Bikeability Begins
It isn't often that we ask the local council for anything, other than to be left alone a la rights for homeschooling families. This last week, however, we worked with some very nice people at the county who helped us to provide cycling proficiency classes for twelve local homeschoolers.

The Tutor with her Watchful Eye

Since most kids in England are put through cycling proficiency at their schools, it's sometimes hard to pin down the same opportunity for the home-ed community. When my eldest wanted to do it, she had to carpool with a neighbour to Banbury, a town about 16 miles away. This time, we made arrangements for it to happen right on our doorstep.

Raring to go!

Monday was a bleary, dreary morning -- the first day of schools' Easter holiday period, but we were up and out the door for a (generous) 10:30 am start, meeting at the car park to the local Bowls club. Bike checks. Helmet checks.  How's them brakes? A bit of obstacle course, and then over the next few days, the kids were even sent to tackle THE BIG HILL.

Navigating real roads.

By Friday, they were all duly passed for their right turns, their left turns, their stops and signals, their road sense and judgment.  Yes, even Rocky passed on all these skills, and now I have only one more child to make safe on the roads before my job can be considered done.

Happy Trails.

That's not for another few years yet.

Thanks to all the local homeschooling families who took part, and to another home-ed mum who took the lead on the afternoon group of 6. The process was all very painless in the end, and I'm happier to let my kids pop to the shops on their bikes, knowing that they will be visible and communicative to the other vehicles around them.

(Now if we could just get the same support for exam centres and fees for our secondary students, we'd be quids in!)
This past week, we took a holiday in the Lake District, a week before schools let out for Easter holidays. We often do this to avoid the traffic, the crowds, and the holiday surcharges -- chalk up yet another advantage for homeschooling.

Homeschoolers in the Hills

On this trip, though, I became much more aware of how homeschooling is a whole package, that even on holiday, we are still teaching, learning, exploring, and best of all, growing as people.

Let's take Lesson Number One: how you have to persevere, even when it's hard.

Ascents can be exhausting!

This is a great lesson to learn as you climb up mountains. Yes, it's hard, and yes, it's tiring, and yes, it sometimes hurts -- but you can never quit, because there's no other way to get home! Encourage each other; make up games like how many steps you can keep going in a row, or who can suck a sweetie the longest; keep your eyes on the goal ahead (ten more minutes, or keep going till that crag up there, or the summit's just around the corner); above all, put one foot in front of the other till you succeed at your goal.

Life can be like this.  Whether it's swimming training or races, which is our sport of choice, or reading a long novel, or later on, when one is in business, at university, or trying to keep a marriage going -- JUST KEEP GOING!!! It may be hard at times, but you can do it if you don't quit.

Lesson One: Never give up!

What about Lesson Number Two: climbing mountains is a team game. We have particular difficulties with Rocky and Timmy, trying to push past each other to the summit and knocking each other to the ground. Tears, cuts, dangerous behaviour, not to mention embarrassing arguments on the hills which reverberate throughout the quiet valleys.

Winning is not always the goal.
Having recently discovered cooperative board games like Pandemic, this concept was readily accepted once we discussed it at length: there are no individual winners or losers when climbing mountains, but we ALL win when we get to the top.  Conversely, if anyone loses (ie, injured), we ALL lose, we ALL fail to reach our goal, we ALL have problems in trying to get back to the safety of the car/cottage/cafe.

Work Together to Achieve the Goal!
We even had a Lesson Number Three that was specifically about school -- what do you do if you read books but don't understand them? Rocky is particularly keen to keep up with Killer and Phoenix in their book choices, tackling titles like "Dracula" and "Divergent" on her Kindle, but not understanding what's happening in them.

This lesson was for me: "Clearly," I said to her as we trudged up the 2600-foot summit of Grisedale Pike, "I need to spend more time reading aloud to you so you can better understand these hard books."

Rocky marches to her own drum.
She's such an independent soul that she often gets cut loose on projects herself, but I need to remember that she's only 9 and still needs the same level of nurturing that my more needy kids need.

