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.

Moving House with Adopted Children

We moved house recently. This is always a pretty big deal, but, can be extra stressful for adopted children, who may have some rather tricky emotions attached to moving.

I love to plan. I spend ages trying to set up an environment that supports the boys and helps them to stay in control of themselves. So, I made plenty of plans to help us with the big move. Some worked well. Others, not so much.

What did work:

  • Hiring a packing company meant our house was entirely packed up on the Sunday, and we moved house on the Monday. I was able to keep all our normal routines in place until the day before the move. That definitely kept things pretty calm in the run up.
  • First days boxes. I packed special boxes, very clearly labelled, with clothes, food & toiletries for the first few days, and brought them in the car. It took off the time pressure for unpacking, keeping me calmer (and we all know that’s the single biggest factor in keeping the household calm).
  • Taking used bedding for the first night. I made sure to scoop up the bedsheets on the morning of the move, then put the same ones on beds for the first night. I was hoping that familiar scents would have a subconscious reassuring effect. I don’t really know if it worked, but the first night, everyone slept well, so I am calling it a success.
  • DVDs. I anticipated that it might take a few days to get the TV hooked up, so I put DVDs in our first days box. I was glad of that the day I really wanted to put the boys in front of the TV for a bit.
  • Two days after our move, some friends made the big drive to come and see us. That was wonderfully reassuring for all of us. We may have moved, but we haven’t been forgotten.
  • My husband took a week off, after the move, to help us settle. This was really helpful! We expected a bit of regression after the move. Having both parents around all day, meant we all stayed much cooler and coped reasonably well with the return of some old (and not at all missed) behaviour patterns.
  • Signing up for the library. We loved our old library and leaving it was a wrench. A couple of days after arriving, we found our new library, and we started feeling at home.
  • Keeping routines in place. A lot has changed with the move! New house, new garden, new places to explore. Keeping as many routines as possible has been important. Breakfast and bedtime are exactly the same as they have been for years. I can feel us settling into the patterns with relief as those times come around.
  • Lowering expectations. We have expected the boys to find this hard. So, we’ve been making things easier wherever possible. Fewer demands, simplifying tasks, both have helped. Most of all, expecting the tricky moments has helped my husband and I to react with a bit of extra grace.

What went wrong:

  • Eldest’s high-sleeper bed was in an awful state. So, rather than taking a broken bed with us, we opted to get rid of it before the move and buy a new one once we reached the new house. It was a minor disaster. Eldest had terrible nightmares sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I really wish I had avoided that one.
  • Each of the boys packed a rucksack with small toys, books and a comic. I added sweets, squash and a couple of surprise books. When we arrived at the new house, we set each boy in a room with their rucksack while we unloaded the vans. Seemed like a great idea, and the boys were originally enthusiastic. The reality was a fiasco! The boys were bored, fractious and extremely resistant to this plan. After a few tricky moments, we kept the boys close to us instead and things improved.
  • We home educate, so we’re not looking for a new school. Instead, we want to find some new home ed groups to hang out with. Unfortunately, we’ve moved in the middle of the summer holiday, and a lot of the local groups aren’t running. That’s made things a little disappointing for the boys. Waiting a few weeks to try out new groups is a huge deal and they’re feeling a bit lonely.

Clearly we have a lot of settling in left to do. Doubtless I will make plenty more mistakes! Hopefully, I will also manage a few more successes.

Either way, as Eldest says: the main thing is that we’re still a family.

Electronics Course – Briefcase Alarm

Briefcase Alarm

Arrival Craft – Match the Component to the Name / Symbol, Resistor Code colour by number


Colour by Number – Google Docs

Introduction – Last week, we made circuits to turn LEDs on and off.

Show a model, to remind everyone.

Another way of thinking of electrical current is like something flowing through a hose.

Show a length of clear pipe with a knotted string in it.

We can pull the string through the pipe and it goes round and round just like an electrical charge.

But what happens if I cut the wire?

Cut through the pipe and string.

There’s no circle of string anymore and I can’t keep pulling it through.

In our first week we made Steady Hand Games.

