Monday, 7 October 2013

Into the Unknown...With Pie!

I don't seem to have said much about homeschooling of late, so here's a sample of what we've been doing, how things have been going, and what I've noticed in the last few months.

Our current project theme is Space.

It seems whatever project we pick, some school somewhere in our are will be using the same theme.
 I suppose it's only logical that there should be some overlap, given a finite number of possible themes and the high number of schools, classes within those schools, and children to a class, but it does seem as though, whenever we choose a new theme, we will inevitably head off to the library only to discover that almost all the books on our subject have just* been taken out by children whose class are studying that exact same theme.
  There then follows a small interlude during which the librarian observes that it isn't really a coincidence because "It must be on the curriculum for this term" and I explain that yes, evidently it is, but that wouldn't make a difference to us because we don't follow the curriculum** whereupon the librarian cheers up, recognising that the lack of books is unimportant as we don't need them for school.
 And so my hair grows ever greyer.
Fortunately there are usually one or two books on a usable subject floating around the place, so we don't have to leave empty-handed.
 More fortunately still we are not dependent on library books.

As with every project we've done so far, we've developed a sort of timetable: roughly similar things will happen on any given day of the week, not because we've decided that they must, but simply because they happen to fit in nicely among our other activities.

 So on Monday, once the workbooks have been put away we paint, first a flat representation of the planet or thing we're studying this week, then a model to add to the solar system slowly growing around our dining-room light.
Onto the flat version Eleanor will write the name of the planet or thing, to add it to her Wall of Words***.
On Tuesday we'll listen to some appropriate music**** and discuss the way it makes us feel, then look up some facts about the planet or concept we're studying for Eleanor to write down and illustrate.
 On Wednesday, if we aren't going anywhere, we'll catch up on anything we've missed, draw pictures of the Roman god associated with our planet-of-the-week, look at videos on our topic and somehow fill an empty day with a hundred little things.
 On Thursday, Friday and the Weekend we do everything else.

So far everything has included spinning around like loons, moon-gazing, star-gazing**** visiting the National Space Centre, making bottle rockets that refused to take off******, making balloon rockets that didn't, and making Europa Pie.

Almost exactly a year ago we made moon pies to take with us as part of a picnic lunch on Phoebe's birthday.
 This year I somehow got the idea that it would be hilarious to make frozen moon pies, in honour of Jupiter's chilly moon, Europa.
 This doesn't really warrant a post of its own, being nothing more than a glorified ice-cream sandwich, but in case anyone should want the recipe, here, to round up the post, is what we did.

Step one: make some cookies.
We used this recipe, I suggest you use a different one though, for while this recipe may be deceptively seductive in its chocolateyness it yields, not  chewy, chocolate cookies, but enormous, crumbly chocolate-filled biscuits, with more in common with prepackaged Maryland Cookies than with genuine American squidgy things.
Additionally, these biscuits are far too thick to make a decent sandwich******.
So, step one: make different cookies to the ones we made.

Step two: splodge ice-cream onto half the cookies and use the other half to turn these into ice-cream sandwiches.
We used chocolate and caramel ice-creams, because the similarity to Mars bars made me giggle.

Step three: put the sandwiches into bags and put them back into the freezer.

Step four: if you are completely lost to all sens of restraint and human decency, melt some chocolate and trickle or pour it over the frozen-solid sandwiches.
Then return them to the freezer.
Europa is smooth and slippery after all.
 Use white chocolate if you're weird like that.

Step five: realise that these things have achieved monstrous proportions and cannot sanely be eaten in their intact state.
Slice into crescent moons and serve for dessert.

Step six: bathe and attempt to convince children that it is bedtime.
Use a broom to remove youngest from ceiling if necessary.

* Usually within the last hour

** In the sense it it intended here anyway.
Cursed pedantry.

*** This wall has been going, in one form or another, since our first project and I've mentioned it before, but since then it has gone through several evolutionary stages.
In its original form it was just a wall with interesting words on: Eleanor would choose a word, I would draw it in bubble-letters, she would decorate it, then I'd stick it up.
 From here we moved on to topical words, such as Roar or Feathers for our Dinosaur project, then started to move me out of the picture as Eleanor first traced over my words, then began copying them down for herself.
 These days she writes the word herself, in pencil first then, once I've checked her spelling, she traces over her lines in pen.
At every stage the goal has been the same: to increase her vocabulary and general literacy by familiarising her with the words.
 At some point this is going to stop being particularly beneficial, but by that time Phoebe will be ready to start colouring and decorating words drawn for her, so I suspect the Wall will be with us for quite a while.

****Guess which suite is most popular over here at the moment?

**** Or blundering around in the dark and the rain, talking about clouds and light pollution.

****** Then talking about why.
 Hurrah for the science of failure!

******they might be rather lovely served hot from the oven with a dollop of good ice-cream on the side, though.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bad Judgement part two

Not all judgement, of course, is helpful.
 When someone is not looking for, doesn't want, and indeed doesn't need help, it is not particularly useful to offer a long, reasoned evaluation of their activities and ways that they can improve them.
Or a short one, really.
 Likewise, even the most constructive and helpful of opinions, eagerly sought, and full of precious nuggets of delicious wisdom*, will be less than gladly received if it is offered with the sort of tactless rudeness that would make Simon Cowell** blush.
 Then there are the comments that aren't even meant to be constructive.
There are people who will break into a Facebook thread, or a forum conversation, to offer what is quite simply an insult: "Anybody who does this doesn't really love their kids" is a popular one, or "People who do this are just lazy"***, occasionally the person offering this opinion is simply rather boorish, but more often than not they're actually trying to be rude.

By now everyone on the internet has probably seen that Facebook post: you know the one from the mother saying that baby boys don't deserve to have breastmilk because they're already stronger than baby girls****, and claiming that if she has a boy she'll be feeding him formula, as well as circumcising him so he can't get as much pleasure out of sex.
 It got a lot of attention and, unsurprisingly, stirred up a lot of horrified responses.
Because, as it happens, that mother already has a son.
She also lives under a bridge and eats billy goats.
 Because she's a troll.*****
Most of the people who offer such rude opinions are trolls too.
They sit, in cosy anonymity behind their screens and, out of boredom, or a weird sense of power, or whatever-the-heck-it-is that motivates them, they poke people on their tenderest areas to see if they can make them jump.

Which is all very unpleasant.
What makes it worse, though, is that because of idiots like this, and because parenting is already such an insanely sensitive issue, and because some of the trolls are disguised as newspapers with inexplicable American accents******, many people on the internet are now preconditioned to expect judgemental nastiness whenever anything child related is mentioned.
I was on a Facebook group the other month******* when I saw a new post from a woman complaining that there was "too much judging" on the group and asking everyone to read an enormous glurgey post about how everyone was equally lovely.
 The thing is, there was nothing remotely judgemental on that group.
Occasionally there has been, in fact from time to time there are massive rows, but for the last month everything had been sweetness and light.
Somehow, however, this woman felt judged.********
Presumably she had endured enough slights, real or perceived, that almost any conversation on whatever-topic-it-was was now felt to her like a judgement on her personal choices.

