Saturday 11 January 2014


Recently we were given some workbooks, but they were different to workbooks we had used before. These ones come complete with a CD and a licence to edit and print off as many of the worksheets as you need. I can see the potential in this for use in a home education group or co-op and even for us as a family it means we can tweak the activities to suit us and print off a selection of worksheets and activities for Small to choose from.

Today Small chose two of the pages I had printed out and (in a huge leap forward for a little boy who has had little interest and some difficulty with using a pen) he wrote the answers himself.

In case you were wondering, yes unschoolers can use workbooks! The essence of unschooling is the flexibility to provide a range of resources and follow your child's lead, so if they find worksheets interesting then get printing.

If you want to look at the workbooks, you can find them at.            Books From Sharon.  We used three of the maths workbooks but they are available in a range of subjects and ages. Go and take a look :-)

Friday 10 January 2014

Public meltdowns

When you see a child in full-on meltdown mode, how do you react?

Small had a doctor's appointment today and a packed-to-the-rafters waiting room, TV playing, bing-bonging notification screen and just four hours sleep meant he was struggling as soon as we walked in.

Big took him back to the car and we hoped that, as the appointment was about existing problems, we could get away with just me talking to the doctor. Despite my explanation as to why Small was not present the doctor insisted on seeing him and we had to carry him, kicking and screaming, through the waiting room, past a group of old ladies in the corridor and into the doctor's room. After twenty seconds she said Big could take Small out again so they were paraded back through the surgery.

I stayed to finish up with the doctor but when I left the ladies waiting in the corridor could not meet my eyes. They may have been embarrassed, shy or unsure. They may have been tutting at the badly behaved child. I don't know, but at that point a quick smile or sympathetic glance would have been really appreciated.

An hour later, Small was still producing those heartbreaking juddery sighs that children do and three hours later he has fallen asleep.

It is hard to find the energy and emotional reserves to take your child somewhere that you know will be excruciatingly difficult for them. It is hard to see them in such a state and to know that even the people who aren't staring are probably watching out of the corners of of their eyes. We don't want pity but empathy is appreciated.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Worksheets by moonlight

I love how flexible our life is and how we can do 'work' when Small feels enthusiastic, rather than to a timetable.

Tonight Small is doing his 'sleep is for the weak' routine and shortly before midnight he asked if we could get the project folder out.

The project folder is a ring binder that, every few months, I fill with print outs, crafts ideas and worksheets that I think Small might enjoy. The Nature Detectives website is great for seasonal print outs and I add ideas I have seen in books or online. I also use it to store pictures and work he has done when we change our seasonal display. It's a great way to show far away family members the things we get up to.

Tonight, at around midnight, Small asked to do a food chains worksheet we printed out from Nature Detectives. He had never done food chains before and was really proud of himself when he worked them all out. He even suggested an extra food chain and noticed that the chains seemed to start with plants and of course (most!) plants don't have mouths to eat other creatures, so I explained that plants get their energy from the sun. We finished off by drawing a food web, starting with a tree and looking at how lots of different animals can live on one tree and that one buzzard, for example, might eat several of the smaller animals. It helped him see that not everything is as linear as our initial food chains and that cutting down the tree could take food away from lots of animals, not just the ones who eat the seeds and leaves of that tree.

Friday 22 November 2013

The perfect lesson...

It seems to me that baking is an ideal education tool.

• Maths is covered by weighing out ingredients or measuring them using fractions of a cup (often used in American recipes).

• Initiative is used when altering recipes - today our vegan chocolate cake recipe came to a standstill when we realised we had run out of cocoa powder! A quick think and we used coffee instead and added extra flour to compensate for the lack of cocoa powder.

• Science is found in all aspects of baking - combining ingredients and watching the effects they have on each other, seeing how heat changes their appearance and taste. Every step of a recipe is determined by the chemistry of the ingredients.

• Mixing cake batter, pouring, kneading and rolling out dough are good for coordination and give different sensory feedback.

• You can read recipes together with a young child and let an older child read them to you instead.

Most importantly, you get to eat cake at the end of it all!

Bug fun

A print-out from the Nature Detectives website had Small laughing today. There are lots of resources on the site and this one had lots of minibeast body parts, to be arranged and added to and allow you to create your own fictional bug.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Advent activities and introducing the concept of charity

What Christmas traditions have you started with your young family?

Last year we tried to do a seasonal activity every day during December and this year I have sewn 25 tiny stockings too. Each night, once Small is asleep, I will sneak back downstairs and place a small object or a clue in the correct stocking. I have tried to keep it flexible - if my energy levels are low it may be as simple as a packet of the mints Small loves but on a better day it could be Christmas biscuit cutters or new paintbrushes to lead us into an activity.

