A Week of Home Ed – Secondary One

I have two children of Secondary School age now! I’ve decided to bog a week in the lives of each of my boys, last week I blogged about Youngest and this week it’s Middly’s turn.

This is what he was up to last year.

Since last year, Middly’s made steady progress. He’s a hard worker, though he does need to go over things a few times before they’re fixed in his mind. We’re all very proud of how well he’s doing with his school work. He’s become much better at occupying himself over the last year, and is starting to develop a few independant hobbies, which is fantastic to see!

Where we live now, a lot of our home ed groups are fortnightly. So we have a busy week followed by a quiet week. This week happens to be a quiet week. Quiet weeks aren’t always easy for Middly who loves to be around other children, but he has a couple of evening clubs a week, which helps to top up his social life!

Monday

Middly wakes early. This morning, he came to find us about six, we sent him back to bed, and he read for a while.

When I got up, he was already dressed, and came downstairs with me to have breakfast.

He made a start on his Chemistry, which was following on from some work on ionic compounds that he began last week. Unfortunately, Middly had completely forgotten everything he learnt last week. I offered to go over it with him, but he was really upset about struggling to understand his work, so in the end, I suggested he took a break instead. He went back upstairs and read for a while.

We had to leave quite early because we were meeting a group of other home educators at Dinosaur Adventure. Middly sat in the front and operated the CD player on the way there.

What Middly did at the dinosaur park:

  • Lots of climbing on the adventure playground. Middly climbed to the top of everything and waved down.

  • Dinosaur trail. Middly was pleased to find a set of bongos to play on.

  • ‘Fossil digging’ in a big sand tray. Middly spent ages carefully uncovering a model pterosaur skeleton and talking to some younger children about it.

  • Soft play. He was thrilled with the fast drop slide.

  • Another Dino trail.

  • Enjoyed looking around the farm park, especially the rats.

  • Held a hissing cockroach and a millipede. Chatted to the animal handler.

  • Showed Youngest how to use a digger toy.

  • Played tag in soft play with Eldest.

  • Showed Youngest and other little ones how to balance on the rotating beam in soft play.
  • Bought a cuddly dinosaur using his pocket money.

After all that running and climbing, Middly slept on the journey home.

When we got back, Middly ate a big bowl of popcorn and asked me to help him with his Chemistry. We read through the work together and did one of the questions together. Then he was able to complete the rest of his work.

He had no trouble with his grammar exercise, but needed a few pointers on his maths.

When he’d finished his book work, Middly went outside to play on his bike.

After a while, he came back inside and read some of his library books. He played a bit on his phone before tea.

Tuesday

Another early start for Middly! He got his English done without trouble, planning a piece of writing, which he’ll finish next week.

He found his Biology a bit tricky, though. He took a break, had breakfast in his room and read for a bit to calm down.

Middly has been joining in with Youngest’s history lesson which I wrote a bit about last week. Usually, we do History on Mondays, but we had our big trip this Monday, so we did History on Tuesday instead. I thought this might be a good way to get him back downstairs.

So we read a chapter from the Story of the World together, looked at some maps, then Middly did a wordsearch and had a go at making a seal out of clay.

Middly was feeling much better after History. He finished his maths, and was able to let me help him get his Biology done.

Then he tried to join Youngest’s game with toy dinosaurs. He was a bit over excited, and the game went wrong. So, I suggested he went outside to jump on the trampoline.

After a while, he came back, calmer, and helped me make toast and vegetable sticks for lunch.

After lunch, Middly played with his rats. He’d made them a ball of ice, by freezing water in a balloon. The rats showed very little interest, so we added a pile of paper for them to explore as well.

After we put the rats away, Middly used salt and food colouring to make ice globes, like Youngest did last week.

We met some family for a walk and play. Middly had ice cream, played Pokemon Go, did a lot of climbing, and showed off his photos of his rats.

Middly has started attending a local youth group on Tuesday evenings. I was so proud of him on the first week, when he strode in confidently, even though he didn’t know a single child there. Middly is incredibly good at making friends. I really admire that about him. This is his fourth week and he has made a few friends now. We were a bit late this week, because of the family trip, but he was eager to go anyway. He had a good time, apparently they had milkshakes and pizza this week.

Wednesday

Middly played with toy cars in his room until the rest of us were ready to get up. Then he read a library book for a while, until I suggested he made a start on his school work.

It went well this morning. He asked me a few questions, but coped well with needing help and finished it all by half ten. I don’t know why this morning went so smoothly, while other days this week have been trickier. If I knew why Middly sometimes finds asking for help hard, I’d be able to do something about it.