 What was funny though, was that in reaction to this she responded with a very judgemental post to the entire group, saying that everyone needed to read her enormous sticky sweet post, and especially the last line, which they should read twice (and which, of course just said that everybody was equally great).
And the odd thing is that I think that post may actually have offered a worse kind of judgement than the negative kind.

I tried to find it to repost here, but I couldn't*********.
Essentially, however, it compared and contrasted every facet of parenting she could come up with, though she missed slings versus buggies as well as hitting your kids versus not hitting your damn kids.
After mentioning each option she gave some inane comment about why it was a good thing, following it up with "Good for you!" or "You're a good mom".
The thing is, that most of her opinions probably did more harm than good.
She contrasted cloth nappies (ok, she said diapers) and disposable ones for example.
Why bother?
 Why on Earth take the time to write a little paragraph on how cloth and disposable nappies are equally valid ways to keep your baby from dripping all over the place?
 It's not exactly a subject of furious debate, at most, some people think cloth nappies take too much time or are unhygienic and some think disposables are bad for the planet, or something on those lines.
It's a subject that at most deserves a "meh", a shrug, and a new topic of conversation.
 But by putting it in her Big List Of Things she somehow managed to imply that it was a topic of dissent, that people on either side of the nappy line were glaring at one another with judgemental fury.
 If anyone was feeling a little uncomfortable about their choice of infant-rump-covering, they probably felt a lot worse after that.

There were others in a similar vein.
What bothered me about them was not only the weird sense that if she had to tell us all not to fight we must secretly have been hating each other all along, but also the repeated statement that "You're a good mom".
 Because, seriously, how would she know?
Breastfeeding doesn't make me a good mother, you can't tell whether or not I'm a fiend in human form based on the amount of television I let my daughters watch (though they might claim otherwise).
Breastfeeding just feeds Phoebe, all you can tell from the amount of television I let my daughters watch is how much television I let them watch.
 If you read this blog you know that we homeschool, you know I used a sling, that I'm vegetarian, that we make an awful lot of pie, that I think I'm funnier than I actually probably am, and that I'm terrible at updating my blog regularly.
 Maybe you know a few more things, too, but in general, that's it.
You do not know whether I'm a good parent.
Because none of that information can tell you whether I'm a good parent or the maternal equivalent of Snidely Whiplash.

Generally speaking, calling someone a good parent when you don't really know whether they are one isn't going to do a lot of damage.
 When it came to one of the entries in the list of Things That Can Be Done In Two Different Ways, however, things seemed a little different.
One of her "good mom"s was "The mother who fed her kids takeaway every night this week".
 The thing is, that isn't ok, it certainly isn't the sort of thing that should be met with a "good for you" or a trite little remark about how it's no worse than making a home-cooked organic meal each week**********.
 I've thought this over for quite some time and, honestly, the only decent response I can think of to a mother who's fed her children takeaway every night is "Is everything alright?" or maybe, "What can I do to help?"
 Because the mother who feeds her kids takeaway every night has a problem.
Perhaps it's a temporary issue: maybe her kitchen has been flooded out and she can't cook, or maybe she's getting over the flu and just hasn't felt like cooking all week.
Perhaps there's no-one else in the house who could make a hot meal.
Or a cold one.
Perhaps she just couldn't get to the shops for some reason, perhaps she's too tired, or too busy, and just can't fit everything in.
Perhaps she's depressed.
Perhaps she could use a friend, to pick up the kids from school so she has time to shop, or to bring round a home-cooked meal while her life gets back under control, or to lend her some fridge-space, let her cry on their shoulder, commiserate with her woes, or tell her that, no, that doesn't sound quite normal and does she think it would help to talk to someone?
Perhaps she's fine.
But if all you say is "Good for you! You're a good mom!" then you'll never know.
 So nobody will help poor Mother-on-the-theoretical-edge: her woes, if she has any, will go unnoticed and unanswered, brushed under the carpet with "You're a good mom!"

Ok, enough ranting about the presumably well-meaning woman's awful diatribe.

My point is, that if you just respond to everything with a cheerful "That's great! Everything's fine!" then real problems get ignored.
 It's bad enough to tell someone they're doing everything wrong, when they just wanted to tell you how much their toddler loves Dora the Explorer, but when they're actually seeking help, or even just sympathy, to tell them that actually, they're imagining their problems, everything's fine, hurrah for them,  is to completely ignore their pain and leave them feeling that, actually, no-one cares about their difficulties.
 If poor takeaway-mother wasn't miserable enough before she probably is now.

I remember, some years ago when I was overweight.
I wasn't badly overweight, I was a little over the average weight for my height, but for me it was a nightmare.
I'm naturally thin, my normal healthy weight is a little under the recommended weight for my height.
 But I had M.E. and couldn't exercise, could barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings and this, combined with what was, for me, a huge weight gain, made me thoroughly miserable.
What I needed was sympathy, or some useful suggestions for ways to lose weight without actually starving myself.
 What I was given was reassurance that I looked fine, that my weight was perfectly normal, and various remarks about the way society judges women based on their weight.
I was told to read The Beauty Myth, and Fat Is A Feminist Issue.
 But I didn't look fine, my weight wasn't normal for me, and I didn't care about society.
I cared that I didn't look like myself any more, that I didn't feel like myself, that everyone was too busy deconstructing societal norms of beauty to listen to me telling them that the only norm I cared about was my own.
 So I was miserable.
And the more everyone told me that I was fine or that I looked great, the worse I felt, because what I heard was that no-one really cared.

So here's the thing: sometimes people don't want your judgement.
Then, unless it's really urgent, unless they're telling you how great it is to knock your kid out every night with a couple of shots of vodka and a chaser of cough syrup, you probably shouldn't give it.
But when they are extolling the virtues of the vodka-meltis cocktail, someone really needs to speak up.
 And sometimes people do want it.
Because judgement, as I said before, doesn't mean telling people off, or running them down.
It just means a reasoned opinion.
Sometimes people need that, sometimes they want, not praise, but your real opinion, or advise, or help.
Sometimes they just need someone to hold their hand till the pain goes away.

The trick is to listen, to hear what people want, or what they need.

Listen, be thoughtful, be considerate, be kind.
 Say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done.

Then move on.***********

* Mmmmmm wisdom Mcnuggets.

** Yay, pop-culture references!
That was fun, I'm going to use more!

***I've seen this applied to pretty much everything: feeding formula, breastfeeding, using a sling, using a buggy, cosleeping, not cosleeping.
Apparently all parents are unconscionably sluggish.

****Although actually it's the other way around on the whole.

***** Yes, I know it was obvious, and it sort of ruins the punchline, but I just knew that if I didn't say something then the one and only comment I'd get on this blog would be from someone asking me what the heck I was talking about.

****** Stupid "Mommy Wars".

*******Hey Facebook Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene, if you must know.

******** Given the theme of the page I would hazard a guess that she fed her baby formula and felt uncomfortable among so many breastfeeding-based posts, but I honestly couldn't say for sure.

*********I did find a much shorter, much better one, containing some identical phrases, so I suspect hers was copied from there.
That one was actually rather nice and mentioned a few moments where parents can feeling utterly at a loss and generally rubbish, before assuring them that everyone has the odd bad moment and it doesn't actually make them a bad parent.

********** No, really, that was the comparison.
Did I forget to mention that the juxtaposition gave the distinct impression that, actually, she did think there was a better and a worse choice each time but was pretending she didn't?

