of people, many of whom have a wealth of experience in education. It is a phenomenal piece of work, covering everything from learning to read to Latin conjugations, from counting to calculus. Everything carefully laid out step by step to ensure that there are no gaps. And the whole thing is available free online.

Keep In Step With School

It’s always been possible that one or more of my children would return to in-school education. In fact, Eldest did last year. By covering the National Curriculum, we’ve ensured that he could walk into his classes confident that he knew all the same background as the rest of the class.

Even if none of my children ever returned to school, they may wish to take GCSEs and / or A-levels. The National Curriculum is designed to led up to these studies, giving a suitable foundation for them.

I Love Data

I am very keen on data. I like tables and numbers. The National Curriculum gives me a great big list of things to teach, which I can tick off.

I worry a lot about ensuring that I am giving all my children a suitable education. The National Curriculum provides lists of things that children should know at various ages. I can go through the lists and check exactly how my children are doing and what I could work on next. I find that immensely reassuring.

Beyond

I think it would be fair to say that I aim to educate my children beyond the National Curriculum. For example, we use an American history curriculum as well as the National Curriculum, because I think that the National Curriculum is far too Anglo-centric and I want my children to have a wider perspective on History. I also add in a lot of extra hands-on experiments, because I think the National Curriculum is a bit sparse in practical science skills. Where the National Curriculum seems a bit limited, I add more.

I am a huge fan of the National Curriculum, though. I think it’s a wonderful resource, which is why we’ve used it as the base for our new Educational product – the National Curriculum in a box. Have a look at frogotter.co.uk if you’d like to see it.

My experience of EMDR

I have mentioned on this blog that I had a traumatic birth. I thought that I might share a bit about the help that I got.

When I was offered a course of EMDR therapy I was initially uncertain. Looking at other people’s experiences helped me decide to go ahead, and I am hopeful that sharing my personal experience will – in turn – help someone else to decide if EMDR is worth trying for them. (Obviously, it helping me doesn’t mean it will help everyone, but another perspective on what it can be like, might be useful while considering what to do.)

Firstly, it certainly helped that I felt comfortable with my therapist. She took a few sessions getting to know me and talking about my life in general: the stresses and supports. That was really important to make me feel comfortable. And, I think it helped her to determine a course for our sessions.

We began the EMDR proper by establishing a Safe Place. I thought of somewhere that I knew well and felt comfortable. In fact, I chose a church that I used to spend a great deal of time in. My therapist and I sat close, but not uncomfortably so, and she moved her hand left and right and asked me to follow it with my eyes. She asked me questions about my Safe Place, focusing on making use of all my senses. We also talked about the symbolism of it – the sturdy walls, the peace and quiet, the sense of belonging that church means for me. I was concerned about what I was supposed to say, but my therapist was reassuring and I felt like I was doing ok. We gave the place a keyword that could help me recall the feelings of security that I got from it.

Once the safe place was established we began looking at the trauma I wanted to confront. My therapist always warned me about what we would be doing in a session and we never moved faster than I was comfortable with.

We began by choosing a statement of belief about myself that the trauma seemed to prove. I felt like I was powerless and a failure. My therapist also asked me to choose a belief that I would prefer to have about the event, and I said that I would prefer to believe that I was strong.

Then she asked me to think of a moment that encapsulated my belief in myself as powerless and a failure. I chose a moment and she again asked me to follow her hand with my eyes, while I tried to recall details of that moment.

At first, this was a very unpleasant sensation. It didn’t feel as though we did it for very long before we returned to focussing on my Safe Place again. Each of the sessions (once we’d established it) ended in my Safe Place. My therapist used my keyword and phrases that I had used in describing it to help me focus my mind there.

As a Christian, my faith is important to me and an integral part of how I process all experiences. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to talk about my feelings in so much detail without mentioning it. I felt that my therapist understood and respected that part of my life though – as I would expect – she didn’t share her own beliefs.

During later sessions, we continued to focus on everything that I remembered. My therapist reassured me that the important thing for the process was my impression of the events, and it didn’t matter if I was unsure about details, or if some of the things that I felt could have been misunderstandings. That helped because I felt that I wasn’t always a reliable witness. It was a difficult time and I might be confused about exact details.

One of the things that I found most freeing was the question, “what do you need to happen?” Sometimes, my therapist asked me what I would have liked to have happened, and we imagined events turning out that way. It was a rush of regaining control and – though I know none of my alternate versions really happened – having them in my mind helped me regain control of my imagination and stopped my intrusive thoughts about the trauma.