After he’d finished, Middly played on his phone for a bit. He had a snack and began to fight with Youngest, so I sent him out to play in the garden.

After a while, he fell off his bike and grazed his knee. Then he read library books for a while.

When Eldest finished his work, he and Middly ran down to their clubhouse at the end of the garden to play table tennis until lunchtime.

After lunch, Middly read library books for a bit. I played ‘Da Vinci Code, The Game‘ with him (which a logic game about working out numbered tiles, nothing to do with the Dan Brown books). Then we went to the library to choose new books. I recommended that he try ‘The Queen and I’ by Sue Townsend, hopefully he’ll find it funny!

When we got back, Middly made Horlicks for himself and his brothers. After snack time, he emptied the dishwasher and put everything away.

Then Middly and Eldest played with the rats and fed them grapes.

After we put the rats away, Middly went back into the garden to play on the trampoline.

I wasn’t feeling very well, so Middly tucked me up on the sofa with a blanket and helped my husband to make Red Dragon Pie (it’s a family recipe: bean chili with mashed potato on top) for tea.

We watched Lego Masters together. I try to keep TV watching to a couple of evenings a week, but it’s a very easy way to spend some fun time together as a family.

Thursday

Middly got up, ate breakfast and began his school work bright and early. He got rather frustrated when my husband tried to help with his Geography, and went upstairs to cool off.

He read in his room for a few minutes, then came back to have another go.

We had a bit of a chat about his History. He was looking at ‘Summer is a cummin in’, so I played him some Medieval style musicians singing the song. Then he finished his work.

Last night I found The Mighty Skink for Middly. He was looking at the opening passages of it in his English work yesterday, so he enjoyed reading it today. 

When I bought the Aiming for Progress in Reading set of text books, I went through them and got copies of the books that they use so that the boys could read them alongside their work. It’s been a fun addition to their English and introduced us to books that we wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

To help with his science studies, I am trying to do a practical experiment with Middly once a week. Some of the experiments require specialist equipment or chemicals. So I’m doing the practicals when I get what we need, which means that the practicals are out of step with the book work. This week’s Chemistry practical is actually from a lesson Middly did a couple of weeks ago. It’s a bit of a recap for him.

We did an experiment to test how well washing-up liquid and egg yolk fair as emulsifiers for oil and vinegar.

Then Middly made guacamole to go with our salad for lunch.

After lunch, Middly played on his bike for a while. When he came back into the house, I set up the table to try out using the seals that the boys made earlier in the week. We attempted to stamp them in paint, clay and wax. None of the impressions were as clear as we’d hoped, but Middly enjoyed using the wax anyway.

Middly helped clear up our project. Then he and Eldest went outside to play on the trampoline. When they got hungry, they came back inside for a snack. Middly played with his rats.

After putting the rats away, Middly played with Lego alongside both of his brothers.

He helped me to make sausage and mash for tea, and played on his phone while it cooked. After tea, he went out to his church youth group. Middly goes to this club every Thursday. There’s a short time of worship, a craft, and a bit of general hanging out time. Middly made friends there the first week and has been enjoying it.

Friday

Usually, Middly doesn’t have any book work to do, since we use this day for catching up unfinished work, and he is normally on top of all his work. So this morning he read library books for a while, then went outside to play on the trampoline.

We have a weekly home ed sports group. Middly loves it. There are quite a few children his age, and they get on really well. The teacher strikes a nice balance between trying hard and giving everyone a touch of the ball, and the group has a lovely atmosphere. This week Middly played Pacman, then Diamond cricket. Afterwards we went to the park and Middly had a snack and helped organise a game of Capture the Flag.
We came home for a late lunch, then Middly unstacked the dishwasher and put the dishes away. Then he read this week’s First News.

We try to get a bit of housework done on Fridays. This week we worked on the living room, Middly helped put away all the stuff that got under the sofas and ran the hoover around.

Middly joined in with Youngest’s Geography lesson. I read Clothes around the World and the boys put together a simple puzzle and added velcro pictures of children. 

Then Middly tried his hand at designing a hat for people living in Canada.

Middly played on his phone for a while. Then he helped prepare vegetables for tea.

Reflections

We don’t expect a vast amount of book work from the boys, about three pages a day. I am very aware that Middly would be doing a lot more written work if he were at school. He is on track with his learning, however, so I am not worried about the amount of work he produces. We spread the work over a lot more days, since we take shorter holidays than schools do.