***********Unless they've written some awful glurge about how everyone is lovely.
Then you should totally write a long ranty blog about how dreadful they are.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Local Education Authority Visit

*cue the Dark Lords march*

We were very scared about this, even though we had invited them to visit, the WYHEC boards are full of horror stories from Leeds, now we're in Wakefield but we still spent the sometime tidying, ensuring that no washing was left out (in case they decided that it was a sign of neglect and called in social services)

When they arrived it was slightly stiff at first, they asked us why we wanted to home educate, and we explained because we can't afford private school, and what she's done so far, after a few minutes it became obvious they weren't out to put a stop to this horrific home educating and were actually really helpful.

They told us that we can make use of the local Schools Library Service and put us in touch with the local School music service as well to look at getting some cheap musical tuition for Ellie.

Ellie helped immensely by sitting in a corner and just reading one of her library books the entire time. The book was in the same series one of the visitors much old daughter was reading (....bloody Rainbow Fairies)

So a good visit overall and they've already sent us the information they promised so, so far I'm really impressed with Wakefields Home Ed team.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Bad Judgement part one

If you read any parenting forum for long enough you'll find somebody accusing someone else of judging them.
 It isn't confined to fora, of course: articles on breastfeeding, private conversations, even public health campaigns, at least where children are concerned, are apparently rife with considered opinion.
 Sorry, I mean with judgement.
Which is, apparently, a bad thing.

Of course the people accusing other people of judgement actually don't mean that at all: they mean that the accused is being judgemental, a rather different thing.
 You don't have to do a lot to incur this opprobrious slur on your good name, indeed all it takes, sometimes, is the expressing of an opinion.
 In short, if you exercise judgement you will be thought to be judgemental, and accused of judging.
It's all very confusing.

I have in the past been accused of judging an acquaintance because I* asked for advice on her behalf.
I've been accused of being judgemental and condescending because I mentioned that I did things differently to my accuser, and that her methods weren't something I'd come across before.
I've been accused of sitting there smugly judging from my lofty pinnacle of perfect parenthood** because I, oh horror, shared a link to the World Health Organisation's website.

What's funny is that each time my accuser was in fact judging me***: they looked at my words, decided: "She's judging me", and announced their verdict to the world.
 Yet if I had mentioned this they would not have been at all amused.
The problem is that parenthood is fairly stressful and one is frequently uncertain that one is doing the right thing.
 Once one has chosen a course it can be horribly distressing to find out, some way down the line, that it was the wrong one, or at least not the best possible choice one could have made.
Add to this all the fuss that is made in the newspapers about judgement, the Mommy Wars****, and so on, and you can see why some people might be on a hair trigger.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a parent in pre-revolutionary China.
 You have a daughter, and wanting only the best for her you have, as any good parent would, crushed the bones of her growing feet and over slow, agonising, potentially fatal months, remodelled them into a more aesthetically and socially pleasing form.
 Then the revolution hits.
Suddenly your daughter's feet are symbols of the corrupt imperial past.
 She is unfit for work and unsuited to life in the new China.
 What is more, it turns out that it was never a good idea to torture her like that.
What you believed was an act of love which, however painful it might be for both of you, would eventually ensure her happiness by enabling her to marry and live as a good wife should, was in fact just a pointless, dangerous cruelty.
 Imagine how that must have felt.

That, I suspect, is not a million miles away from the way a parent must feel when they hear that, for example, leaving their child to cry to itself all night long was not, as they believed, the only way to teach their child to sleep, but a good way to encourage future insecurities, and perhaps even cause brain-damage later on.
 Of course it hurts.
And of course it must feel as though the person offering their opinion, however well-meant, however gently given, is being judgemental.
Everyone wants to do the best for their children, to be told that you may have failed, or by extension that your actions may have harmed your child, is like a knife in the stomach.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer our opinions, that we shouldn't share our judgement, our reasoned decisions, with others.
 Because, actually, footbinding really was a terrible idea, and there are other and better ways to teach a child to sleep, and a hundred little things which seemed the right choice last year, or last week, or the day before yesterday, will turn out on further study to have been rather less than ideal.
 We should be considerate of others, of course, but we shouldn't keep silent: to do so would be to offer tacit approval, to suggest that in our judgement that not-so-safe method was just fine.
And so, because no-one said anything, nothing, not even the worst things, would change.
 And that just isn't worth it.

Not in my judgement anyway.

* With permission.

** not in those exact words, though smug, perfect and a few other such words were certainly employed.
I just like the sound of pinnacle of perfect parenthood.
I like the image too: somewhere high and pointy with wisps of cloud, and me sitting cross legged, surrounded by exquisitely balanced children who I, bodhisattva-like, am bringing up, my many arms each attending to a different task.

***Not to mention being rather judgemental in the process.

****In England too, you'd think we could at least have Mummy Wars, or something.
I favour Maternal Skirmishes, myself.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Inevitable Ice Cream Pieday

I convinced myself*.

Actually, the world seems to have righted itself once more and so our latest food-experiment, making coconut ice-cream via the salt-and-ice method failed spectacularly.
It even failed to freeze after I put it into the freezer**.
 So I feel the need to dwell lovingly on a happier time: a time when everything seemed to go right, a time when even ice cream wouldn't melt before we told it to.

In short:

We made Baked Alaska


Swiss roll (shop-bought or home-made)
Vanilla ice cream
Raspberries (about a punnet)
Four egg whites (use the eggs to make scrambled egg or something)
125 grams caster sugar.

Slice the swiss roll and use the slices to line a reasonably deep oven-proof bowl.
Try to prevent the smallest cook from putting pieces in her mouth.
Rejoice in your triumph over Smallest Cook.
Scatter raspberries over the bottom of the cake-lined bowl.
Realise you rejoiced too soon: Smallest Cook is now a fetching shade of scarlet and the rest of the raspberries are nowhere to be seen.
Fetch a flannel and wash Smallest Cook.

While holding Smallest Cook at bay with one hand, use the other to help Merely-Small Cook to fill the rest of the bowl with ice cream.
Smooth off the top with a spatula, cover with clingfilm and put the whole thing into the freezer for a few hours.

Go and play in the paddling pool

Just before you want to eat it whisk the egg whites till they form soft peaks, then gently fold in the sugar.
Turn on the oven to a highish setting (about 200 should do it).
Take the bowl out of the freezer, remove the clingfilm and cover with the meringue.
Put into the oven for five to ten minutes till the meringue is cooked and crisp on top.

Eat with an appropriate air of wonder.

*Ok, it has an outer shell, which is sort of crust-ish, it has a decidedly crusty lid, it has a filling.
I'll call it pie.

**Eventually it froze hard.
I cannot*** currently respond to rumours that it met its eventual fate via a blender, assorted ardent spirits and a curly straw.

***Because I don't want to.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sourdough and Baked Alaska

We've almost finished our latest project.

This one was originally going to be Where Food Comes From, but quickly evolved into a general Food project.
 It turns out that food is a brilliant topic for home ed: apart from all the cookery (with attendant reading recipes, following instructions, weighing and measuring, etc) we've fitted in geography*, history, biology** and some general-purpose safety and hygiene rules along the way***.