We occasionally took time to rank on a scale of 1-10 how uncomfortable I was with my target memory. It was amazing to feel my comfort increase. The intrusive thoughts and nightmares reduced. My general mood improved and I felt more energetic and optimistic. I had developed a shaking arm twitch when upset, and – over time – that stopped.

My therapist allowed me to revisit the experience from different angles. Sometimes I talked about many hours of experiences, almost making a timeline of everything that happened; other days I focused on just one image. I talked about exactly what I remembered seeing, hearing and feeling; but also about what I remembered thinking. She guided me with questions and always brought it back to my Safe Place.

In the end, our final session was over the phone at the beginning of lockdown. I was relieved and delighted to be able to describe myself as strong. It was a difficult birth, but I know that I did my best to keep my baby safe. I am glad that I had these sessions. I was really struggling to recover by myself, and the EMDR was immensely helpful for me.

I am not at all sure how typical my sessions were. And I think that is very much to my therapist’s credit. I am always very eager to do the right thing. I wanted to say the right things and make sure that I was being a good patient. My therapist was very accepting and good at assuring me that I was ‘doing it right’. This was probably one of those times when I needed to do merely the right thing for myself.

A week of home educating high school

Eldest is in school now. So I only have one high school student this year! This is what Middly was up to last year. He’s making steady progress with everything, I think.

Monday

Middly got up about nine, unstacked the dishwasher, and made his own breakfast. Mr Frogotter got him started on an English Language book.

He played with Baby Girl, holding her hand and helping her walk around the house. Baby Girl has been a big hit around here. The boys love playing with her. Middly’s really excited about her tentative steps.

When Baby Girl was tired, Middly picked up his Geography work and got that done. He practiced the keyboard for a bit, while I sorted out lunch.

After lunch we went out for badminton club. Middly played with his friends, and coach, and helped tidy up afterwards.

We stayed to chat for a bit, but then we had to get home to meet Eldest.

Middly finished off his schoolwork, had a snack and watched over Eldest’s shoulder as he played on the PC.

Middly took an interest in Youngling’s Geography lesson and had a go at sewing a leaf nest like a tailor bird. We used tweezers as a pretend beak.

Middly cooked sausages and hash browns for tea. It’s wonderful when he helps out like that. I feel great about the help and he feels great about being appreciated and respected.

Tuesday

Middly got up about nine again. He ate breakfast and practised his keyboard. He refilled the bird feeders. He started school work and did some Grammar and some Maths.

We went to a Roller Skating meetup with home ed friends. Middly skated with his friends and played some games organised by the owner of the rink. I saw him twice – once when he wanted a snack and once when he came to give Baby Girl a hug.

A group of us went back to one friend’s house for lunch. The children all played together. I saw Middly playing hide and seek and carrying a smaller child in some kind of racing game.

When we got home, we ate a snack and Middly finished his school work. He practiced his keyboard again. Then he played on the PC.

Wednesday

Middly made himself breakfast and he made me a coffee. He played with Baby Girl for a bit, while I organised Youngling’s school work. Then Middly and I planned his school work together.

He started with Biology. He worked really hard on his handwriting today, which was fantastic!

He managed to get some English done before my mum arrived. She helped him with a bit. I think it’s really helpful for other adults to get involved supporting his learning. It makes me feel a lot less alone.

We went out for lunch with my mum. We popped into the library, but Middly didn’t take any books out, he said he had a big pile at home. He’s been re-reading the Philip Pullman trilogy.

After lunch, we did a bit of shopping. I wanted a shirt for Eldest. Middly found a diablo and bought it for himself using his pocket money.

We got home after Eldest. Middly finished his school work and went out for his keyboard lesson.

Thursday

Middly got up really late, about half ten. He was very excited to receive a parcel from Topsta.

He had breakfast and we went out to sports club. Middly played badminton with friends and then they all went swimming. He ate a snack in the car.

Back home, I made lunch and Middly had a go at his Physics. It was a practical involving electric circuits and he had a bit of trouble. When I pointed out that he’d got a loose connection and a backwards LED, things went a bit wrong. So I suggested he went upstairs to calm down. He played with his diablo for a bit.

Feeling better, Middly returned and got his English done. He needed a bit of help with his Maths, but we got there in the end.

When Mr Frogotter got home, he had a go at helping Middly with his Physics and it got done. It sometimes takes another person to get over the stress when things have gone a bit wrong. I’m relieved that I have people who will step in!

Friday

Middly got up and made his breakfast. I helped him to finish off yesterday’s Physics lesson. He needed help measuring the current at various points on his circuit.

Then I did Story of the World with all the children. I read the chapter, while Youngling moved toys around a big map on the floor. Youngling and Middly answered the questions and drew on paper maps. Finally, Youngling made himself a paper spear and Middly made a mini one for Baby Girl.