These are the books that Middly is currently using. His Science and Maths are slightly ahead of his English skills at the moment.

I am a bit more concerned about Middly’s handwriting. He can write neatly if he really focuses on it, but he doesn’t usually bother. I think that the more he writes messily, the more fixed the habit will become. We’re trying to encourage him to practice his handwriting at the moment, but, if it doesn’t start to improve, I’m thinking of trying Speed Up.

A lot of the text books are the same as they were last year. These longer text books can take a while to finish.

Middly is usually very willing to help out around the house, and does a couple of chores most days. 

All the boys read a lot. These are the books that I’ve seen Middly reading this week:

Library books:

I allow a relatively free choice of library books, only stopping the boys from reading adult novels with a lot of violence or sex. Middly’s pretty happy to take my word for it that some books are too unpleasant for him. He seems to think that I reject books because of lots of fighting. The fact that he can’t imagine the graphic scenes I might want to protect him from, assures me that he still benefits from that protection.

Home books:

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Life story work and Long Division

Before we became adopters, we knew that we were going to be open and honest with our children about their past. It was obviously the right thing to do, and we believed it would help these theoretical children to grow up confident of who they were and where they belonged.

I still think that honesty is right. I no longer think it’s simple.

With very small children, it can be enough to say ‘your birth parents couldn’t look after you’. By the time our children are adults, they deserve to know everything that we know. The tricky part, for me, has been the journey between those two places!

At many points, the boys have completely misunderstood what we’ve been telling them. Middly spent almost a year denying that he was adopted at all. Eldest once told a therapist that adoption meant your parents had bought you from the government. Both of these seemed awful at the time. We were convinced that we were failing the boys miserably.

But, I think it’s worth bearing in mind that Middly also insisted that there were two suns (one for the Earth to rotate around and one to move across the sky); and Eldest used to get guinea pigs and cows confused. Children make mistakes, that’s an important part of learning and there’s no reason why their life story should be the exception.

The boys’ story has some unpleasant parts. We agonised over when to first share some of these details with the boys. We didn’t want to give them stories they weren’t ready for, but nor did we want to lie by ommission.

There are rules of the, which seem sensible, until you try to apply them. Rules like: wait for the children to ask, then answer their questions. The problem is that the boys’ questions were big and vague ‘why couldn’t they look after us?’ The question of how much detail to share remained.

My husband and I carefully planned when to share this difficult information. We sat down with the boys and carefully explained. We asked if they had any questions. They shook their heads.

A few days later, the same question came up again. I shared the same story, only to be met by blank stares. All that agonising, and the boys had completely forgotten what we’d said!

That’s been a bit of a pattern, to be honest. Every single piece of the jigsaw of their lives has to be shared over and over again.

I am not sure what effect the re-telling has on the boys. But, it’s quite reassuring for me. I get to hone my telling, using vocabulary they understand well, pausing at the points they’re most likely to ask further questions, having ready every detail that I’ve needed to check in the past.

Re-telling also takes the pressure off each individual moment. Life story work for us isn’t about one (nor even several) Big Conversations. It’s about lots and lots of conversations, some big, some small, some serious and some tongue-in-cheek; they all build on one another as part of the fabric of our family. If I know that I am going to get another shot at this, what does it matter if one time I didn’t know an answer and had to go and check? What does it matter if the boys lost interest partway through and ran off to get a snack? There’ll be another chance, we’ll pick this back up later.

As they’ve grown, some of these conversations have become more speculative. We talk about the sources for the information we have. We talk about why different people might have told me stories in different ways. Sometimes the boys try to deduce what ‘must have really happened’. Other times we lament together the difficulties of living with uncertainty.

I do wish that I had something simple to tell them. But, in the absence of that, shared uncertainty seems to be the most honest approach.

Ultimately, talking about their past is a lot like everything else that I’m teaching them. Some days it feels like everything I say is going in one ear and out the other. Some days the boys are burning with curiosity and they make astonishingly mature points or ask insightful questions. Some days they treat the whole thing as a joke; other days it’s incredibly serious. Just like talking about relationships, or managing money, or democracy; or any of the thousands of aspects of life that the boys want to get a handle on.

They don’t remember everything I say. I’m not entirely sure that they believe everything that they remember, but, then that’s the same for long-division too.

The important thing is that we’re still talking about it, and they trust me enough to ask. If I can keep the conversation open, I think that’s good enough.

Except for with long-division, that they should really just take my word for that.

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.

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

CircuitSymbolMatching

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.

PushSwitch


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.

LDR

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.