In homeschooling, no child need be left behind.
Education, like life in general, should be a team game, and sometimes, the coach needs to do a bit of coaching to ensure that we're reaching our goals.  For me, the goal is to make education an atmosphere, a discipline, a life -- these are the words of Charlotte Mason, a Victorian educator and originator of a popular homeschooling method, and the words that we live by, whether in the school room, in the living room, or in God's great outdoor room!

Traipsing around Oxford in the pouring rain in the wettest
winter on record (almost), we met up with 11 other homeschoolers at the Museum of Oxford for a workshop on the English Civil War.

Flood Times in February
Our hands-on portion was led by Kate of the Education Department, and she had the children try on replica clothes and think about what it would be like if suddenly 6000 extra people were billeted in a city of 10,000.
Kate Dresses a Cavalier

This discussion session usually takes about 45 minutes (so we were told), yet you know what homeschoolers are like:

  • What do the beeswax candles smell like?
  • How tall were the pikes?
  • Did soldiers have to carry their blankets and food with them?
  • What would water taste like if you drank it out of a leather flagon?
  • Why would you even drink the water, if 6000 extra people were throwing their sewage into the Thames?

Look at all those raised hands!

So the 45-minute session turned in 1 1/2 hours, capped off by the chance to write with quill pens on parchment paper.

Getting the Knack with Quill and Ink
"Dear Mom, I gave my wife the
keys and she won't let me in
the house. Thanks."

The last part of the 2-hour workshop entailed some time in the museum collection, but unlike the previous incarnation of the museum, with lots of bits and bobs from the Civil War era, the current displays have very little to see of any era, and was very disappointing. Judging from the website, this is only temporary as the real galleries are due to open next month after refurbishment.

Killer in a Bowler

To me, the best part of these workshops are meeting other homeschoolers in the area. Today's group seemed especially wonderful, for some reason. Attentive and inquisitive, knowledgeable and keen, the kids seemed to get a lot out of it, and let others get a lot out of it, too (including the four mums and dads who stayed to join in).

A Mum Lurking for Her Turn
with the Quill Pen!

Following the Charlotte Mason method as I do, we are always reviewing our reading and studies for the day by using a technique called narration.  In simple terms, this is just "telling back" what we've just read, and is undoubtedly a brilliant way of remembering information: much better than fill-in-the-blank, or short answer, or even asking kids questions and having them respond.

Narration is telling back what you've just read.

(As an aside, I recently did a test of its effectiveness by narrating some of my own reading to myself by writing down summaries, versus just carrying on without reviewing after I'd read. My memory and understanding of the material I narrated was far superior to that which I didn't narrate, and I still remember now the things I summarized, but not the things I didn't!)

Today's task was based on the Chemistry and Physics book, new from Apologia Science, in which we have been studying matter, and more recently, different properties of gold and iron pyrite such as magnetism, hardness, smell, and reactions to chemicals.

Using a graduated cylinder to observe volume.

We narrated this yesterday by discussion, but today, Killer has gone one step further and made a Pivot video. I think he won't be forgetting this science lesson in a long time!

Hope you enjoy!

At the beginning of the year, I made a mistake. I told my kids we wouldn't school on Friday.

Hooray! No school on Fridays!
There was method in my madness -- the year before, Fridays had been Busy Timmy's day to have private swimming lessons, and by the time we all trooped back home, it was about 11, and shortly thereafter, we would all head off to the afternoon youth group I run.

Busy Timmy gets ready to collect
children from the local school
to come to the youth club

Needless to say, that doesn't leave a lot of time for study.

No time for Life of Fred
on a Friday, I'm afraid.
It's true that, over the years, I've come to the conclusion that it's actually a good idea to carve out a day where you can a) have social calls from other home-ed people, b) invite newbies over for a chat, c) schedule workshops without disrupting the other school days, and d) catch up with chores, laundry, and housework.

