Saturday, 23 March 2013

Homeschool Hangout

This evening I joined a group of parents who home educate their children, to film a conversation via Google Hangout. We all use different approaches to education, from my own unschooling methods to a virtual online school.

In this video we briefly covered the basics - legality, methods, socialisation, additional needs and our tips for people considering HE. Our host, Katie Spencer White, will be arranging more Homeschool Hangouts to look into specific topics in more depth.

If you would like to know more or get in contact with any of the people featured in this Hangout, there are details in the description for the video.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


I have finally managed to update my favourite posts from our Facebook page 'Living Outside the Box' to here and I have joined Google+.
Please bear with me as I try to coordinate the three sites and get them working smoothly.
In the meantime if you have any questions on home education, unschooling or respectful parenting, please contact me here or on one of my pages and I will get back to you.

Junk modelling!

This morning Small made two robots from boxes, cardboard tubes, packaging paper and a lot of masking tape. He is now eyeing up every piece of rubbish I throw away to see if he can recycle it into another junk model instead.

Making tape is better than sellotape for this, in my opinion, because it is easier for little fingers to tear pieces off and stick down.

This evening we started painting them but they have days of painting and playing to come.

Lighting a fire

If you can find the passion inside a child, there are no limits to the depth of learning possible. Find the spark and watch the fire take hold.

Communication... Static on the frequency

This poster summed up H yesterday. We don't make a huge deal of mother's day but the card and flowers for me, plus me rearranging the kitchen to incorporate my new bits and pieces was enough to make it a hard day for him. Must admit, I didn't deal with it very well myself and I may have joined in with the meltdown at one point, but nobody is perfect ;-)

Today he has done a great job of asking to be held or for cuddles when he needed it, chewing his new chewy necklace, using his weighted blanket and taking himself off upstairs for some quiet when he wanted. He even chilled out enough to sit down and watch some TV. That counts as a successful day to me.

Power struggles

Years ago, when H (Small) was a tiny baby, or perhaps even before, I saw an article on parenting and a response to it that has stuck with our family ever since. I cannot remember who wrote the article or the response, but it has become engrained into our family.

The article was staying that when you allow a toddler to sleep in your bed he feels powerful - he is physically in between you and your partner - so he feels he is between you emotionally too.

The response said something to the effect of: I'm looking at my child, lying between his parents, and can see how powerful he feels. Either that or he feels safe and is asleep. One or the other, it's hard to tell!

This has become a standing joke between my husband and I, when we are aware we are parenting away from the norm. One of us will pipe up with "I'm sure H feels really powerful in the relationship right now" and be greeted with "Or he's asleep, one or the other!"

Behind the scenes...

I saw this on Facebook and it rang true!

Q: How does a homeschooling family change a light bulb?

A: First, mom checks three books on electricity out of the library, then the kids make models of light bulbs, read a biography of Thomas Edison and do a skit based on his life.
Then, everyone studies the history of lighting methods, wrapping up with dipping their own candles.
Next, everyone takes a trip to the store where they compare types of light bulbs as well as prices and figure out how much change they'll get if they buy two bulbs for $1.99 and pay with a five dollar bill.
On the way home, a discussion develops over the history of money and also Abraham Lincoln, as his picture is on the five dollar bill.
Finally, after building a homemade ladder out of branches dragged from the woods, the light bulb is installed.
And there is light.


What does bedtime look like in your house?

Our approach has changed over time, because as Small has grown his needs have changed. Recently we have been in a strange situation where he had outgrown his previous 'routine' but not found a new one, so evenings were rather chaotic.

I spoke to a few people about it, who reminded me that it is not the end of the world if we don't have a conventional bedtime, just work with it and find out what suits us.

So now bedtime in or house involves everyone going to bed together, at the same time, in the same bed. If Small can't settle yet he chats to us for a while until he relaxes and falls asleep.

Everyone has wobbles, and sometimes we need someone to reassure us that we are doing okay.

Respectful parenting

One thing I love about the way we have come to live is that any 'rules' or family philosophies apply to everyone in the household. We don't have a list of rules pinned on the wall, essentially we just live respectfully of one another. Sometimes this is hard: when someone is angry or frustrated, or when those mainstream voices creep in to make us doubt our ways.

It means that it is not unheard of for our four year old to remind myself or his father that we are not being fair. We are happy with this and want our son to question things he feels are wrong. He has realised lately that staying calm and talking to us often leads us to a result that we are all happy with.

It means that just as our son should not lash out at us, we should not lash out at him.