We've been on a few field trips, some of which involved actual fields, and generally had a lot of fun.
 And of course we did a lot of craft activities****.

Two of our activities, though, seemed to sum up the way we go about home education.

The first was making sourdough bread.
I came up with this one very early on and planned it meticulously: we were going to make a starter, feed it and eventually make bread with it.
Ellie would write down what we did each day and how the starter reacted.
 I was fairly sure it was going to be one of those experiments where you have to sit down and ask, brightly "So, why didn't that work?" as if you'd planned it that way.
In fact, I sort of did plan it that way.
 My plans however never quite go as I intend, and this was no exception.
Despite faulty advice causing poor Bamba***** to come perilously close to starving to death, he survived to become a really rather decent loaf of bread.
Jeremy, his successor, lives on in a cupboard, eating flour and water twice a day, and providing us with fresh, if somewhat chewy, loaves in return.
To put it plainly: the experiment was an unqualified success, drat it.

Then there was the Baked Alaska.
This was not in my original plan.
I spotted the recipe in a book Ellie got out of the library and thought, in a vague sort of way: "Oh, that would be a good one to do, we must make that".
This week, as we finally got to the sticky, sugary, pointy bit of the food pyramid, I remembered that thought and make it we did.
 I hadn't really planned for it, I had no expectation of it working out, we just assembled the ingredients, threw them together****** and hoped.
We didn't even have a recipe as the book had gone back ages ago, I just worked from memory: line bowl with slices of swiss roll, add raspberries, fill hollow with ice cream, freeze, top with meringue and bake*******.
 I got Ellie to guess what would happen to the ice cream then, when it didn't, she had to figure out why.
Surprisingly, as before, the laws of physics were not suspended for our amusement and everything worked out perfectly.
 Ellie's theory, as written, was that "The ice cream stayed cold because it had a blanket" which may not be the usual definition of insulation but wasn't bad going for a four-year-old.
 So, exciting and delicious scientific discovery was hers.
Not bad going, really.

Most of our activities work out like one of the above: either I plan something ages in advance and we try to follow a prescribed pattern, stopping several times to patch it up, changing direction if it doesn't work out, and eventually doing something completely different*********, or we come up with something on the spur of the moment, jump in blindly, and surface some time later, amazed by whatever it is we have just done.

One way or another it all works out.

*That'd be the Where Food Comes From part, with a side order of Food Miles and the environmental impact of various foods.

**Why we eat, how we eat and what we eat.
Where shall we have lunch? is geography, of course.

***I imagine a school would call that PSE or PHST or some other collection of initials that stand for Don't Smoke, Don't Drink and Please Don't Get Pregnant.
I call it common sense which, some may argue, amounts to the same thing.

****Every project we do involves craft activities, I could come up with a project called Theoretical Calculus For Under Fives and it would still involve coloured paper, glitter and cardboard tubes.
...and now I want to do that.

*****Our starter for ten.

******You're expecting me to say "literally" or something here, aren't you?
Well, snooks to you: we did it perfectly.
 Ok, Phoebe ate some of the cake.
And quite a lot of the raspberries.
But no-one threw anything.

*******If I could have called this pie I would have.

*********In this case actually making, writing about and eating the sourdough instead of having to work out why our starter was now a nasty-smelling blob.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Where have we been?

We seem to have been away from this blog for an awfully long time.
 I'm afraid I have no excuse for most of our absence, beyond the* obvious one of being far too busy home-educating, to write about home-educating.

Last week, though, we were away: thoroughly, emphatically, unarguably away.
 We were, in fact, in Sardinia**.

Sardinia is a rather small island which gives the impression that a rather larger country has become crumpled up in the wash.
 This is due, not only to its swooping landscapes*** but also to the sheer quantity of fascinating things that manage to squash themselves into a relatively small space.

We saw breathtaking vistas.

Ancient tombs.

A painted village.

An enchanted grotto.

Mind-boggling drystone castles****

A more traditional but still exciting castle with extra gorgeously-muralled chapel.

And exquisite sunsets.

In between we visited beaches, strolled about at a snail's pace to allow every elderly person in Italy to admire the girls, ate far too much gelato and too many pastries, and generally ensured that we'd  be coming home three shades darker, and two stone lighter than when we left.

And Phoebe learned to say "Ciao".

*actually fairly reasonable

**Many thanks to the lovely Chiara and Morgan for inviting us to stay with them.

***The parts I saw were beautiful, I missed a lot though, due to my eyes being inexplicably closed.

**** Technically these are called nuraghi, but drystone-castle sort of sums them up.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Hot Cross Pieday

We made a hot cross bun pie!
Or, to put it another way, we made a rather peculiar treacle tart.

The recipe we worked from is here, but of course we took some liberties with it.
Most significantly, we did not use "Sainsbury's Be Good To Yourself" hot cross buns: I feel, quite strongly, that a hot cross bun that goes to such lengths to be healthy does not deserve to be called a hot cross bun.
 Besides, we didn't go to Sainsbury's this week.

Baffled Americans may be comforted by the knowledge that a treacle tart is a confection similar in nature to a molasses pie, or sugar pie.
Only not that similar.
 Other baffled foreigners will just have to find peace in their bewilderment.
Or bake it: that will explain all.
 Ultimately, this is one of those ultra-cheap desserts that languished in obscurity* until rescued by a wealthy benefactor in the form of the gastropub.
It is, however, none the worse for that, and is actually quite nice served with that very-rich-but-good white vanilla ice-cream that such places insist on presenting with all desserts.
I would advise against the sprig of mint, though.


Sweet pastry, or ordinary shortcrust, whichever you prefer, pick a recipe and go with it.
300g (most of a bottle) of golden syrup
Two and a half hot cross buns
Two tablespoons of cream (unless you bought creme fraiche by mistake, in which case use that and pretend you did it on purpose)
An egg
A pinch of ginger
A smaller pinch of cinnamon (or just buy cinnamon hot cross buns)

Optional silliness

Orange juice
Icing sugar

Roll out the pastry, use it to line a tart tin, put it in the fridge and forget about it.
 Fetch a big bowl and dole out the hot cross buns, giving the half-bun to the smallest cook.
Tear and crumble the buns into the bowl, trying to prevent the smallest cook from eating too much of hers.
 Now prevent Smallest Cook** from returning her half masticated chunk of bun to the bowl.
Give up and present Smallest Cook with a handful of raisins.
Smallest Cook has Won.
 Let merely Small Cook finish crumbling the buns, while you heat the golden syrup on the stove.
Turn off the heat once the syrup is simmering and is of the same consistency all over.

Pour the syrup onto the buns.
 Do not let Smallest Cook touch the syrup because the syrup is hot.
Hot! Don't touch!
 Give Smallest Cook another handful of raisins.
Now Small Cook needs some raisins too, or it will not be Fair.
 Beat the egg and let the various sizes of cook decide for themselves who will pour it in.
Take turns stirring in the egg then dollop in the cream (or otherwise), ginger and cinnamon.
 Distribute stirring privileges according to your autocratic whim.

Once all is combined, pour into your chilled pastry case and put it all into a lowish (we used 180 degrees) pie oven for thirty-five minutes, or until it is slightly risen, firming a little on top, and a deep golden brown.
 Allow to cool.

If in a silly mood***, combine icing sugar and orange juice to make a reasonably runny icing, and ice a cross on the top.