So, why am I now re-thinking my announcement of a free-day Friday? Because Busy Timmy's swimming lessons got changed to Thursdays, and my lovely plans for afternoon reading with one child at a time got scuppered when I moved my CM Live classes to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays ... our long-standing Monday afternoon play-date ... music lessons ... Wednesday afternoon youth-group leaders' meetings ... thus, afternoon school has just disappeared from our schedule entirely, which was never part of my original plan.

The temptation is to renege on my original announcement about Friday, and reinstate it as a normal school day in our home -- that is, chores before 10, then Blocks 1 to 3 until lunch. Yet, I have discovered recently that Friday is not a dead loss after all, and for two reasons:

First, we are actually covering a lot of ground in our studies during the rest of the week, even though we only sit at our school-room table on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings. The two older ones have additional work for the CM Live Online classes which they do in their own time, and Thursdays is a Bible study/literature co-op with another family in a town about 14 miles away.

Do we really need to give up our Friday free-day if this is the case?

Oh, no! Say it isn't so!!!

The second reason is that Friday can actually be a really lovely time to spend some low-key one-on-one time with each child. With one of them, I'll read a book (I love reading "Money Mystery" with Phoenix). With another, we'll play a card game like Zeus on the Loose (sneaky way of strengthening maths!). Another one wants to show me his video animation, and the fourth wants to do food technology.

Rocky's taste test:
carton orange juice, or fresh-squeezed?

Meanwhile, they're each having a session of Spanish with the au pair.

Phoenix (aka Ellie Firestone on Amazon)
 gets translation help with her short stories

So Friday is not lost after all. It's just a different route to the same destiny, and that is trying to create an atmosphere of learning in our household a la Charlotte Mason. So we'll keep free-day Friday, and all will be glad!

Most every year, we travel to Texas from England to visit my family, most of whom still live there. The cost and hassle of travel means that we like to stretch the holiday as long as possible -- sometimes as much as a month -- and this is of course only tenable because we homeschool (reason number mumbly-six for homeschooling, right?!).

Off to Grandma's House!

This year, we had a most exciting educational experience along with our family visitations. A baby horse was born, and we got to see it.

Not only did we get to see it from start to finish, but we endured the grueling build-up to the baby's birth, camping out in a one-bedroom apartment in the barn for four cold nights, testing the mare's milk to see if we could predict when it was due, waking up throughout the night to see if she was getting restless, and feeling a great sense of relief and elation when she started to pass amniotic fluid and to get really aggressive.

Time to Test the Milk

Hooray, the baby is coming!

The two front hooves first appeared from the birth canal at about 10 o'clock at night. The kids had started getting ready for bed, but with their two cousins joining us in our cramped accommodations for the night, they were all still a bit too wound up to sleep.

A Kind of Camping

"Hurry, Kids! Grab your coats and come see -- the feet are sticking out!"

"Stop watching TV and come see this baby!"

Not too long after this, the mare lay down on the hay-strewn stable floor, and started grunting and rocking. The water sack bulged, the nose emerged, and Grandma got down on her knees and started pulling on those little hooves, helping the baby's fat shoulders past the usual sticking point of any equine birth.

Plop! The whitest little face, one brown eye and one blue, and we were all introduced to Sparky at about 11 pm. Everyone got to pet him, especially Grandma who started her "horse whisperer" imprinting routine.

Sparky meets his Mommy

I grew up on a horse ranch in Texas throughout my teen years and saw several foals born, so I was thrilled to pieces when my children were able to experience this as well. Not just the birth, but the long. slow wait beforehand, and the training in handling, gentleness, and trust that began in the weeks afterward.

First Moments of Training
("Now where does that milk come from?")

Studying nature first-hand is just so awesome!
We were so fortunate that the Royal Shakespeare Company allowed us to be a venue for free web-streaming of its latest play, Richard II, starring David Tennant of Dr Who fame.

A scene from the RSC Richard II

Nearly thirty homeschooled students and their parents met at the Charlbury Baptist church on a nippy Friday morning, some coming from as far away as Bristol and northern Wales.

Warm and Cosy while a King is deposed.

