Snakes, rats, oxen, tigers and… ponies!

After a difficult day with Pickle yesterday (a common occurrence at the moment!) and a very reassuring and motivating chat with some fellow home edders (more experienced so full of wise words) I decided that we were all in need of a very different day today.

I have realised recently that I often try to do too much and please too many people. Yesterday we went to a home ed meet up and celebrated the Chinese New Year. While there, a warm-hearted tiger reminded this snake that I didn’t need to think so much about other people and unless I was happy then I had very little chance of making others happy. When we decided to home educate my aim was to be as autonomous* as possible (without losing our bedtime routine because I really need some time without my children around!) I know that I like to have some level of control in my life and have been guilty of trying to control the Ps (completely impossible with a stubborn rat, persistent ox and charming snake to contend with!) However I am also fully aware of our reasons for home educating (another post that I will write one day) and check myself regularly when I notice the ‘teacher’ in me coming out!

So today was all about me taking a complete step back and having NO expectations of myself or the Ps. I had to accept that I might not get all the laundry done and the Ps might not put their clothes away but I was adamant that we would have a different day…

And it really worked. When the big Ps awoke I calmly explained that we had visitors arriving in an hour and pony club this afternoon and I left it at that. Pickle didn’t want to get dressed before breakfast whereas Poppet got straight into her jodhpurs! Pickle disappeared downstairs while we were getting dressed and was very pleased when we arrived to announce that she had managed to spread butter and Nutella on a piece of bread for herself! While the rest of us ate breakfast Pickle got the drawing board and a magnet (they have been enjoying playing with magnets recently) and realised that she could use the magnet to draw with. They all proceeded to get very excited choosing different fridge magnets to see the different marks they made (“It must be filled with iron or steel filings” pronounced Poppet). I very quickly felt reassured that they are learning all the time and an autonomous approach is definitely the one for us.

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Following breakfast and science (!) I told the Ps that we were going to be joined by a couple of friends and their 2 year olds shortly. Pickle decided it was time to get dressed (no prompting or fussing which is our usual routine), Poppet joined her upstairs to put their clothes away (again no prompting), our friends arrived and we had a lovely morning playing playdough and chatting.

After our friends left Pickle and Piccalilli decided they wanted to play in the garden while Poppet wanted to finish her playdough model of a chair and to help make some lunch. Everyone was happy, including me 🙂

After lunch we started to get ready to go to the city farm for pony club. I allowed 45 minutes preparation time (more than double what I would usually allow!) during which time Pickle happily got changed into her jodhpurs, all three Ps hid from me and I didn’t once get stressed or raise my voice because I knew we had plenty of time to spare. Our drive was fun with lots of singing (more Annie!) and even the loss of my car keys when we arrived didn’t upset me (it did worry me slightly but we found them eventually so all was ok).

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No jodhpurs! (This is actually from last month – afraid I forgot to take pictures today cause I was so chilled!)

The big Ps did fantastic riding and all was calm, so when they requested hot chocolate and a film upon returning home the answer was a resounding yes. It gave me an hour to reflect and sort our dinner…

The conclusion… As much as we possibly can I’d like to continue with the autonomous approach to home education. Our children are bright, naturally inquisitive creatures who will flourish I am sure of it 🙂

 

*Autonomous education – A process of learning which when employed by home educators goes much further than schools using the same term. In short by autonomous education home educators mean that the child leads the education and the parents become the child’s facilitator. The child chooses the subject, method and context of any learning that is undertaken. It is believed by those who espouse it that this is a far more efficient, child centred method of education than any that coerces the child to learn by imposition. (Home Education UK)

Fun with frogs and fire…

… but not at the same time!

On Sunday Poppet, Piccalilli and I had a fun afternoon in the garden while Pickle had a quiet day helping the Stinker with cooking and chilling out in the house…

I’ve been gradually clearing the stream at the bottom of our garden over the past few weeks (a difficult task with all the rain but desperately needed doing to avoid flooding!) and the Ps have been showing increasing interest in it. While I excavated silt, mud and leaves Poppet decided to rescue the worms that were ‘drowning’… She said they would be happier in the wormery that we started a few weeks ago!