Eat, with or without ice-cream.****

*Obscurity being the food equivalent of a debtors prison or a workhouse.
I really wanted to use the word gaol there, but I couldn't make it work.

**I decided she needed capitals.

***Read the above and judge for yourself.

****Except for Phoebe, who isn't allowed any.
If you feel that this is peculiarly cruel of me then I refer you to my Snail Pieday, and the events therein.
 Or, if you cannot be bothered to look this up (and a quick search by me completely failed to uncover it) then you may simply console yourself with the knowledge that she ate two hot cross buns this morning, not to mention the bits she was supposed to put into the bowl, and two handfuls of raisins.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Viking Visits Part two

Following our trips to the Jorvik Centre and Dig, we returned to York for the Jorvik Viking Festival.
 This is actually a huge, annual event which takes place over the course of a week, however we only attended the festival on the last day.
 We thought we'd start off by visiting the re-enactors' markets, but on the way there we encountered a group of Danish vikings having a bit of a scuffle.
 It seems that one of the warriors had insulted the other's dress-sense and the insulted party had decided to respond with his sword.
Now, usually I would attempt to calm matters down, or at least remove the kids from the vicinity, but the vikings had chosen to kill each other behind a rope barrier and, as every museum-goer knows, you mustn't cross those, so we had no choice but to watch the battle instead.
 Once it was safe to proceed once more we headed on, Ellie now toting a big bag of tat* and a shiny red balloon, which she had appropriated from some Danish ladies who had been standing by, seemingly quite unfazed by their ancestors' behaviour.

The first of the re-enactors' market was in a large tent.
That is very nearly all I can tell you about it: apart from that, it was too crowded for me to make out much of what was on the stalls, or to form any impression beyond an intense desire to get out.
 At some point Ellie obtained a furry viking-style hat.
  The next market was much nicer.
Held at the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, this market had a much nicer atmosphere, as well as the space to breathe it in.
 The stalls held the usual mixture of lovely things that no-one can afford and self-printed pamphlets (including some nice ones on viking handicrafts that I was tempted to buy for future use), as well as one stall full of period-appropriate fabrics.
We escaped the hall without buying Ellie anything and, after a quick stop for lunch, headed off to the main event of the day: the battle.

 As we arrived the Vikings had formed their battle line on one side of the field, while their Saxon foes were taking up a position opposite them.
 An announcer was making grandiose pronouncements over a loudspeaker, but apart from noting that Eleanor and Phoebe were far less disturbed by the armed hordes than they were by his booming, distorted voice, we paid him very little heed.
 We were watching the battle.
Once combat was joined, Ellie stood like a statue, apparently enthralled by the spectacle and the clash of steel.**
 Phoebe, on the other hand, paid little attention to the proximate bloodshed***, preferring to scamper merrily up and down, distracting me from the action on the field.
I'm told it was terribly impressive.
 What impressed me, was the fact that, after the battle, the combatants picked themselves up and walked over to the fence to answer questions and give the smaller audience members**** the opportunity to see that they weren't really hurt.
 Richard asked a few questions about local re-enactment groups, Eleanor was persuaded to ask a non-zombie related question*****, Phoebe tried to steal Eleanor's hat, and we all headed home.

We would have liked to stay for the last events: the fiery funeral of the defeated Viking leader, and a Viking banquet, but the girls were now beginning to flag a little, so we yielded to the inevitable and left.
 Perhaps we'll be able to stay later next time.

In the meantime, we might not have been able to attend the banquet at the festival, but we did hold our own Viking Feast
 Viking food******, Viking stories, and a Viking-ish******* song performed by Eleanor, made the perfect end to our Viking Project.
 I hope the next project is at much fun.

*Just adverts I'm afraid, they hadn't even included a fuzzy bug in an inappropriately horned helmet.

**She says she knew it was all pretend, I still think she just liked watching people die for her amusement: like a tiny, female Elagabalus.

***Obviously she knew the warriors couldn't get at her as we were behind another rope.

****Those neither bouncing around obliviously, or, to pick an example from thin air, wondering loudly if the Vikings were zombies now Mummy?

*****She settled for telling them that her Daddy had trousers like that.
I'm sure they were thrilled to hear it.

****** Trout (which I did not eat), green soup, viking bread, goat's cheese and oat-cakes, washed down with honeyed apple juice.

*******Ralph McTell's The Island.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

February Update

..yes I know it's almost the end of March

Amelia has posted alot about the Viking project so I won't go into any great detail, but to say it was a very fun project. She loved the field trips to the Viking festival.

Looking at Eleanor's progress, I'm still very impressed with her reading progression, she's now sitting down and reading to her sister, and when my folks visited for Dad's birthday she sat down and read the whole of the Gingerbread man

Her maths is also coming on but much slower, but it is improving, considering how much she's taken to Reading Eggs, we'll sign her up to Maths Eggs when it is released.

For Science / Nature, The weather has really limited our ability to get out, shes set up a spring table and is growing a sunflower but we've not really done much else in the last month. Amelia has used the Viking project to discuss basic navigation by the stars , but I feel this is something we need to work on next month.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Viking Visits, Part One.

We finished the viking project this week.

I won't go into details of the whole project, as I suspect Richard will include some of those in his overview of the month*, but I wanted to review a few of the places we visited in the course of the project.

The Jorvik Viking Centre.

This is that place that opened up in the eighties and made the news due to the number of people who were sick as a result of the supposedly authentic smells.
 The smelly Viking Experience is still there, albeit somewhat toned down, and is quite enjoyable even if it is no longer state-of-the-art.
 You traverse this not on foot, but in a car like that of a roller-coaster, which plays a recording to accompany the various buildings and characters along the way.
I was impressed to note that they provide two versions of the recording: one for adults and one for children, thus tailoring the whole experience to their visitors.
Eleanor certainly enjoyed this part of our trip, and explained afterwards that a little viking boy had been talking to her while she was on the train.
 The rest of the centre is also reasonably impressive: You start by walking over the site of the Coppergate archaeological dig**, looking down upon the dig through a clear perspex floor, various artefacts are visible through the floor, while displays around the walls explain a little more about the area and what these artefacts may mean.
 This may seem a little too serious for younger visitors, however Eleanor raced around, looking at the dig from all angles, calling with glee when she lighted upon one of the finds.
The Coppergate dig is followed by the aforementioned historical roller-coaster, which in turn is followed by a walk through the museum.
 This museum is laid out like a viking street, with the various exhibits displayed in the appropriate shops.
 To these are added projections of various characters talking about their lives in the context of the exhibits: a woman talking about her amber beads, a blacksmith grumbling over his forge, and so forth, and costume guides demonstrating various crafts and skills.
 I would have expected this area to be Eleanor's favourite as it contained various interactive elements while allowing her to set her own pace, however she seemed significantly less interested than she had in the other areas.***
 She enjoyed watching a lady striking reproduction viking coins, but was only vaguely interested in museum exhibits and artefact demonstrations, which was a shame as I would have liked to spend a little more time there.
 Still, we can always go back.****


