Saturday 31 March 2018

Project 28: Dinosaurs!

At last we've reached the topic everyone who is home educating young children will do eventually: Dinosaurs! It's a great topic as there are such a wide variety of resources suitable for children of Solomon's age: books, tv series, films, shows, and activities. We used a couple of books, watched Walking with Dinosaurs and Jurassic Park, visited a museum, watched a theatre show about dinosaurs, and Solomon dug a dinosaur out of a lump of  'rock'.

The main book we used was findout! Dinosaurs, part of a series of non-fiction introductory books by Dorling Kindersley. This is a nice quality series with plenty of information, quality illustrations, and an accompanying online web site. The book provides a nice overview of the dinosaur world, types of dinosaur, and the science behind finding out about dinosaurs. As we wanted more information on specific types of dinosaur we came across, we supplemented this with another Dorling Kindersley book: Knowledge Encyclopedia Dinosaur! With so many dinosaurs (as well as pterosaurs and marine reptiles), you inevitably come across ones which aren't in either book, but there's usually one of the same family. 

Walking with Dinosaurs (currently available on Netflix) is almost 20 years old, yet it still managed to keep Solomon glued to his seat throughout. After watching the third episode on marine reptiles we visited Peterborough Museum which has an exhibit of Jurassic marine reptiles:
Jurassic marine reptiles at Peterborough Museum
It was nice to put the local exhibition in context, and we decided against a big trip to the National History Museum as we also had a trip to the theatre planned: Dinosaur World Live
Dinosaur World Live T-Rex
Dinosaur World Live being on at the local theatre is the reason we decided on dinosaurs for this week's project. It's a fantasy puppet show narrated by a girl who was shipwrecked on an island inhabited by dinosaurs, and has brought some of them back. The T-Rex was impressive, and it was nice to be able to go up and touch the dinosaurs at the end, but otherwise we didn't find it to be a particularly exciting show. Hopefully we'll get the opportunity to see Walking with Dinosaurs - the arena spectacular later in the year.  

After the theatre trip we watched Jurassic Park on DVD with all three kids (aged 2, 3, and 5). It's always a bit hit or miss with age ratings from 25 years ago, and we weren't sure whether a PG would still be suitable. They all loved it however, and whilst there was the odd unsuitable word, it was a good sort of scary, probably because a dinosaur park is not the sort of place they usually find themselves in!

Solomon also dug out an Archeofun T-Rex he'd been bought for Christmas, and we'd judiciously put to one side. 
We were surprised at how long the pieces took to dig out, but also how much pleasure Solomon got from it. He probably spent 4 hrs digging the pieces out altogether, and never showed any sign of boredom - even at the end of a mammoth 2 hour session!

Next week's project: Easter and Spring. 

Monday 26 March 2018

How We Home Educate

Following on from yesterday's post on Why We Home Educate, I decided to write a post on how we home educate, or at least how we home educate at the moment.

We started home education with few preconceived notions about the best way to home educate our children. We broadly adhered to the idea of a child-centred approach to learning, and a fundamental belief in the potential of the vast majority of children to excel academically in the right learning environment, but we had no idea how that would be put into practice on a daily basis. We read Understanding & Using Educational Theories which gave us an overview of all the major theorists, and like many home educators, picked and chose the bits that we thought would best fit in with our children, our circumstances, and our values.

Unlike most home educators, who will tell you "there's no typical day" and "every day is different", we have a broad structure within which the children work. We are a long way from the anarchic unschoolers beloved by the media, we like to give the kids room to express what they want to do, but within boundaries that will help them thrive. All children need plenty of sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet; left to his own devices our eldest would undoubtedly sit on the sofa, day and night, playing computer games.

There are three typical parts of the day, each of which can be moved or dropped according to other commitments such as trips out, home education groups, or other social engagements.

'Jobs' is the regular maths and writing Solomon has to do every day, and which he usually starts after breakfast. This consists of writing in his diary what he did the day before, and a couple of pages from his maths workbook. We use the Schofield & Sims workbooks, and Solomon is currently halfway through Times Tables Practice 2. Because we don't enforce a Monday to Friday, 9 to 3 schedule there is an expectation that maths and writing are done every day, and if he doesn't write in his diary one day he has to write two entries the next. On a good day his jobs are done in 40 minutes, on a bad day it stretches out to an hour and a half.

Most days we also try to do something on the week's project, which we describe each week in this blog. Sometimes Solomon will suggest a project, sometimes we will, and sometimes it is prompted by external events (e.g., Christmas, a visit, or a local event). Once a theme has been agreed we come up with a variety of resources and pieces of work to help us explore the topic more fully, this may include trips out, watching a film, a science experiment, or creating a piece of artwork. As Solomon is only five most of the resources and trips are suggested by his parents, but as Solomon gets bigger, and is more aware of the opportunities that are available, we will expect him to suggest more of the activities himself. The main problem we have with the project/theme approach is that there is so much we want to explore that the list of potential projects is always growing faster than we can do them!