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Piccalilli sat happily cleaning toys and shells in the stream, occasionally falling in! She also went off to find some sticks to play ‘stick poo’ with! (She’s loving the Stickman story at the moment.)

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When we found a frog with a broken leg Poppet wondered what we could do to help. We decided that the only thing would be to put it somewhere sheltered in the hope that a predator wouldn’t find it.

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Both girls were intrigued with the fire lighting process and Poppet was keen to toast marshmallows but unfortunately we didn’t have any.  Instead I sent them up to the house to request hot chocolate from the Stinker. The message got slightly lost in translation and they stayed in the house meaning I never received my hot chocolate! At least I had the fire to warm me 🙂

Saying Goodbye – my tips for helping children deal with the death of a pet :(

The end of last week dealt us with the challenge of nursing a sick pet and finally having to say goodbye.  Of course when you get pets you are aware that at some point they will die (unless they are a tortoise, like our other pet Tiggy, who will probably survive us all!). But, I was still not prepared for how to deal with it.

One morning last week I discovered one of our chickens (actually my favourite, Blueberry) collapsed. I showed her the water and food in an attempt to get her to drink and eat but she was extremely weak and not at all interested. I decided to bring her up to the house where we fed her water and yoghurt with a calpol syringe (not calpol though!) for a few days. At times she seemed to be pepping up but on the second morning she was even more lethargic and we decided to take her to the vet. At this point I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be coming home so I prepared the Ps for this outcome and we headed to the vet. Obviously when you home educate your children it’s impossible to do things like this without them, but it is also an important life lesson (and as Pickle is interested in working with animals when she grows up she was actually quite excited about her first visit to the vets!)

The inevitable happened and the vet and I concluded (with the 3 Ps listening on) that the fairest outcome would be to euthanize Blueberry and say goodbye 😦  The vet left us for a few minutes and we all had a cuddle; Poppet and I both had a little cry while Pickle held it together and Piccalilli just kept kissing Blueberry! Now I know some people will be reading this thinking “It’s just a chicken” and I even said to the vet that I didn’t know why I was getting upset over a chicken, but as she said: she’s a pet with her own personality who became a part of our family.

We returned home where Pickle disappeared off and I realised she’d gone off to have a cry – she is very private about her emotions and when I went to give her a cuddle she initially didn’t want me to see her crying but I explained that it’s ok to be sad because we all loved Blueberry. She then decided that Blueberry had gone to be with Great Gran Audrey because she had loved birds 🙂

I feel that learning to deal with death is an important life lesson and these are my top tips on how to cope with this tricky time:

Don’t hide your own feelings. If you feel sad don’t worry about showing your children. If you don’t feel sad, make sure you respect their grief and help them to express their feelings – they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty and should feel proud of themselves for their level of care and compassion.

Involve them. Where possible let them be a part of the process and give them a chance to say goodbye if you decide to euthanize your pet. Obviously not everyone would want to take their children to the vet with them, but it definitely helped the Ps to see the vet trying her best to help Blueberry.

Reassure them that they weren’t responsible in any way. They also might need reassurance about significant others in their lives. The evening after we said goodbye to Blueberry, Pickle had a big wobble at bedtime so we had a long chat about her feelings and worries.

It can also help to think about the developmental stage of the child involved as their comprehension of death changes as they grow up:

Birth to two years

  • no real understanding of death
  • can sense emotions of those around them
  • may show some signs of irritability
  • need reassurance and usual routines

Two to five years

  • do not understand that death is irreversible and struggle with abstract concepts such as ‘heaven’
  • pick up on emotions of those around them
  • may show irritability or regression
  • will usually ask lots of questions but only capable of showing sadness for short periods of time
  • need reassurance, usual routines and concrete words (avoid “Blueberry has gone to sleep”)

Five to ten years

  • begin to understand the finality of death
  • might be very fearful or fascinated
  • could display aggression or somatic symptoms
  • will need to talk and be able to ask questions
  • stick to concrete words

Ten plus

  • more aware of the finality of death
  • often less willing to open up
  • Somatic symptoms and anger or guilt
  • will need to be given time to discuss their concerns

We are all missing Blueberry but I think the Ps have dealt very well with the experience.