Dig is a museum of archaeology, which sounds a lot less enjoyable than it really is.
 Again it comes in three parts.
The first is a traditional style museum, looking at various digs, and at archaeology in general.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to look around here, as we arrived just a few minutes before it was time to go through to part two.
 This is the area that really makes Dig stand out: a series of re-creations of real archaeological digs, filled with rubber "soil".
We entered in a group with other visitors, and were first given a short talk on archaeology in general, before being provided with trowels and unleashed upon the digs.
 We had a whale of a time.
Eleanor's artefact hunting was somewhat impaired by the presence of a band of older boys*****, who tended to pounce on anything she uncovered while shouting loudly that they had "found" something, but her enthusiasm was undiminished as she dashed from one site to the next, digging in with enthusiasm.
She seemed particularly gleeful about her discovery of a victorian potty (ok, chamberpot) in the victorian privy******, and showed genuine dedication in uncovering what proved to be the prize discovery: a hoard of silver coins hidden under a roman hearthstone.
 When Tools Down had finally been called we moved out to the museum area once more to investigate some trays full of real finds: sorting these into different categories and trying to decide what each type of find might tell us about the area from which that tray full of objects was taken.
 By sheer luck Eleanor managed to select a viking-era tray, and was thrilled at being able to make real deductions from the objects within.
Not, however, so thrilled as when she was selected to help carry a mystery object from person to person as we each tried to identify it.
 Even this excitement was dimmed, though, in comparison to her elation on discovering that it was, in fact, the worlds biggest fossilised human poo.*******
And a viking poo at that.
 Alas, we had no time left after this, so instead of exploring the (very interesting-looking) museum further, we merely giggled at the stream of people hurrying to wash their hands********, thanked our guide, and headed reluctantly but happily home.

*Which would be February, not March, I'd be more pointed about this if I hadn't failed to produce a Pieday post for weeks.

**Coppergate being where the dig, and therefore the Viking centre is.
Copper, by the way, has nothing to do with the metal, but refers to the wood carvers who lived in the area.
I bet you feel so much better for knowing that, don't you?

***In fairness, she may have been flagging a little by this point, so perhaps didn't enjoy it as much as she would have done had it come sooner.

****Although unlike just about every other attraction on the planet, the Jorvik Centre doesn't offer free re-entry if you go back within a year.
They do give you a little money off though.

*****As in boys, who were older than she.
Is it me or is that a really awkward way to phrase it?

******And was duly impressed by the awful privation suffered by the unfortunate victorians who had to choose between sharing a single, unsanitary, outdoor lavatory, even when it was raining, or using a potty like a little toddler and not a big girl like her.

*******I, meanwhile, was only slightly smug at having whispered "Coprolite?" to our guide, before she made the interesting revelation.

********Presumably to remove the fossilised bacteria.

Friday, 1 March 2013


or Why I'm Writing "Kick Me!" On Eleanor's Back

We decided to home educate for a lot of reasons, but bullying wasn't one of them.
It's true that keeping our daughters out of school may help us to avoid it to an extent, certainly severe, persistent bullying is much less likely outside of school*, however any gathering of children*** offers the potential for bullying.
 So, naturally, I want to equip our children to handle bullies.

The first thing I want them to know is that The Law of the Schoolyard**** appears in no book of legislation anywhere whatsoever.
 All too often children hide the fact that they're being bullied.
Sometimes, perhaps, it's because they don't think their woes will be taken seriously, but frequently it's because of some fear of being a tattle-tale, some idea that to seek help, or to be unable to deal with bullies oneself, is shameful or dishonourable.
 This is of course rot: it's a parent's, or a teacher's, job to look after the children in their care, if a child can't stop the bullies bullying them, then it's down to the adults to step in.
 Of course in order to step in we first need to know there's something to step into and, as we are somewhat less omniscient than our kids tend to believe, we generally need them to tell us about it.
Which is where we come up against the Law of the Schoolyard, a law enforced, and reinforced, by the very people it benefits most: the bullies.
 Why don't children speak up?
Sometimes it's because they simply don't think of it*****, but often it's because they're ashamed of needing help, or afraid that they'll be laughed at, or even bullied, if they tell us.
 So it's very important that we let them know that we want them to tell us, that they are supposed to tell us, that no-one will look down on them for telling us, and, perhaps most importantly of all, that telling us can't make things worse if they're already being bullied.
 Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to talk about it, and to make absolutely sure that when they do tell us their problems, we listen properly and do our best to put a stop to the bullying.

 Which brings me to the whole not-being-taken-seriously thing.
It's easy to tell a child to "Just ignore it", it's surprisingly hard to actually ignore a bully.
Likewise it's very easy to imagine that because something seems trivial to us, it can't be that important to anybody else.
 The fact is, though, that if a child is unhappy, for whatever reason, then the adults around them need to take their unhappiness seriously.
Ok, sometimes "taking their unhappiness seriously" can mean explaining, seriously, that there really isn't a monster under the bed and that, seriously, they can't wear the pink pyjamas again because they're in the laundry basket seriously covered with something that looks like glue. Seriously.
 But we manage that sort of thing with a reasonably straight face, so I think we can cope with being told that our child's life is ruined because they wore a green jumper today and Mildred Prenderghast said that green jumpers are made from bogies.
It sounds silly, but when one thinks about it for a second it's pretty hurtful: the green jumper was probably that child's own choice, maybe something they cared about, or were proud of.
Perhaps they thought they looked nice in their green jumper, only to be told that it, and therefore they, were actually a loathsome pile of snot.
People may well have laughed, it's certainly pretty unlikely that anyone stood up for them.
 Silly things can hurt.
As Margaret Atwood wrote: "Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life size".

By laughing off, or telling our children to ignore, their miseries, we tell them that they don't matter to us, or,  even worse in its way, that we are powerless to help them.
 I'd rather do my best to help.

The second thing I want them to know, is that bullies are not as powerful, or as ubiquitous as they seem.

Bullies are, by and large, rather pathetic individuals.
 They want to stand out, or to look stronger than others, or to prevent anybody from picking on them, and the easiest way they can do this is by picking on somebody else first.

 Television programmes and films such as Mean Girls, rather promote the idea that bullies are powerful, popular people, well-dressed and well groomed, whose merest word can make less stylish, less socially accepted individuals shrivel on the spot.
  I'm fairly sure my own school bullies had seen a few programs like this, it would certainly explain the way they walked about as though they owned the place.
In reality, though, they were just a rather small clique of particularly unpleasant, not very bright, distinctly foul-mouthed girls, who wore clothes and make-up that were far too old for them********.
Seriously, they looked like warthogs.
Sounded like them too.
 But while I was aware that their apparent self-images didn't quite match the reality of their appearances, it didn't sink in somehow that while they seemed powerful and confident, that confidence and power was as imaginary as the glamour they thought they exuded.
 It would have helped to know that those girls were barely scraping by at the work I found so easy, that they, in turn, had things to fear, that their confidence probably came out of their make-up bags and not, as it seemed to, out of any genuine sense of self-worth.
 It would have helped me, so it's something I will take care to talk about as my daughters grow up.
Knowing that a bully is afraid won't stop them from bullying, but it can blunt the sting of their words a little.

Of course it's hard to believe that the bullies aren't all-powerful when it feels like everyone is a bully.

Which brings me to the third thing, and to why I'm (metaphorically) writing "Kick Me!" on my daughter's backs.