As well as our advent activity calendar we are carrying on another tradition we began last year. Last Christmas we had recently moved to a new part of the city so we decided that a nice way to introduce ourselves to the other families in the street would be to deliver a Christmas card to each house. Small and Big wrapped up warmly and posted the cards and we were really pleased when, over the next few days, cards came tumbling through our letterbox in return.

A new aspect that I hope will become a family tradition will be to visit a food bank. As a family we do not have a lot of money but we also know how much worse it can be - being made redundant or having benefits wrongly withdrawn is incredibly stressful at any time, but at Christmas it must be truly awful. We plan to take some food to donate, so that one less family will be worrying about feeding their family over Christmas. As well as the obvious reasons for donating, I hope it will help to show Small that Christmas is not all about him and that it does feel good to know you have helped someone, even just a little.

As always I would love to hear what you have planned :-)

Monday 11 November 2013

Autism, respectful parenting and the Triple P course...

Every parent doubts themselves at times and for parents of children with additional needs this goes tenfold. We see other children meet their milestones while ours seem to be following their own bumpy paths. We face an often daily barrage of dirty looks, well meant advice and sometimes outright rudeness.

Choosing to seek help and a potential diagnosis for your child is an emotional decision. You are admitting that your child is different, that they aren't quite what you expected. The last thing you need is to feel as though your parenting is in question and, worse still, to be given advice that looks at your child as a naughty kid and not a good one overcoming complications.

Part of our journey through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) was to be sent on a 'Triple P Parenting Course'. We were informed that it is not compulsory and that our CAMHS worker was not concerned about our parenting. However, we got the impression that it was encouraged and that jumping through these hoops would help us be looked on favourably as we navigated the complicated referral system, so we agreed.

Now, I appreciate that we parent outside of the mainstream, but I have been really disappointed by the majority of the information given in the first weeks of this course. A few pieces have been worth some thought but the Positive Parenting moniker appears rather deceiving. It is positive with an undercurrent of arbitrary punishment and a lot of inane drivel masquerading as praise. Examples of this can be found in the handbook given out to parents.

Page 49 of the handbook states:
"Time-out is a positive strategy... the area should not have interesting things to do... Don't talk to your child or give them any attention until they have been quiet for the set time."

Please don't get me wrong. If you feel you are at risk of losing control of yourself and hitting out at your child then the sensible thing to do is to walk away. However, if you are using time out as your go-to punishment then I recommend reading books and articles by Dr. Laura Markham and Alfie Kohn (among others) who have written eloquently on the disadvantages of this technique.

The Triple P DVD shows a girl completing a jigsaw and the mother going over the top with praise - well done, clever girl, good girl, you did it, good job!

Your child knows when you are being insincere. We don't practice Unconditional Parenting (which Alfie Kohn is best known for) but we do try to limit our use of 'good job' or 'good boy' if instead we can describe what he has done or ask him if he is proud of himself.

Our overall aim is not to train our child to display certain behaviours for fear of reward or to receive a gold star. I want him to learn *why* we treat people kindly so that when I am not there to threaten punishment or tempt him with reward he will do the right thing because he is intrinsically motivated. I am not perfect, and sometimes I don't manage to keep to these principles. If I am rushed off my feet, tired, late and Small is not cooperating I should stop, take a deep breath and find out why. But yes, I have been known to offer a reward if it will get us through that tricky moment. However I know that the majority of the time we are taking a road that may not have instant results, but one that I believe is the best path to follow in the long run.

I am not trying to train a naughty child to be obedient, but raising a human being who has additional needs.

So next week I will be going armed with print outs of studies which explain why we parent the way we do. I will be politely explaining that I don't think this course is appropriate for us and that we appreciate the time spent but will be using that time to spend with Small instead.

We are very lucky that we have a community of friends who understand our methods and many who have been through this course before and also found some of it insulting and unnecessary. Some have implemented the advice, only to realise it increased their child's anxiety. Most parents do not need to be told to talk to and play with their child. We are not inadequate parents, we are families seeking help for our children.

Life is challenging enough when you are on the steep learning curve that autism brings. Perhaps the pressure to attend a parenting course could be removed for those who are not in desperate need of it and this could open up more spaces for those few families who really don't know where to start.

If you are the parent of a child on the autistic spectrum and have felt pressured to complete the Triple P course I would be very interested to hear from you.