We were running a bit late, so Middly peeled an orange for Youngling’s snack, while I got everything else ready. Then we rushed off to Middly’s Multisports club. He played ball games with friends. Multisports has a lovely coach, who’s really great with Middly.

We chatted to friends for a bit. Then we came home. While I fed Baby Girl, Middly warmed up some soup for lunch.

After lunch, Middly refilled the bird feeders and watched the birds for a bit.

I asked Middly to watch Baby Girl so I could help Youngling to bake a cake. Middly took his eye off her and she crawled to the stairs. Luckily I caught her before she fell. But, then I told him to stop playing on the computer and just watch Baby Girl. Getting the cake in the oven only took another five minutes, so Middly played at fencing with rulers, which made Baby Girl laugh.

I took Baby Girl back and Middly played on the PC. He’s been playing a Roblox game recently, where he tries to get his character through an obstacle course.

He went upstairs to practice his diablo for a bit, until I called him down to eat cake.

Then he had a look at the book he won from Topsta. It’s a book to make into board games. Middly made a board game. We all played it with him.

Saturday

Middly began the day with a bit of keyboard practice. We went out to pick up a newspaper and took photos to renew Middly’s passport. Middly brought his phone and spent most of the time playing a skateboarding game. While we were out, we had lunch in MacDonald’s.

Back home, Middly played with his diablo. He played the Roblox game again. Then he made a baked egg custard for our pudding. We ate tea whilst watching ‘Journey 2: the Mysterious Island’.

Sunday

First thing, Middly played with his diablo. Then we went to church. There was no Sunday School for the older children this week, so Middly and Eldest listened to the sermon with me.

After the service, Middly chatted to his friends, helped stack the chairs and fetched the sign in and put it away (we meet in a village hall, so everything has to be tidied after the service).

Middly played on his phone, he’s started playing a football trading card app, until lunch. Over lunch we talked about the sermon and about what Youngling and Baby Girl did in their Sunday School class.

After lunch, Middly played on his phone again. Then, when Mr Frogotter rolled his eyes at the wasted day, Middly made malt loaf.

He went on the PC to play the Roblox game again, once his malt loaf was in the oven.

Reflections

Middly needs a lot of encouragement to do more creative things. He’s getting very conscientious about practising the keyboard, however, which is fantastic.

Some of his school work is quite challenging for him, and he can get frustrated by that. He doesn’t like needing help. I’m still struggling to work with that, and there seem to be a lot of rows about school work.

Cooking remains an interest, and he is very independent in the kitchen now, managing family meals and baking projects without support. I would like it if he had a few more independent interests.

I do worry that he spends too much time playing computer games that look pretty facile. If often feels as though he is rushing through everything else (schoolwork, cooking, reading) because he’s so eager to play these computer games. There’s an hour time limit on the PC, and I worry that Middly is a bit too keen on getting his full hour every single day.

He’s very willing to help out with bits and pieces, frequently carrying heavy bags for me, and always happy to hold the baby for a bit. I think he enjoys being useful, which is wonderful. I am very pleased with how well he’s taken to Baby Girl. He loves to play with her and is always willing to hold her for a minute so that I can get other stuff done. Five minutes is his limit, however.

On the whole, I think Middly has grown in maturity over the last year. He enjoys the sports groups with his friends. Hopefully, over the next year he’ll find some subjects that capture his imagination a bit more.

When a mum-of-boys has a baby girl.

“For girls, becoming women was inevitability; for boys, becoming men was ambition.” Kamila Shamsie in ‘Home Fire’.

Obviously, the most important thing is that the baby arrives safely. I have never believed that I had a preference for sons or daughters. But, when I found out that, after three boys, I was expecting a baby girl, I was surprised, and a little bit nervous.

I also discovered that actually, I do think that being a girl is inherently different from being a boy. In many ways, they’re the same of course, both play, learn, mess about and grow. But, from the very beginning, girls’ bodies are scrutinized in a way that boys’ bodies aren’t. Girls are targeted by different advertising and social attitudes. While my boys have been assumed to be loud, dirty and slow to talk, girls are assumed to be quiet, pretty and interested in sparkles. Having a baby girl has made me confront my own fears about childhood and my own prejudices about gender.

I picked up a book about parenting girls from the library. I spent a bit of time panicking about body dysmorphia and online grooming. Eldest had a look and said that he thinks the book is ‘deliberately exaggerating to sell more copies’. My husband reminded me that we have a few years before our newborn is a teenage girl and I can probably worry about it then.