 When you're a child, and you're being bullied, it can seem that bullies are everywhere: someone says something mean and everyone laughs, everyone is on the bullies' side, not yours.
 The fact is that most of those children probably don't even know why they're laughing: they just laugh because everyone else is laughing.
Of those that do, the majority probably don't actually want to hurt anyone, or don't care either way********, they just don't want to be bullied themselves, so they join in, rather than draw the bullies attention.
 Of course, while not everyone, and perhaps not anyone, really thinks your jumper looks like a pile of bogies, it can still feel like they're all on the side of the bullies.

So, the third thing: always stand up to bullies.

Yes, I know, the first thing was that it's ok to ask for help.
It is, it really, really, is.
Children should never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, and I absolutely want my daughters to let me know that they're being bullied.

But the first thing they should do is stand up to the bully.
Not because all bullies are cowards and the bully will magically back down in face of their defiance.
That's rather improbable, not least because bullies are, by and large, cowards, and backing down would leave them open to further defiance, or even attacks.
 But it's still worth doing.

Firstly because not all bullying words are meant to be: sometimes the apparent bully will stop doing or saying hurtful things, if only someone points it out.
It can happen.
 Secondly, it's important not to back down, so that the bully knows that they are not all-powerful, that they aren't as scary or as cutting as they think, and that bullying isn't actually an easy route to social success after all.
It may not look as though you have any effect at all: they may laugh all the harder at your failure to bend, but it will show on the inside, they will lose a little belief in the power of their bullying.
It feels better to stand up to them anyway.

 And thirdly, it's important to stand up to bullies because you won't always be the one being bullied.

Remember what I said about it feeling like everyone is a bully?
It only takes one dissenting voice to change that.
 Just one person saying that, actually, that's a really nice jumper, and it doesn't look like bogies but like new leaves, can turn the tide of opinion away from the bully.
 Ok, often it won't, quite often it will be one quiet voice amidst a multitude of laughing voices.
More often than not it will be one voice surrounded by staring, silent children, who might agree, but certainly aren't going to say so.
Most of the time the bully will just repeat what was just said in a special bullying voice******** and move on to criticising the speaker but that doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter because now everyone knows the bully is not the only arbiter of taste-in-jumpers.
It doesn't matter because, hey, that bully sounds like an idiot doing that stupid voice.
Most of all, it doesn't matter compared to the fact that someone now knows that all the world is not against them, and that world is bearable again because of this and you did that.

If it doesn't work, come and tell me.
I'll do my best to fix it.
I promise.

That's what I'm trying to teach Eleanor, and what I will try to teach Phoebe.

It doesn't just go for child-sized bullies either: one of my proudest (if simultaneously embarrassing) moments as a mother was of seeing another parent smacking her daughter, over some silly dispute about sweets, and Eleanor instantly leaping up and saying "That's not very nice: We don't hit!"
I don't know how much of an impression it made, but I was proud of her, all the same.

Long may it continue.

*Almost Certainly Unnecessary** Disclaimer: I might home educate but I have nothing against schools, I also understand that they are supposed to much better at dealing with bullying than they are when I was a child.
 I am simply aware that large groups of children, meeting in a reasonably confined space, for most of the day, five days a week, offer much more scope for ongoing bullying than do smaller, more varied groups.

**Because everyone who reads this is far too sensible, of course.

***Or adults, alas.

****Well, that's what Homer Simpson calls it.
Seriously, I have nothing against school, I just prefer home ed.

*****I've encountered this myself: after an apparently happy week at her Musical Theatre Summer School, Eleanor informed me that she liked everything about it "except those girls calling me a baby".
Yes, she did tell them to stop, but they "just wouldn't".
She wasn't afraid to tell me, or her teachers, it simply didn't occur to her to do so.
 Hopefully she will know better in future.

******Possibly a side-effect of the tendency for men and women as old as thirty to be cast as teenagers, so that clothes and make-up selected to glamourous on them on-screen, look simply awful on boys and girls of their supposed ages.

*******Children can be terribly self-centred.

********You know the one: it either sounds like a demented Mr Punch or like one of those Tex Avery cartoon characters that go around mumbling "Duhhh, George..." all the time, and are actually inspired by Of Mice and Men, of all things, that voice, the one that sounds like nobody real but that all bullies seem to produce when their imagined authority is threatened.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Fun with Maths

It's fairly easy to have enjoy reading: even without all the word jigsaws, make-a-word games and so forth available, the very act of reading is in itself fun*.
 In addition there's plenty of material out there to teach reading: even basic workbooks tend to provide twice as much reading support as mathematical, because they treat reading and writing as two different subjects, despite the fact that they support one another.
Science and even maths workbooks still support reading because, well, they're books, you have to read them to use them.
 So home-education-wise reading is not a problem.

Maths, on the other hand, is.
There are workbooks out there, of course, and we can always write out our own problems as well.
We can set sums using handfuls of raisins** or small toys, we can demonstrate on an abacus or on our fingers, we can sing Ten, Twenty or Two Hundred Green Bottles***, there are a lot of things we can do but, in the end it all feels a bit, well, mathematical.
It lacks the enticing air that a good book, or a game of Flag Man**** has without even trying.

 We recently bought a copy of Games for Mathematics, by Peggy Kaye, having found her Games for Reading very enjoyable, but even here the games tended to be of the solve-all-the-sums-to-climb-the-ladder variety, which does little to inspire a reluctant mathematician.

We've found a few things that do work though, so I thought I'd share a few here.


I've said this before, I know, but playing games is wonderful for developing basic maths.
They don't need to be Games for Mathematics, although Orchard Games make some lovely ones, just playing games, counting spaces and spots on dice, developing simple strategies, and following the rules of the game can help to strengthen essential skills.
 Change the number of dice and require players to add them together, or subtract one from the other***** to throw in a few sums without making it too obvious.
 A beetle drive****** is always a good way to practice simple maths, and can be re-themed to suit any project or obsession as needed: house drives, car drives*******, viking longship drives and so on all work very nicely.

Trains and Automobiles

You can play counting and addition games with any small toys, but it can easily turn into just an exercise in bean-counting.
 The advantage of playing with cars or toy trains is that the maths can creep in without being obvious.
Set up a garage with room for a few cars at a time and, as the cars go in an out, ask how many more can go in before it's full, or how many there will be when the next one goes in.
Try racing them across the dining table or down a hill and keep track of which colour car wins most often: do red ones really go faster?
Hopefully the addition, subtraction and basic probability (when you start guessing which car will win this time) will go entirely unnoticed.
 With trains you can add or subtract carriages, compare long and short trains, estimate how many carriages it will take to carry a particular number of things, use carriages as a unit of measurement (how many carriages is it from that bend in the track to the tunnel?) and do just about anything you could with the cars.
 The trick with all of these is not to stress the maths: if the child doesn't want to add up all the blue cars on the track, don't worry about it, just add them up yourself and move on.

World Building

Blocks are great things for basic maths.
Again you can just count or add them, but it's more fun to play around with it.
Build a tower, then without counting, try to estimate the number of blocks needed to make another one the same size.
Or build two and try to guess how tall they'll be when you put one on top of the other.
Or add the two towers together, or see how many you'd need to remove from one tower to make it the same height as another.
 The maths is more overt here, the trick is just to have fun, and build an amazing city, while you do it.
A good idea is to separate the blocks into their various colours and try to guess how many are in each pile, then build towers as you count them.
Once they're up you can see which tower is tallest, how much bigger it is than the next tallest, what tje difference is between the tallest and shortest towers and so forth.
 If all else fails you can always just try to build a tower to the ceiling.