Show a Steady Hand Game to remind the children, if there’s time, see if anyone wants a turn.

The whole of the game is really one big switch, since a switch is just a way of opening and closing a circuit.

In your Electronics Kit today you have push switches. We’re going to add them to our LED circuits.

Use giant model to show how to add push switches to circuits.

I made the giant model using card and velcro, so we could move giant components around a giant breadboard. The children found it really helpful.

Individual Task: Add a push switch to the LED circuit.

Regroup: These switches are boxed in so it can be hard to see how they work. I’d like you all to have a go with foil and card and see if you can make a push switch of your own and use it to turn your LED on and off.

Individual Task – Make a simple push switch out of card and foil.


Break for drink and snack


Regroup: Sometimes we want our circuits to be a bit cleverer. Rather than needing a person to switch them on and off by hand, we want them to respond to their surroundings.

Street lamps, for example, switch on when it’s dark and off when it’s light.

Does anyone know how they do that?

Street lamps are fitted with LDRs – light dependant resistors – which respond to the amount of light around them.

We’re going to replace the switches in our circuits with LDRs.


Individual Task: Make circuits so that LEDs come on when there is light.


Regroup: With our circuits, the LEDs came on when it was light and went off when it was dark – the opposite way round to how we would want a street light to work.

But, LDRs have a high resistance in the dark and a low resistance in the light, so we need another component to get this function.

We can use a transistor.

Has anyone heard of transistors before?

Transistors have three legs. They are able to function as a clever switch. If a small current flows across the base and emitter, the transistor allows a larger current to flow across the collector and the emitter. This means we can use the transistor as a switch that is turned on by a small current of electricity.

For example, we can use the transistor as a clever switch that will turn on the light when the LDR is in the dark.

Demonstrate on the big model, then show on the little breadboard.

That’s what we’ll be doing together next week.

Electronics Course – LEDs and Resistors

LEDs and Resistors

Arrival Craft – Horra Island Sheets from Horrible Science Book.

Introduction – Did anyone get a chance to look for switches over the past week? Did you find any?

Fantastic. We’re going to have a go at making push switches today. But, we’re going to be using LEDs in our circuits, so before we start working with those, we need to talk about resistors. Does anyone know what resistance means?

Some things are conductors of electricity and some things aren’t, as you already know.

But, it’s not a binary system. There are levels of conductivity. When things conduct electricity, but not very well, we say that they have a lot of resistance.

We’re going to be looking at resistors today.

We can use multimeters to measure how much resistance things have.

Individual Task – Test various materials for resistance, use multimeters.


Regroup: Resistors are important to regulate the flow of electricity.

They work like funnels, allowing only a certain flow through.

Use funnels to show how resistors control the flow of electricity – bigger and smaller funnels could demonstrate tolerance of resistors?

We’re going to be making some more circuits today, but we’re going to be using LEDs. Has anyone used them before?

Light Emitting Diodes don’t like having too much current going through them, so we use resistors to control the flow of electricity.


Individual Task – Make a simple circuit with an LED and a resistor in it.


Then have a go at making your own push switch with card and foil.


Break for drink and snack.


Gather Together: Hopefully everyone has managed to get one LED to light.

Did anyone manage to read the current of their circuits? Did you notice anything about the currents from different parts of the circuit?

Whichever part of the circuit you read the current from, the current was exactly the same.

It can help to think of electricity as a loop all the way around your circuit.

Did anyone notice what happened when you put the resistor after your LED instead of before it?

It worked just as well, it may seem strange at first, but it doesn’t actually matter which way round the LED and the resistor are, either way the resistor regulates the flow of electricity.

I’ve got a new challenge for you now, I would like you to have a go at connecting two LEDs in your circuit.


Individual Task: Connect two LEDs in series and then in parallel.


Finish up: When you connected the two LEDs in series, what happened?

They didn’t light up because there isn’t enough current for two LEDs.

Did anyone manage to get both LEDs to light up?

How did you do it?

You can get two LEDs to light, if you connect them in parallel rather than in series. You split the current into two separate loops.