But, I do want to try and equip this teeny girl for the world she’s going to grow inside. I suppose that the biggest difference, for me, between raising boys and raising a girl, is that I was a girl. So, when I think about my daughter’s childhood, I am reminded more strongly of my own. I want to steer her away from my past struggles and mistakes. (I want this for the boys too, of course, but somehow the risk seems greater for my daughter that she might imitate my failures.)

The boys and I talked about what the baby might need. Eldest offered to help her learn about makeup. I never wear makeup and he suspects that I won’t be very good at helping the baby with her’s. Middly said he’d learn how to plait hair. Youngest began making a list of girl superheroes for her to be.

I worried that we don’t talk much about women’s or girls’ bodies. Hubby and I sat up one night trying to decide what words we would use. We’ve always used clear language with the boys, told them that they have penises and testicles. But, what’s the equivalent for girls? ‘Vagina’ isn’t really accurate for the part you can see. ‘Labia’ sounds strangely alien. I suddenly realised that, though I think of myself as very open about sex, I have unconsciously fallen into the habit of talking about men as the norm and women as strange.

Since I’ve only had sons so far, periods have been a pretty private thing. But, if we’re going to be bringing a daughter into the house, I wanted to create a more open and relaxed environment for her. It seems weird to suddenly start talking menstruation (particularly during my pregnancy, when it’s not actually happening at all). But, our local library has set up a Period Poverty donation box. So, we decided to get into the habit of donating sanitary supplies on our way in. It’ll be an easy way to familiarise the boys with pads, tampons, and how necessary they are, which shouldn’t seem too forced. My theory is that, if we started before the baby arrived, by the time she’s approaching puberty we’ll all be used to picking up sanitary products and her big brothers won’t feel awkward.

Preparing for our first daughter has been interesting. We’ve found ourselves confronting our own gender biases in a way that we hadn’t really bothered with before.

Baby Girl is quite a relaxed baby, and she naps a lot during the day. I’ve been surprised by how many people assure me that she’s ‘easy because she’s a girl’. Admittedly, having a calm baby is much easier than having a fretful baby, but I worry about the impact these comments are going to have on the boys.

At the moment it feels like an effort to talk about our baby girl as ‘strong’ and ‘clever’. I have been slightly shocked by how frequently I’ve called her ‘pretty’ without really thinking.

Once, in the library, I picked up a book with very few words (Hug). It’s a story about a monkey looking for it’s carer. I immediately described the monkey as ‘he’, even though nothing in the text suggests a gender at all. I felt really embarrassed. Not treating male as normal is clearly a work in progress for me.

I’m sure as our new baby gets bigger, there will be more questions and puzzles to tackle. I expect that I will make loads of mistakes and have to confront my own assumptions about gender more and more frequently. But, mainly we’re delighted to have Baby in the family and looking forward to watching her grow.

Who are the experts?

I am a keen reader and I like researching things. It was inevitable that I would be drawn to reading blogs, books, twitter accounts and articles about parenting. I do read an awful lot.

The ones that I really like, I review on my blog. The others I stay quiet about, I don’t think there’s anything gained by writing negative reviews.

Sometimes, though, it feels like there’s a clamour for attention and a lot of competing claims to be The Experts.

Some of my children are adopted. Some of my children are autistic. Some have other diagnoses. All are home educated. Three are boys. One is a girl.

So, who are the experts on my children?

Adopted people? Autistic people? Home educated people? Men? Women? People who’ve brought up autistic children? People who are bringing up autistic children? Adopters? Home educators? People who’ve been on courses about trauma? Psychologists? Psychiatrists? People with PhDs in autism?

There are a lot of people out there offering me advice. And – especially when I am finding it hard to ready children and work out how best to support them – I can get sucked into reading everything they have to say.

Last night, I found myself in one of those internet rabbit holes, reading and reading about other people’s ideas and experiences and trying to apply them to my family.

Then Middly called downstairs with a question about the book he was reading. I took Baby Girl with me and sat on Middly’s bed for a while, just cuddling the baby and chatting. We didn’t talk about Middly exactly, we talked about the book, and the baby.

Rather than looking at Middly, trying to figure him out, I looked with Middly and shared his perspective for a bit.

That reminded me of one more candidate for expert: the children themselves.

Even if they can’t get their feelings into words, even if they can’t talk at all yet, when I sit with them, follow the direction of their eyes and spend a bit of time seeing what they’re looking at, I can learn a lot about them.

I am going to try and spend less time reading about my children and looking at them and more time sitting by them and looking with them. Because, at the end of the day, parenting is mainly a relationship, not a study, and I don’t want to forget that.