Colouring by Maths

We got this idea from Nicky, who got it from someone at school.
They're sums, but attractively packaged.
Find a picture or two to colour in on the internet, or use an old colouring book.
Then decide what colours you want to use to colour it in, and assign a number to each colour.
Then label each section with the appropriate colour but, instead of just writing in the number, use a suitable sum.
So to colour a duck green, the child would first need to decode 8-3 or 2x2 to get 4, then look up the number four on their list of colours to find green.
It's far more appealing than it sounds, and again you can choose pictures to suit your current project, or a child's particular interests.
Alternating colours on flags, rows of flowers, or other repetitive images is a good way to introduce some simple pattern-recognition as well.

We've also learned that the people who produced Reading Eggs are in the process of bringing out a new offering: called Mathseeds.
They seem to be offering free trials, so once it's up and running we'll give that a go too.
 I'll let you know whether the sound effects have improved********.

*Unless you're reading Mein Kampf or something.

**Subtraction, obviously.

***Or the multiplication version: Ten Green Tribbles

****Apparently we shouldn't hang people because it isn't very nice.
Running them through with pirate swords is A OK though.

*****If you want to avoid minus numbers try buying dice from a specialist games shop: you can get ten, twelve, or even twenty sided dice, which make subtracting a standard six-sider far less likely to cause problems.
You can even get dice numbered in tens, although using these might mean that you finish your game of Snakes and Ladders a little sooner than you intended.

******You know: roll one (or make ten) to draw the body, roll two (or make eight) to draw the head and so forth.

*******Yes, it does.

********Surely they can't be worse?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Frying Pan Pieday

We made broad bean and feta quesadillas*.

This recipe looked like an excellent one for cooking with kids, until we actually started, whereupon I realised just how much slicing with sharp, pointy knives, and frying over frizzling flames was involved.
 I'm happy to say that Eleanor survived the experience with all her fingers intact and unburned, but if the though of endangering your darlings digits calls forth a frantic frisson of fear, then you might want to make something else.
 Or just cook it yourself.
The recipe, by the way, comes from Cook Vegetarian magazine, but we've simplified it somewhat.

Broad Bean and Feta Quesadillas


A packet of tortillas
About half a packet of feta
Some grated cheddar
Some frozen broad beans (a big handful should do, we used last spring's: the very last of our home-grown** frozen vegetables)
Some frozen peas (a smaller handful)
Half an onion
A clove or two of garlic
A chilli, red or green, (or just half if you don't like heat)
Olive oil***
Some fresh mint, chopped.

First chop the onion finely, mince, squish, or otherwise obliterate the physical integrity of the garlic, and chop the chilli.
Put them all into a frying pan with a splosh of olive oil and cook until everything is golden brown except the chilli.

Put the broad beans into a saucepan of boiling water, cook for a couple of minutes, then throw in the peas and cook till they are done.

Drain the beans, put them back into the pan, crumble in the feta, and add the mint.
 If everyone in your family is fine with chilli, then add the contents of the frying pan, if not then remove a portion of the bean and cheese mixture to make an  unspicy quesadilla or so first.
Then bung in the fried onion, garlic and chilli, add a little more olive oil, and stir it all together.
 Don't worry about keeping all the broad beans intact, but don't go out of your way to squash them all either.

Now add a little more oil to the frying pan and put it back on the heat.
 Be very careful at this point if cooking with children, if you're nervous, do the hot part yourself.

Take a tortilla and spread some of the bean mixture on one half, sprinkle cheddar over the top of this, then fold the other half over.

Put it in the frying pan for a minute**** then flip it over and cook on the other side.
Repeat until you run out of tortillas, beans, cheese or all three.

Cut the quesadillas in half and serve, making sure that any un-chillied ones go to the heat-averse.


*I realise that I'm pushing the boundaries of pie somewhat, given that this is really more of a tortilla-toasted-sandwich, but it has a crust, it has a filling, and if I was utterly strict about the definition of pie we'd have far less fun making them

**Actually I think these were from Richard's parents' home, but it's still a home.

***Do I have to have another rant about using non-virgin?

****Poking occasionally with a spatula so you feel that you're doing something.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

January Home Ed update

I want to start doing a weekly update, but i'm not sure of the format, so for now the format is a ramble.

Mostly this is about Ellie still as Phoebe is still very iccle.

For Maths or English in the morning, we're mostly using the Letts books. She's working her way through the "Magical" series, we talk her through each exercise and then let her get on with it. 

January's Project is Vikings, and so this one we are all excited about.

The new word wall is up but with a new improved format, Ellie writes the entire word and then she decorates around it so far shes' put up "Vikings" with various pictures cut out, and "Thing" with a drawing of people having a "Thing"  and then various things :)

Books this week have a Viking theme, we've covered Viking Maths, and how they dressed (with accompanying craft activity to dress the family) .

Amelia's printed out some colouring sheets as well, and thanks to Nicky created a colour by sums game (i.e.. Blue = 9, the sea is 6 + 3) which is great.

In February we're going visit Dig & Jorvik centre, and then going to spend a whole day at the Jorvik Festival 

The plan is to finish the project with a Viking feast in full costume (Amelia, Phoebe and I already have the right kit) so Ellie is going to help Amelia design and make a tunic for her.

Phys Ed wise Ellie has started 2 new Ballet classes (well moved up to older group). 
Also I think I've reached the limit I can of teaching Ellie to swim myself  so signed her up to the new classes starting at Sun Lane in Wakefield, and she starts in a few weeks.

Phoebe, is doing really well, she's started say a few words, demanding books, and is on the way to mastering the art of building towers, however hasn't grasped the fact that once it gets to a certain height she can carry on by standing up! 
I think she's also decided that strangers aren't evil by default, I even caught her smiling at an old man this week rather than her usual expression of suspicion and disdain.

Fish Pieday

Right today was my turn again to cook with Ellie, she's retained all her fingers and only burnt one of them so WIN FOR ME!

This was a pretty basic pie, but turned out really nice, I don't think Ellie was sure but Phoebe absolutely loved it.

So ingredients:

  • Cheese
  • 8oz Salmon Fillet
  • 8oz Cod Fillet
  • Onion
  • Some butter
  • Some milk
  • Parsley
  • 2 tomatoe,
  • Potatoes

Ellie started by grating the cheese, while I did the mandatory "Sharp knife" work, you know, dicing the onion, parsley,  potatoes and such and stuck the potatoes in..


We then  weighed out the fish* and  cut that into pretty sizeable chunks.

Once the potatoes were done we mashed them (I think Ellies favourite part as she got to use her new masher)

Now onto the hot stuff. we put the onions, tomatoes and some flour into the pan, added the fish and seasoning then cooked for 5 or so extra miniutes, so it started to look like fish pie!

The ingredients could make dishes, we topped with the mash, glazed with egg, put one of them in the freezer and cooked the other. 

* The fish had some extra value, the salmon had it's skin on still so I was able to talk to her about fish scales and she could feel them.