Did anyone manage to read the current of a circuit with two LEDs in it?

The current increases when you have two LEDs.

Next week we’re going to look at sensors. These are special components that allow appliances to respond to their environment. See if you can find any around your house.

Electronics Course – Switches


Arrival Craft – Aluminium atom models 


Grid colouring sheets.

Introduction: What is electricity? Electricity is a flow of electrical charge, caused by the movement of electrons.

As you saw in your models, atoms are made up of nuclei and electrons. In metals, the electrons on the outermost shell are not very strongly attracted to their nuclei. This means that the electrons can move freely.

We’re going to make a model now to show how the ‘sea of electrons’ allows an electrical charge to flow in a metal.


Individual Task: each child should take a plate and stick half a dozen marshmallow halves to it. They can then sprinkle a handful of Millions sweets onto the plate. When they tip the plate, the Millions will flow, around the marshmallow halves from one end of the plate to the other.

ReGroup: Hopefully that gives you a bit of a picture of how electrons flow in a circuit.

We’re going to make another model altogether now.

Give the children a string long enough to pass all the way around the room, with ten or so beads strung on it.

If we pass this bead along the string, we can see how an electrical charge moves along a wire.

We can think of the electrons as beads moving along a string, If they keep moving round and round, the charge keeps flowing round the circuit and it can drive components that we put in the circuit.

What would happen if I cut the string?

If the string is cut, the beads cannot flow anymore.

In order for your circuits to work, they must be complete. Any break in the circuit will stop it working completely.

We’re going to make our very first simple circuits now. I have a small electronics kit for each of you, I’ll be adding new pieces to it as we progress through the course, but we’re going to start with just a few pieces.

Today we’re going to look at buzzers.

Does anyone know how buzzers make a noise?

Buzzers make a noise by vibrating. We’re going to be using piezo buzzers. These have a piezoceramic disc inside them which vibrates when an electric current passes through it.


Individual Task: Find the components in the kit and find out their names.

Make a circuit that switches on a buzzer when you touch two wires together.

Break for drink and snack.


ReGroup: You’ve made a simple circuit that buzzes when two wires touch. This is the basis for an electronic game.

Show a steady hand game you’ve already made.

I’ve looped one of my wires around the other. When the two wires touch, the buzzer sounds. But, if I can move one wire past the other, without letting them touch, then the buzzer won’t sound.

Would anyone like to have a go with my steady hand game?

Let a child try, briefly.

Individual Task: Make your own steady hand game.


Science Club – Nervous System

Week Six – Nervous System

Arrival Craft: Paper brain model from Scholastic model book.


Introduction: Our brains are the control systems of our bodies. They collect information from all over our bodies and send messages back.

We use special cells to carry these messages around, does anyone know what these cells are called?

They are neuron cells.

The central part of the neuron – a long thin body – is called the axon, and it is covered with myelin sheath, which is a fatty tissue that works as an electrical insulator.

Neurons have two ends: a receiving end with dendrites and a transmitting end called the axon terminal.

There is a cell body with a nucleus in the middle of the dendrites.

Individual task: Make neurons out of pipecleaners PipecleanerNeurons

Gather Together: Does anyone know how our nerves get information back to our brains for processing?

Nerves send messages using electrical signals, these travel up the spinal cord to the brain stem.

Does anyone know where our spinal cord is?

Show on the anatomy model.

Individual task: Give out polystyrene people, so the children can put brains and spinal cords onto their models. Brains

Break for drink and snack – Try to ice brains and spinal cords onto gingerbread cookies!

Regroup: Does anyone know the names of any of the parts of the brain? Look at the brain model together.  Name the parts as you take them out, then ask the children to try and put them back in place.

I haven’t got human brains for us to dissect, I have sheep brains instead. Can anyone guess which part of the brain is much smaller on a sheep? The Cerebellum which is used for learning and co-ordination. Can anyone guess which part of the brain is larger on a sheep? The olfactory bulb, which is used for processing scents.

Individual task: Dissect brains. Children can look at pictures and try to identify regions of the brain.