It was a great opportunity to see Shakespeare performed like this, and such accomplished actors.  Too bad they changed the script, though, and lost some of the ambiguity surrounding Richard's death and Henry's complicity in it.

We hear they're going to broadcast Henry IV Part 1 next year in the same way, and I'm getting my name on that waiting list to offer the opportunity to local homeschoolers again.

My question makes the board -- I'm famous!

It's that time of year again -- fourth Thursday in November when all of England carries about its usual weekday business, and we US-born expats try to salvage a bit of home by celebrating Thanksgiving as best we can.

This year, for the first time I think ever, we celebrated what's essentially the US version of Harvest with another American family.

A Feast for a Large Crew
It was such a blessing to bring our family's traditions and recipes together: turkey, ham, sweet potato casserole, broccoli-rice-cheese casserole, cranberry jelly and cranberry relish and cranberry jell-o, stuffing, gravy, rolls, and such an abundance that we didn't even get to the pumpkin or apple pies nor the pumpkin cake.

An amazing feat for my host and hostess considering they only moved into this house on Monday, and had to learn how to cook with an AGA oven, having never used one before.

This could be a Norman Rockwell picture!

Of course, we remember our families back in the States, the football games that are televised hours and hours later, the little things that are missing from the table like green and black olives, queso, my aunt's special fruit salad, and my cousin's wonderful buttermilk pie.

But the joy of sharing with others is that new experiences and traditions can join with the old, and we can appreciate how God has made so much variety in this world, and yet loves each one of us as an individual.

And for that, how can we but give thanks?
Monday, 14 October 2013

Meet My Kids

I had a glance at my blog today, trying to see what it would say about myself to a friend whom I've not seen since at least high school.

My first thought was that, though it showed I was busy, homeschooling, and seriously "into" my projects, it also seemed to wrongly suggest that I had only two boys.

So, here's a recent photo of my family: girl, boy, girl, boy, and hubby, and myself.


Top of Helvellyn, September 2013
I'm saying "ow, ow, ow" because I'd set the camera timer for 10 seconds, tripped over a rock, ripped my thumb, & tried to smile for the photo.  L to Right: Hubby, Busy Timmy, Phoenix, Rocky (with a sweet in her mouth), Killer, & myself.

I'm finally out of summertime holiday mode, and back into school preparation.  I've just about managed to put away all the camping gear, newly washed clothes, and seventeen packets of cup-o-soup, but now I have to tackle THE SCHOOL ROOM.

Out go all the books about medieval history, and in come those about the Renaissance.

Out go the papers, books, scrap books, and exercise books from our work last year, and in come the new folders, binders, composition books, pens, paper, glue, scissors, and boxes of crayons.

What a mess in the meantime!

Out with the old, in with the New

But wait?  What's this?  You mean, things aren't as chaotic as they first seem?

Guess who's got a new label maker?

My hope is that more books on display in neat categories might encourage more browsing . Still not sure what I'll put in the drawers at the bottom.  These used to have activities and crafts, most of which the kids have outgrown.  They might be a perfect place for the art supplies that currently live in the utility room, but I sure hope they don't encourage Rocky to paint on the carpet again!

Meanwhile, here is a very exciting book shelf:

CM Live Middle Ages Core Texts

These are the core texts for the CM Live Middle Ages course which I teach, and which Killer is going to take this year. I'm very proud of him.  Most students don't read these books till they're in college, and Killer is only 10! (I may have to carve out time to read them with him, though)

Finally, tidying up got delayed when I was inspired to work on our daily schedules.  About three hours later, I had finished the first draft of Phoenix's schedule: 

A Year 8 Schedule based on Ambleside Online

Phoenix is my eldest, and a natural scholar. Her brothers and sister will have shorter schedules than this, though they will be almost identical up until lunchtime. 

This one is heavy on the humanities, especially geography, because that's Phoenix's personal forte. I printed it out, but haven't edited it -- so, who knows if all the timings add up!

Roll on September 9th, when we officially start.