Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Pottery Wheel

We tried a local pottery class last week but Reuben was a little overwhelmed by all the other children in the room and of course there is the usual issue of: what if I don't feel like doing pottery at 10am on a Friday morning... So his solution was to ask for a potters wheel he could use at home when he felt like it. The wheel came this morning and he immediately set to work!
This is the one we got:

I thought I would try out a child one to see how they get on, if pottery takes off then we will invest in a proper one. In fact a long time project for all of us will be to have a separate workshop where we can all go and create while being as messy as we like.

The end product: a slightly grumpy looking pot
The set up

We have no idea what we are doing but it's a lot of fun finding out
Reuben likes the professional feel of the pedal
The pot takes shape

Monday, 29 October 2012

A few thoughts on autonomy

After a few difficult situations I have found myself in, in these last few months, I thought it would be useful to write some of my thoughts down on the topic of autonomous learning.
I did not wake up one morning and decided: I will home educate! In fact I will eliminate any sort of structure and go for this groovy thing called Radical Unschooling!! This has been a very long and laborious process with a lot of thinking, reading and living involved. What I have at the moment is an outlook on life and my fellow humans that seems to work and helps to make us happy, creative and productive people.

So what are we doing exactly? My journey started with a very valuable book called The Continuum Concept, it argued that we have lost our connection to our basic human continuum and that the way we relate to babies and small children is extremely important, it is not up to us to decide what the baby needs, the baby knows, we just have to tune in. So breastfeeding, carrying in a sling or in arms, cosleeping, are all things a newborn human will expect. This idea of trusting my children (opposed to trusting a book from Waterstones) was so obvious and so revolutionary for someone like me who grew up relatively unattached from her parents. So attachment parenting was the next step but this didn't seem to go far enough. Why trust a baby but not a toddler? When my eldest was 2 I started feeling really panicky about sending him to school. He would still be so little, who would hug him if he was upset? Would anyone care? And by the age of 2 it was clear that Reuben was extremely self motivated, creative and very very sharp!! What were they going to do with him anyway? I looked at the curriculum for the reception year and he knew it all by the time he was 3. But this is not really relevant to my choices, it was just the spark the started the fire.

So we decided to home educate, from my experience as an English teacher for the British Council I knew I wouldn't write lesson plans or decide what the children were going to learn. The wonderful books by John Holt were very helpful and introduced me to the idea of Unschooling, trusting in the children's natural love of learning and giving them the space to pursue their own interests in their own time.
And this led to more thinking and reading... Alfie Kohn had made me think about unconditional love, about giving the children the respect they deserve and have a (human) right to. Jan Fortune-Wood made me think that this respect is all encompassing, that non coercion is the true way to go if I want to nurture free spirited children.
So every day I watch them, listen to them, feel with them and find solutions where everybody wins. I am trying to move away from a family unit where one (or both) parents holds all the power, in fact I am trying to move away from power struggles altogether. A problem comes up and we say: how can we solve it? What would make us all happy? Everyone's wishes are listened to, if Isaac doesn't want to take his pyjamas off, he can put a jumper over them and go out regardless. If Reuben wants to eat at a different time from the others, he should have the freedom to do so. If the children have their clothes on back to front I won't say anything as not to detract from the joy of having dressed themselves. If the biscuits are not shaped "properly" I will bake them as they are, because what is "properly" anyway? I feel a deep respect for all they say and do, if they ask me for an opinion or for help I will happily give it to them but I don't force my experience and opinions on them.

So it goes well beyond education, I didn't see how I could trust the children to know best when it comes to reading and writing and not know best with basic human functions like eating or sleeping. Or for anything else for that matter.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Crayon shapes

Shamelessly stolen from Pinterest (thank you Lulastic) but it was a shame not to share!

Our pumpkins! And why we do them in the first place.

After careful consideration the children decided to go with the traditional Jack-o-lantern. These are their efforts, the rain adds to the atmosphere!
The spooky one
The vampire one
The happy one (Reuben's)
And of course at this time of year they always ask me why we carve the pumpkins in the first place.
It is not certain how the custom of making jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween came about. However, it is thought to come from the British Isles, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used. Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were made on the Gaelic festival of Samhain (31 October–1 November) in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Samhain was a time when fairies and spirits were said to be active. The purpose of these lanterns may have been threefold. They may have been used to light one's way while outside on Samhain night; to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings; and/or to protect oneself and one's home from them, they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep them out of one's home. However, others suggest that they originated with All Saints' Day (1 November)/All Souls' Day (2 November) and that they represented Christian souls in purgatory. (thank you Wikipedia, more info here)

Make your own excavation pit

To continue our archaeology theme, this is our next project: make our own pit!!!
Isaac especially really enjoyed the pit at the Jewry Wall museum so we thought it would be a good idea to make our own.

Is this a find?
Looks like a Roman tile
So off we went to look for resources and ideas and we came across the most excellent Hands on History website by the BBC. Amongst the videos and resources, there's a section for families and lots of very interesting activities. Including a make your own pit download.

Archaeologists find out about the past by discovering artifacts, examining them and then recording what they have found, this activity takes you through the three processes and encourages the children to feel like the real thing. You can add both organic and non-organic objects to the pit and find out if they rot or not and how long it takes them to decompose.