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Blueberry before she was ill.

The most important thing when making solar powered toys is…

… to wait for a sunny day!

The big Ps have been really enjoying learning about where energy comes from, so I thought it was the perfect time to tell them about the solar powered toys I’d bought for them to make.

In some ways it was the best time as they were so enthusiastic about making something that is ‘green’ after they have been learning all about renewable energy. In many ways it was the worst possible time: I have been feeling under the weather today; Piccalilli was having one of those days where she just wanted to be picked up (not easy when you’re trying to make an intricate robot!); one of our hens has been poorly so she’s in a box in the dining room requiring regular water from a syringe; there was no sun!!

Anyway, we did it and it looks great, but we have no idea if it works or not!! Let’s hope for a sunny day tomorrow 🙂

Learning to tie shoe laces in 10 minutes… honest it is possible!

Recently Poppet has mastered the art of tying shoe laces. She’s been able to tie knots for over a year but bows were a write-off at that point! Last week she learnt to do her bows in about 10 minutes!

‘How is this possible?’ I hear you cry. Well, here are my three top tips to make this challenging task a lot less stressful (for child and parent!)

1. Wait until they’re ready!

Over a year ago Poppet first asked if we could teach her how to tie laces. So we dutifully bought her a fake wooden shoe (well, she didn’t have any real ones with laces – they’re all velcro these days aren’t they?!) and showed her how to do it.  After a lot of tantrums (from her and us!) the wooden shoe was relegated to an under bed storage drawer and forgotten about. When she said last week that she wanted to learn to tie laces again we had a little hunt and luckily retrieved the shoe!

2. Make it fun 🙂

There are lots of ways to make learning fun and with lace tying it’s actually remarkably easy:

  • Before getting on to actual lace tying, spend some time playing lacing games – cotton reels or beads on laces and lacing cards are great. You don’t have to buy lacing cards as it’s easy to make your own (although the Early Learning Centre ones are strong, cheap and colourful), but the most important thing is to have a firm, fray free end to your laces.
  • Try tying on a large scale – we had a go with skipping ropes in the garden. It was fun and we had a lot of laughs getting out of the knots we found ourselves in!
  • There are also some cute rhymes (some of which I remember from 30 years ago when I learnt to tie laces on a cardboard picture of a shoe with holes punched in it!) The rhymes mainly seem to revolve around bunnies but, with a bit of imagination, I’m sure they could be adapted to suit any child’s interests. We stuck with a version of the bunny rhyme from my childhood: Over, under, around and through, meet Miss Bunny, pull her through.
  • If you need to model the process it can be best to sit behind your child with your arms around them – Poppet found this hilarious!

3. Stay calm!

I know this can be easier said than done, but I would say that if things are getting too stressful then maybe your child isn’t quite ready.

Good luck and let me know if you beat our 10 minutes!

Losing my cool…

So I’m usually writing about the fun aspects of home educating, with the odd traumatic day thrown in for good measure, but I don’t often write about the days where I lose my cool and wonder why on earth we are doing this!  Last week I had one of those days and have avoided thinking about it too much since. However, I kind of see writing as therapy and figured it was time to get it off my chest…

Our mornings are generally slow and steady as it’s rare that we have to rush out of the house before 10ish. This is one of the lovely aspects of home education (although on those occasional days when you really need to be up and out it’s definitely harder!). So the day I lost my cool was no different to usual; we didn’t have to be anywhere in a rush so the Ps played happily upstairs while I sorted things in the kitchen. Little Piccalilli came down as she wanted her breakfast, but the big Ps continued in their contented play.

