Sunday, 30 September 2012

Why we must keep the Marshmallow-Throwers at bay

Earlier this week I wrote about the teaching union rep at the end of this clip, and it got me thinking yet again about the problems inherent in people in the government, both local and national, holding similar views about a broad and balanced curriculum, regardless of it not, by its very definition, being suited to the individual child. There's a quote that I love -

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”

If people from the government did come into our private homes to assess the education we were providing for our children, they would be people like this union man. (Or in fact they already are, where people do allow them in, sometimes in full knowledge of the law, and sometimes hoodwinked by those very people). They're ex teachers*, ex headteachers, education welfare departments, school improvement divisions. They know school, not home education. (And certainly not the sorts of home education that bear no resemblance to school at all.) They're people who spent the first eighteen or so years of their lives having marshmallows thrown at their heads, the next few being told how to throw them at other people's heads, and have been steadfastly throwing them at children's heads ever since. If you were, metaphorically, to show them a child go shopping, select some ingredients, cook a meal and eat it, they wouldn't know what had just happened. They just. Don't. Get it.

They see a child playing Minecraft for weeks on end? They will miss the reading, the socialising, the creativity, and all the amazing, varied and completely individualised things the child is learning. They will just notice the absence of projectile marshmallows, and assume the child is not learning.

They see a child lying on the grass watching the sky all morning? Again, no marshmallows lobbed relentlessly at the child's head, so no learning. They'll miss the child processing all he learnt the day before.

They see a child watching The Simpsons for a whole afternoon? They will miss the historical and cultural references they're taking in. Because no marshmallows, so no learning.

My home is metaphorical-marshmallow free. (Plenty of the real ones though!) So if these people came in ready to asses using their marshmallow-trajectory-centric beliefs, they would see nothing: not broad and balanced, nor suited to ability and aptitude. They'd miss my children designing and cooking their very own recipe for learning, with me facilitating. Because we don't do marshmallows, and marshmallows are all these people know.

*Disclaimer: I'm well aware that there are some teachers who are supportive of/interested in alternative educational models, and lots who go on to HE their own children. They're not, however, the ones who take jobs voluntarily monitoring and controlling these pesky home educators.

Wales Road Trip!

So this week we left behind the rain in Staffordshire...

Splashing at Tittesworth Reservoir

...drove for a seemingly interminable five hours through *lots* more rain, and arrived in Wales to, er, not quite so much rain but a hell of a lot of wind! We started off in Cardiff on Monday for the Hands up for Home Ed handover at the Not Back to School Picnic outside the Senedd building. The boys' hands...

We made the most of the dry-ish afternoon and explored Cardiff Bay...

... and then made our way to Penybryn Cottages, which were absolutely lovely, and toasty as anything! (Which was good, because it was raining again.) It was the first time I'd been away with all three of them by myself, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire with sleepy kids, huuuge spiders that needed evicting before bed, and a Squidge who realised late at night that he just wanted to be home with Daddy :(

Luckily by the next morning everyone was happy once again, and instead of our planned trip to Big Pit we drove back to Cardiff to go to Techniquest as they'd been really disappointed that it had been shut the day before. And let me say - hands down the best science museum we've been to (including the London one). Every single thing in there is hands-on, and the staff are brilliant, there to help without being intrusive and teachy :) We'll definitely be taking another trip down just to go there again.

Afterwards we wandered over to the Red Dragon Centre and played on the arcade for a while... 

...had a game of bowling (with the boys getting a respectable number of strikes and spares!), and went and saw Indiana Jones at the IMAX (Sprout's latest interest since he started playing the Lego Indiana Jones 2 game last week).

The next day saw a drive westwards, where we stumbled upon this little castle at Llandovery...

...stayed for a bit of a play... 

...then carried on to the Dolaucothi Gold Mine, to where we've been planning a trip since Minecraft sparked Sprout's interest in mining and he asked to go down a gold mine.

Real life minecart :)

Ready to go down the mine

Panning for gold

Playing archaeologists (they thought it quite cool that they've already done this for real!)

Playing Romans, as the mine has been there since Roman times)

On the long drive back up through Wales to get home, torrential rain alternated with bright sun, and we saw looooads of rainbows, some so bright they actually looked like they were glowing neon! Squidge snapped a picture of this double one :)

Later in the week we spent lovely relaxing time with friends, one of whom had brought some insanely awesome bubble mix she'd made...

...and we were also excited to finally receive our MaKey MaKey in the post (we preordered aaages ago!)...

So today we've been playing around with what it can do. We made a video game controller from play dough...

...and a drumkit out of three bananas, a Mummy and a Grandpa. I was the cowbell :) It was as good as imagined, but we had a slow internet connection where we were so we're going to try out more ideas this coming week.

Sprout's been enjoying using the old Zenit B so much that it's been costing an arm and a leg in films and developing, so we invested in a Canon EOS 300D for him this week which arrived today...

Severn Bridge, photo by Sprout on an iPhone

Photo by Sprout on his new Canon

Elsewhere this week, we've mostly been watching You've Been Framed Top 100 Animals (over and over again, which is awesome as it gets the biggest belly laughs ever out of both Sprout and Squidge), listening to Popcorn by Bare Naked Ladies (again, over and over again, with Squidge doing the most brilliant dances to it), playing DLC Quest (which Sprout completed in about 24 hours, but it was fun while it lasted!), and reading lots of Mr Men books (we bought the box set a couple of years ago but they've not been bothered about them until now).

I think a quiet week is on the cards now!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Broad and Balanced, the Badge of School Inferiority

So today was the Not Back To School Picnic in front of the Senedd building in Cardiff. A lovely, friendly, peaceful, successful day.
Oh, apart from this bloke at the end.