Download the activity here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Archaeology at Charnwood museum

We all do love a good museum! After our new found love of history and archaeology, thanks to the holiday in Normandy, we appreciate our history even more. This morning we spent a happy couple of hours at Charnwood Museum in Loughborough, here's some of the things we did:
A model castle to build, after visiting Mount St Michel in Normandy the boys have a good
idea of what an imposing castle and moat look like
Reuben loves the microscope, he can analyse fragments of archaeological finds as well as
modern organic matter like wood and insects
Building a castle
Brass rubbings without the paper...
The microscope is connected to a screen so Reuben can have a proper look
Comfortable with the equipment, we have a small microscope at home but this setup is very
special to him
Reuben zooms in and out and has learnt how to focus
The giant oak tree in the museum, you can just about see the glass walkway under which
lies a local dinosaur!
Working out the best strategic way to build a castle

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Snail and the Whale live

We have now seen quite a few theatre adaptations of Julia Donaldson's books (the Gruffalo woman) and they have ranged from very dull to very imaginative so we don't quite know what to expect anymore. And that is good! We remain a hugely optimistic and excitable bunch of people so a trip to the theatre is always a very joyful event. Our favourite local theatre is Curve in Leicester, and that's where this performance was.

As usual, as soon as the show starts, I REALLY wish I hadn't read the book as I feel it detracts from what I am seeing. The story here was quite different from the book, it is all about the relationship between a girl and her father, he is in the navy and is often away so the show is a bittersweet remembering of a favourite story shared between the two.

The snail leads everyone to the rescue

A girl/snail with an itchy foot

The snail and the whale swim away

Daddy's voice

The boys as usual loved it, I'm looking forward to more critical discussions in the cafe afterwards but as they are only (nearly) 3 and (nearly) 5 I am content with: Mummy I loved it! And my favourite bit was when...
More details on the show here.

Our first balcony seats, Isaac's head  in the foreground
We listen to sea shanties on the violin before the show

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Shortbread Angels

Ok it's clearly too early for Xmas but we came across THIS GUY:
... and we just had to use him!!!!
Our favourite shortbread recipe is a slight twist to the original, we use:
(to make about 10 to 14 biscuits depending on the cutter)
150g plain flour
25g semolina or ground rice
100g butter
1 small orange (use juice  and grated rind)
50g caster sugar
Baked for 12/15 minutes at 170 degrees centigrade or gas mark 4

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Treasure people

This is a really lovely activity for toddlers (and beyond). Isaac, who is nearly 3, saw these ice-cream stick men in the craft shop yesterday. We also bought some gems and other things for them to decorate their projects with. I put a load of stuff on the table this morning and pretty much left them to it. Isaac immediately started decorating his stick men and turned them into Treasure People!
The other thing I liked about these little people is that the boys played with them a lot afterwards, they did some role playing (the people fell out with each other but the gems did not luckily) and they now adorn the bookcase.
The gems (which also double as treasure in pirate games) have a flat
side so they're really easy for a toddler to stick on
I also found they stick fast and the glue (stick glue from the craft
shop) dried quickly enough so Isaac did not get frustrated with them
falling off

I can do it all by myself

Two lovely treasure people!

Butterfly mobile

After all the spooky Halloween stuff we've been doing we felt the need for something different!
We recently rediscovered a lovely book called Creative Play for your toddler, the title is a little misleading as it's a Steiner toy making manual, toddlers wouldn't be able to make any of it and the toys are also suitable for older children... But having said this, the projects themselves are lovely (see link to book at the end of the post) and me and Reuben very much enjoyed making this butterfly mobile, he could do the butterflies himself and I put it all together.
Tissue paper butterflies
How to make it
You will need: Flexible cane, coloured ribbon, sharp scissors, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, sewing thread.
1. Decide on the diameter of your mobile and wind the cane into a ring. Secure.
2. Wind a length of coloured ribbon around the ring for decoration.
3. Attach four equal length ribbons to the cane ring making sure they are evenly spaced and hang level. Then attach another ribbon to the four so that you can hang the mobile centrally from a single ribbon.
4. To make the butterflies cut shapes from folded tissue paper to make sure they are symmetrical. Layer the paper so that you cut several butterflies at a time.
5. Choosing different colours, layer two or three butterfly shapes on top of each other. Fold a pipe cleaner in half and pinch the tissue paper between the two halves, scrunching the paper gently to give the butterfly form.
6. Twist the ends of the pipe cleaner to secure the tissue paper and bend the ends to form the head and feelers.
7. Fluff up the wings, then tie a length of sewing thread to each end of the pipe cleaner. Attach a second piece of thread to the first and knot so that it can slide up and down the first thread until the butterfly hangs straight.
8. Attach the butterflies to the cane ring making sure they are evenly spaced and hung at different lengths.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sword and Shield

We went for the consecutive Sunday to the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester, annexed to the remains of the Roman baths.

Last week Isaac greatly enjoyed some excavation and got very excited every time he found a bit of tile or pottery.

This week there were some craft activities laid out for the children, Reuben very rarely takes part as I think he dislikes having to make something someone else has decided for him... but if he likes the project he will concentrate for a long time, he is happy to follow instructions and listens attentively when the person in charge wants to help him (so autonomous learners are not antisocial or incapable of doing organised activities). The project in question today was a cardboard sword and shield. We have made swords at home in the past so I think he wanted to see how else he could make one, and of course he just wanted to make one so he could play with his friends.

Reuben makes friends with the girl in charge!
Sword and shield are made from decorated cardboard
Reuben is very happy to listen to instructions and ideas
All is decorated in sparkling gems!

Halloween crafts links

Hi, here's a few links to some spooky crafts you might like!
(click on the title to open website)

V is for Vampire!

Ghost footprints

Starlight pumpkin art

Samhain pumpkin heads

And finally a story for Halloween (listen or download), how was the first Jack-O-Lantern created?

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