It means that no one is forced to eat food they dislike - how can I make my son eat carrots when I won't eat peas? Out of respect for me and my limited energy I cook one meal, but I try to ensure that everyone has something they like on their plate. I trust that, by taking this approach, my son will grow up to have a healthy view of food and will incorporate an even wider range of foods as he grows older.

It means that while most things are for family use, it is right to ask before using someone's personal belongings and if possible they will honour that respect by saying yes. My son asks before using my phone, I ask before using his DS.

It isn't a philosophy that myself or my husband were used to or necessarily comfortable with when we first became parents. It isn't an approach we knew we would take. It is away from the 'normal' approach of parents ruling over children, the belief that children can't be trusted. It doesn't mean that if my son ran into the road that I wouldn't grab him, in the same way that if my husband was in danger I would grab him too!

It means that my son is not treated as someone who will one day be a person, but as a person already.

Evening astronomy...

... this is how we roll ;-)

Education space

Do you set aside a dedicated space for HE?

We have a small, open plan house and we had to get rid of a lot of clutter when we downsized last year. There is still more streamlining to be done but I have found that this small, shared space works well for us and our unschooling ethos. We learn together at the table, in the kitchen area, on the sofa, on the floor, even sitting on the stairs and in bed.

In our house there is an old gas fire that is missing a switch and is never used anyway as we have central heating and wear woolly jumpers! It has a large stone surround and seemed a waste of valuable space. Last Autumn we used it to hold our seasonal crafts and carried this on through Christmas. It gave a nice focus and we are now using it as a project base, so currently it holds a globe, books and samples of things Japan is known for - right now that includes a paper fan, Small's decorated koi, a Mario toy, chopsticks and some bamboo.

Here is our project space, I'd love to see yours!

Japan part 2

Continuing with our Japanese theme, I took an idea I saw on Pinterest (A very dangerous place. If you haven't already signed up, do so, but be aware you will lose hours of your day) and adapted it.

The idea is simple - edible architecture. We used big marshmallows and wooden kebab sticks and, after looking online at the Tokyo Tower, we set about building our own.

It turned out to be quite informative as we wanted it to stand up by itself so we had to add cross-struts to support it. I managed to get a quick photo before it was demolished and devoured... Rather reminiscent of a Japanese monster movie!

Japan part 1

We have been 'studying' Japanese culture at Small's request. He has been inspired by his love of Nintendo and Pokémon and is keen to absorb more information about the country that created his favourite things.

I have been lucky enough to get an electric wheelchair and yesterday we did a trial run to the library where we found a book on Japanese art and culture. We discussed how Japan's geography means it has limited farming space and Small helped prepare a dinner of fish and rice.

Today we have decorated a cardboard Koi cut-out and tomorrow we will make a paper fan. Impending activities include a marshmallow-and-toothpick replica of Tokyo Tower and an investigation into earthquakes!


"A family member asked my wife, 'Aren't you concerned about his (our son's) socialization with other kids?' My wife gave this response: 'Go to your local middle school, junior high, or high school, walk down the hallways, and tell me which behavior you see that you think our son should emulate.'" ~ Manfred B. Zysk

In or out of the box?

In schools, subjects are fitted into neat boxes, regardless of overlap. For example, social history and geography may cover some of the same material - when I was at school I found that traditional farming methods were studied in both, but different teachers, classrooms and times of the day all serve to separate the information in a child's mind. Lessons learned in one subject stay in the box labeled 'Geography' and are not easily applied to history, which has its own neatly labeled box.

In unschooling, there are no boxes. You live your life, absorbing information without restricting it to certain subjects.
Yesterday Small and I baked a vegan chocolate cake recipe. We are not vegan, but it is a tasty and reliable recipe that is very popular in our house. The ingredients are measured in cups and it is Small's job to add them to the mixing bowl. Working in cups gave me the chance to explain simple fractions to him - we need 1 1/4 cups of flour, so for the quarter we split the cup into four parts and fill one of those parts with the flour.
The fun in this recipe is that the replacement for eggs is a vinegar and bicarbonate of soda mix. When these ingredients are added they fizz, just like the classic volcano experiment using the same ingredients, but at slightly less spectacular levels - I don't want the cake mix fizzing out of the mixing bowl!

So in baking a cake you could say we had covered Home Economics, Mathematics and Chemistry. As far as Small is concerned we just baked a cake, anything he learned was just incidental. And I am more than happy for him to look at it that way. Who needs boxes anyway?