"One teaching union told us they support more checks"?
If the quote was, "One beef farmers' union told us they support plans to monitor vegetarians and refuse permission to be vegetarian if children are not fulfilling the criteria of the union," would it be any different?

I have to take issue with his assertion that "there's a lot of evidence that suggests that quite a few [home educated children] don't [get a broad and balanced education]." The first obvious thing is that he clearly has no such evidence as none exists. It was one of those times I wished for a Liar Liar moment, whereby when he meant to say the lie above, what he actually said was, "I've never even met a home educator so I don't know squat," or, "I'm not a parent, so I have no idea of the realities of what a parent will provide for their child, out of love, that completely eclipses anything the government might offer that same child." Or something along those lines. But actually my main quibble with it is this -

I don't want my children to have a broad and balanced education. 

Nope. Not even the law thinks children should have a broad and balanced education, but rather one individually suited to each child. Schools, who can never hope to give every single child an education individually tailored to their ability and aptitude, instead offer the bland same-for-everyone-Oliver gruel that is a broad and balanced curriculum. It's a badge of inferiority. I, however, can offer my children an education specifically tailored to each of them, fulfilling their curiosities and enabling them to learn in the real world from the very things that interest them. If they develop an interest in Anglo Saxons, they can find out about their culture, their lifestyles, play the games they played, see their treasure, cook their food; not just for half an hour on a Tuesday morning, when they might not even be interested, but whenever their curiosity is piqued, right through until it is sated. If they are passionate about photography, they can hone that skill whenever and wherever they like. If they're a natural at tennis, they can concentrate on that. So I throw the accusation back at you, Mr Teaching Union. There is a lot of evidence (existing in reality in this case, not just in your mind) that an awful lot of schoolchildren don't get an education suited to their age, aptitude, ability and any special needs they may have. You know, in line with the law. And so I support home education as a free-from-state-interference option for every parent, just as it is now.

You can keep your broad and balanced, Mr Teaching Union. We have education tailored to the individual child. So ner ;)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Quite a lot of bubbles and ice cream

It's been a week or so of park days, parties, lots of bubbles, ice creams, days out and many, many photos taken by Sprout! 

They've been enjoying having the street to themselves now the schools are back, and so most days, armed with scooters, Squidge has been out there with bubbles of one sort or another, and Sprout has been out there with his camera. He's really enjoying playing with angles and composition, and I love some of the pictures that are coming out of it!

We had the long awaited trip to Lapworth Geology Museum, which I can't recommend enough. It was really hands on, there were some great exhibits, and the guy doing the session with us was absolutely fantastic with the kids. He showed us/talked to us about/let the children hold some fossils in the morning, and some gems, crystals and rocks in the afternoon.


Hippo skull

Some sort of tortoise-type fossil (!)

Icthyosaur fossil

Mammoth tooth
Squidge examining a big chunk of pumice
It wasn't university term time yet so we had the added bonus of a nice quiet expanse of grass, and a lovely sunny day, to relax afterwards.

We didn't go to Tittesworth Reservoir this week but I did get this lovely photo from the last time we went...

We did go to an unusually quiet home ed group, and headed to the park afterwards.

Baby led weaning is continuing in a happy vein, and I've managed to borrow a copy of Gill Rapley's book to refresh my memory as it's aaaages since the last time!

In random news, we keep having to go to Tesco as Jay likes having his photo taken with the pirate cut out from The Pirates! film :D

We went to a birthday party, and the boys were over the moon with possibly the best (and most amusing to drive home with) party bag presents ever...

We played with some touchable bubbles (not a good photo but the only one I could get with one of them actually caught on something!); they were a bit disappointing and seemed to pop almost as much as normal bubbles, and just smell a hundred times worse :(

We threw an Unbirthday Party as the boys decided birthday parties are just over too quickly...

Dancing (the photo can't capture just how cute this was!!)
Making Mickey Mouse out of plates and bowls :)

And of course pass the parcel!
 Later in the week, you guessed it, more bubbles, but big ones this time...

We picked up a load of shaving foam with the intention of having a shaving foam fight, but they decided that sounded too messy (I know, did someone swap them for someone else's kids???), so they made an imaginary world with it instead... 

We caught a very rainy sunny day (and therefore a very rainbowy day!) for a trip to the Cheshire Ice Cream Farm, which was awesome, the boys would happily have stayed there a week! 

Panning for Fool's Gold and other little stones (they loved this, and  discovered some cool stuff to put in the little bags they gave them)
Mini golf

Quadbikes (they must have had twenty or so goes on these!)

Ice cream. Of course. (It was excellent ice cream!)

And more bubbles. Seriously, between ice cream, bubbles, and coin-operated rides my kids are happy as Larry :D
 We had a big cooking and baking afternoon, including banana bread which we all love but haven't made in ages, and Moppet had her first try :)

She's also trying *very* hard to crawl, but isn't quite there yet.

When we've had some time at home, we were lucky enough to get some new DVDs in a charity auction for this wonderful cause, so we've been watching lots of Horrible Histories, as well as the Green Lantern that we picked up last week. Also Squidge has been enjoying Reading Eggs, while Sprout has been trying out Octodad, FTL:Faster then Light, and Lego Indiana Jones. He wants to start his own YouTube channel with walkthroughs and gameplay so he's just trying to get the videos how he wants them at the moment.

Next week we're off to Wales to show our support for Welsh HEors fighting the licensing proposals, and we're going to stick around for a couple of days so that I can take Sprout to a gold mine and a coal mine like he'd asked, another branch of interest from his Minecraft gaming!