As it neared 10 o’clock, and I remembered that we had to be out in half an hour, I called upstairs that it was time to get dressed. Well, you’d have thought I’d just thrown a grenade up there and declared war by the reaction that followed… Suddenly the calm, peaceful morning turned to chaos and the happy siblings turned instantly into enemies. The screaming started, followed by a lot of banging, followed by loud shrieking (which I think was meant to be crying in an attempt to get me to go up). I tried to ignore it initially – isn’t that the done thing? Let them sort it out themselves? Don’t get involved in every sibling battle? Well, after a few minutes of screeching and obvious physical fighting I thought I’d better check that nobody was truly hurt…

When I got to the top of the stairs, Poppet was standing in the middle of the room naked and screaming – Pickle was nowhere near her and I couldn’t work out what the fuss was all about! I lost my cool instantly… I screamed at her to get out. She screamed at me that Pickle had been sitting on her and hurting her (which seems to happen a lot!). I screamed at Pickle that that was inappropriate behaviour. She screamed at me that Poppet had taken her clothes away. I screamed, they screamed, we all screamed… and no ice cream was involved at any point!

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I completely lost it; I told them I was leaving; I told them they were going to school the next day; I really lost it…

Thankfully I had a tiny bit of self control left and on hearing Piccalilli downstairs calling for me “Mummy stop shouting”, I realised I had lost it and went downstairs. Piccalilli got me a tissue and we had a big cuddle.  When the big Ps came downstairs they were very remorseful, as was I, and we talked it through.  We discussed why getting dressed and other transition times always seem to be so difficult and we discussed the types of behaviour that we all displayed that was negative and how we should have behaved. We wrote and signed a new family contract and agreed to have another meeting in a week (tomorrow) to discuss how we were getting on.

I am not proud of losing it.  But I am proud of how we dealt with it and turned it around. We are all doing pretty well at sticking to the new family contract but transition times can still be tricky… we’re working on it though!

 

New Year, New Challenges…

I don’t often bother with resolutions as it feels like setting yourself up for a fall! I do like to set myself little challenges though so have given myself a few challenges for the next few months.

  1. Mindfulness – The lovely Stinker gave me a beautiful colouring book for Christmas. I plan on using this regularly and doing lots of colouring and relaxation with the 3Ps
  2. Meat-free – We have decided to avoid buying meat throughout January for a few reasons including the high cost of good quality meat. I’m not at all daunted by this as I’m not really bothered about meat, although I might miss bacon! I have a feeling this challenge will extend further than January…
  3. Dry January and February – I read recently that unless you’re an alcoholic it’s pointless having dry months, but I think this is a silly statement to make. We are doing it for health reasons (to lose a few excess kilograms!) and to save money.
  4. To write another blog – Don’t worry I plan on continuing to write this one on a personal level but I am thinking of writing one giving advice about different aspects of home education and healthy living… I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on!

Holiday Happiness…

So, for us Christmas was over on Sunday – the big girls went to the Panto with their Nanny and Daioo (Granddad) and while little Piccalilli slept, the Stinker and I took down the decorations and tree (which was practically bare by the time we’d pulled everything off, so it’s a good job Christmas is done for another year!). Since, Piccalilli occasionally disappears off and returns to tell me that the Reindeer had gone – this has bothered her more than anything else as he was filled with chocolate coins most days by our Elf! I love the Christmas break, but I’m also happy when the house gets back to some level of normality… Saying that, I don’t enjoy the holiday coming to an end!

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I love holidays mainly because we get to have the Stinker around more (the biggest bonus of him still working as a teacher!) and relax together. It’s definitely not all smiles and happiness though… So here is my roundup of the highs and lows of Christmas and New Year 2015-2016:

Highs

  • Piccalilli’s enjoyment of the whole Christmas period – she’s the perfect age for the magical moments and watching her little face light up every time she realised that more chocolate coins had been delivered really made my day many times!
  • Lazy mornings in bed – ok, so as we home ed we often have slow mornings but these are always missing the Stinker who leaves early for work. So lazy mornings with all of us present are lovely.
  • Quality time with extended family – we see some members of our family often but to spend quality time chatting, playing games, and just being together is great.
  • Three happy little girls – well, they weren’t happy all the time (see Lows below!!) but on the whole they enjoyed the excitement of Christmas and the lovely presents they received.
  • Feeling proud – Poppet made us very proud on a couple of occasions. Firstly she played her recorder and cornet (both of which she’s only been learning for a few months) in a concert with the home ed band she is a part of. Secondly she sewed us all Christmas presents – I became an emotional wreck and cried when I opened the pillow she’d made for me!! I’m expecting floods of tears next Christmas when she makes me something even more intricate with the sewing machine she got from Father Christmas 🙂
  • Laughing lots – Pickle is turning into a fantastic comedienne and often has us in stitches. Her little impromptu sketches can be hilarious and I particularly love watching Poppet and Piccalilli laughing uncontrollably at her!
  • Theatre trips – we were very lucky to be taken to see Annie (thank you Auntie Krusty and Uncle Big Dan!), which was amazing, although the constant singing of Annie songs since is starting to grate on me (and I can’t get them out of my head!). The big Ps also had their annual Panto trip with Nanny and Daioo which they always love 🙂