Rest time
We've also been lucky in that as our children have grown bigger we have managed to keep the afternoon nap time they had as small children, although over time this has transformed into a rest time. Each afternoon they'll go up to their rooms and (mostly) read quietly for an hour. We've found that on those days they don't have this rest period there is a tendency for them to get a bit overtired, and it raises the chance of there being tears before bedtime. Teach a child to read as early as possible and the parent can have peace and quiet every day!

In addition we ensure there is a trip out for some fresh air each day (we are lucky to have numerous local parks and a nature reserve within 5 minutes walk), there's no computer games until after lunch (and no more than one hour a day!), and TV is generally restricted to a short programme before bed unless it is associated with a particular project. The key with all these things is routine: because computer games are never allowed before lunch and the TV is never 'just on', we are spared the screen time requests that can plague some households.

As the children get bigger we will inevitably have to revisit how we home educate: GCSEs will require greater structure if we are to get through set curricula, and when all three require compulsory full time education we will need to find a balance for the children's different interests. For now, however, we've found a rhythm that works for us, and can't imagine doing it any other way.

Sunday 25 March 2018

Why We Home Educate

Inspired by a post on The World is Their Classroom, I (Solomon's dad)  thought I would write a post about why we home educate. After all, deciding to home educate is not an easy decision, it is a huge commitment, and whilst it is on the rise, society still expects that your child goes to school. Luckily my wife and I were both in a position to question society's norm and lucky enough to be able to do something about it.

4 is too young!
We did not decide straight away that we would like to home educate our children, rather we have inched towards that position. We started from the position that 4 (the age that most children start school in the UK) is far too young for formal education.

Around the time we had our first child, some Finnish friends of ours also had a child, and the news was continually telling us Finland was an education superpower and British children had to work harder to keep up in the global workplace. But whilst the government promoted increased testing and taking the children away from the bad influence of parents at an ever younger age, this is the exact opposite of our (and Finland's) thinking:
"[no] formal schooling until the age of seven, have short school days, long holidays, relatively little homework and no exams"
It is undoubtedly in the interests of a country's GDP to have parents back to work ASAP and for as long as possible (at least in the short term), but for kids to reach their potential they need emotionally secure foundations, and putting them in overcrowded classrooms for increasingly long hours at such an emotionally vulnerable age is undoubtedly storing up problems for the future.

Once we decided we were interested in home educating, we were pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is in this country. Literally just do nothing (unless your children are already in school or have special educational needs).

There is no going back (probably)
Once the first step has been taken, and you accept the idea of home education until they are 7 or 8, it is hard to then imagine ever putting them into a school situation. With one-to-one interaction, they can leap ahead with the reading, writing, and arithmetic, freeing up time for them to explore other subjects that they are interested in. School no longer seems to be a place of education opportunities, but a place that restricts a child's education opportunities, where you are praised for conformity and being average.

As our eldest pointed out when we read Matilda, "she's like us": we are a bookish family, shelves filled with books, reading at every opportunity, and it was inevitable that our kids would be interested in books at an early age and we would teach them to read. But if you arrive at reception having read all of Roald Dahl's books, whilst most others are learning their phonics, you will either be bored or be labelled as 'different' - different in a good way by teachers, different in a bad way by fellow pupils. Now, six months of home education later, we find Solomon is leaping ahead with his maths, and unlike reading and writing, those differences are likely to continue to be discernible throughout his education. 

We have the opportunity to home educate
For all our dislike of the schooling system in this country, we nonetheless recognise that most people have little choice, and we are extremely lucky in being able to home educate. Increasingly society (and house prices!) are geared towards two wage families, and people are uneasy about those who don't conform to expected social norms. We are privileged in both being able to afford to home educate, and having little negative reaction to our decision.

We both work from home, and are sufficiently well paid that we both only have to work part time. This means that most of the time both of us are around, and even though there are three children when one-to-one help is required it is available. It also means that there is support and a sharing of project ideas; no single parent is stuck wondering whether we're doing enough with the kids or what we should do next.

We've also been lucky in support from family and friends, or at least they've not been overtly unsupportive. Most home educators have some tale of falling out with family or friends over their decision to home educate, but with the exception of one acquaintance who fell by the wayside this has passed us by. Although our family and friends have little experience of home education they trust us to do what we think is best for our children, even if they wouldn't do it (or have done it) themselves, and with those who have kids in school we don't preach that our way is better. Like most home educators we are asked questions about the socialising side of things, but luckily as we've both got PhDs no one has been brave enough to question our ability on the education side.