Lows

  • The weather! It would have been lovely if it had snowed, or even just stayed dry – the rain really does make things more difficult, although we did still get out as much as possible and the New Year’s Day walk was great fun, especially when the big Ps (who had not been getting on well for a few days!) decided to roll in the mud.
  • The bickering – I know it’s normal and I live with it daily but I do wish they’d stop during the holidays!
  • The trip to Hospital – luckily nothing major but of course I felt awful because it had been me who had opened the door and trapped Pickle’s finger in the hinge ripping her nail half off (but her fault really for standing behind the door to have a strop!)
  • The end – as I said earlier, I really don’t like it when holiday times come to an end 😦

Parks, Paddies and Promises!

This time of year can be pretty stressful for everybody, but when you’re trying to juggle getting organised for the big day (and beyond) with keeping three hyper girls from exploding… well, let’s just say I’m in need of a break!

The past week or so we’ve spent a lot of time either walking to (the long way!), at or walking home from our local park – it’s nothing to shout home about (and even less so since the council removed the house and slide to stop teenagers’ shenanigans!) but the fact that it’s a stone’s-throw from home makes it the perfect escape on damp days when we need to get out.

Our last visit resulted in a huge paddy by Poppet about the fact that Pickle wanted to swing higher than her! But at least we were out getting some fresh air – positive thinking and all that 🙂

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Poppet’s paddies – it could be the name of a book, although I’m not sure who’d want to read it! Joking aside, her ‘moments’ are currently more regular with more gusto and I don’t know if it’s an age thing or something else…

Yesterday evening Poppet was due to be invested into Beavers. She’s been going since September and even went on camp last month (see Different Directions…); she was so excited about saying her promise and the Stinker and I were invited to watch. As soon as we arrived I saw her demeanour change – it’s hard to describe but it’s like she goes into herself, physically shrinking away from a situation. The next thing I knew she was over with us, crying and trying to clamber up on me. It’s difficult to know the best response in these situations so I often find myself trying to cajole her to do whatever it is she is shying away from: “You’ve been so looking forward to it”, etc. But Poppet is very stubborn so that was that – no promise.

However, five minutes later the tears started again (as I thought they would) when the realisation set in that she had lost the chance to do something she did really want to do! Luckily the leaders are fantastic and waited until the end, when nearly everyone had gone, to do Poppet’s promise with her.

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The Stinker is understandably concerned that she needs to overcome this issue, but my thinking is that, no matter how stressful I find her paddies, we need to find another way of dealing with them. We’d both predicted that it would happen last night so maybe we could have altered the outcome by changing our behaviour (or just not turning up to watch!)

Does anyone else have any experience of these sorts of issues and any golden nuggets of advice you could share?

 

 

Christmas crafts: spiral Christmas trees

Sunday was all about making the house as Christmassy as possible with lights and decorations. It also involved Christmas crafts that all the Ps could do together while I cooked dinner and the Stinker felt sorry for himself (after a night out on the razzle dazzle!)

Spiral Christmas trees

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  1. Draw a spiral on your green paper or card
  2. Decorate with stickers or draw pictures, ensuring they stay between your lines (I was amazed by how well Piccalilli did hers!)
  3. Cut along the lines carefully
  4. Decorate the other side (we did this after we had cut out as otherwise wouldn’t have known where our lines were!)
  5. Hang up 🙂

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We all (yes all five of us!) enjoyed making these trees and they look very effective. We are planning on making lots more!

Oh, and if you like the look of the little Father Christmases hiding above, have a look at my post on Loo Roll Father Christmases!