In conclusion...six months in...
We've never had cause to question whether we're doing the right thing: The children are thriving, we love it, and our only problem is there's so much to explore and so little time. How anyone has time for school is an absolute mystery to us.

Project 27: Under the Sea

This week's project was designed to coincide with the Norwich Puppet Theatre home education workshop, which was themed 'Under the Sea'. This was the third workshop Solomon has attended, and he enjoys it every time (see also Ancient Egypt and Puppets and the Theatre).
Solomon's Under the Sea Creature
We started the week with an overview of the seas and oceans and underwater life from his encyclopaedia, and then looked more closely at coral reefs, the deep ocean, and shipwrecks. There are plenty of online resources for the oceans, from the BBC's What is an Ocean Habitat  to Google's 'Streetview' of the Great Barrier Reef, and a nice video on how deep the oceans are:

We also watched the first episode of the Blue Planet (available on Netflix) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (DVD).

Finally we finished the week with the Under Pressure experiment from Usborne's 100 Science Experiments book. When the bottle is squeezed the air bubble inside the pen lid is compressed and the diver sinks, and then rises again when you let go:

Next week's project: Dinosaurs!

Monday 19 March 2018

Project 26: Trains!

This week's project was all about trains - their history and their impact.

We started the week with a brief overview of the history of trains, from the Rocket to maglevs, looking through some of Solomon's reference books and watching some online videos. We visited the library, hoping to get some more books, but Peterborough's public library provision is appalling - there was a single children's book on trains available, Getting around by train, suitable for someone far younger. We did get An Illustrated History of Trains from the adult section, however, and that prompted us to watch Buster Keaton's silent film classic The General:
The General is now freely available online, and despite being black & white, silent, and over 90 years old, it kept all three children (2, 3, & 5 yrs old) engaged throughout. We also watched the theatre version of the Railway Children, recorded for Sky Arts in 2016, equally engaging, albeit with far fewer cannons on trains.

We looked more closely at how a steam engine works with a Mamod steam engine we had in the back of the cupboard, built a railway extension to our Minecraft castle, and installed the (freely available) Open Rails simulator to drive an old diesel engine from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

Steam engine - starts moving at 3:40

Minecraft railway with glass signal box and redstone switches
Open Rails simulator
Finally, we finished the week with a trip on a steam train on the Nene Valley Railway. Despite being freezing cold we had a great day out, travelling on a  steam train, visiting the workshop, and going on the Swedish Railcar (which was also running for an open day).
GWR Steam Locomotive No. 5619
Wansford Workshop
'Helga' Swedish Railcar 1212
Next week's project: Under the Sea

Monday 12 March 2018

Project 25: Teeth!

As Solomon just got his first wobbly tooth, we decided to do a project all about teeth.

There are plenty of online resources about teeth, explaining the different types of teeth and how they differ between animals. We found the Children's University of Manchester section on Teeth and Eating and the BBC Teach videos particularly useful, although the Weird Animal Teeth video was probably most interesting:
We tried disclosure tablets, made a teeth cleaning game with laminated mouths, and soaked an egg in vinegar to demonstrate the damage acid does to your teeth.

We laminated three pictures of teeth, drew little germs and bacteria on them, and then the three children had to brush them clean as quickly as possible with very cheap toothbrushes from the supermarket.
A laminated mouth

For the egg experiment, one egg was left in a pint of vinegar over night, and another in a pint of water for comparison purposes.
Eggs in vinegar and water
As can be seen below, the egg in the vinegar turns rubbery, although the rubbery 'shell' bursts when dropped from a height.

Next week's project: Trains!

Monday 5 March 2018

Project 24: World Book Day and the Wizard of Oz

As it was World Book Day on March 1st, the week's project was based on a book of Solomon's choosing. He chose the Wizard of Oz.

We already had the Usborne Young Reading Series version of the Wizard of Oz, which Solomon enjoys on his own, and bought the full version for us to read with him. I can't praise the Usborne reading series enough, the only problem is Solomon reads them so quickly, and it's difficult to find full versions of classic books which have sufficient pictures to keep Solomon engaged on his own.

We watched two film versions of the book, both the classic Judy Garland version and the Muppet interpretation. He liked them both, but he liked the Muppet version best, and it was a nice way to introduce him to Kermit the Frog et al.

Solomon also created his own Wizard of Oz picture:
Solomon's Yellow Brick Road
It was a bit disappointing to find that Wicked wasn't available on DVD, but with so many other spin off films (Return to Oz, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and another 13 books in the series, there is plenty more to explore if Solomon wants to return to Oz in the future.

We also took the opportunity to discuss the wider publishing industry with Solomon, explaining the history of publishing, the size of the market, and the opportunities the web provides for self-publishing and the digitisation of original manuscripts.

Next week: Teeth!