Category Archives: Our family

Where to start?

The last couple of weeks have been so busy that I have been struggling to process any of it enough to write about it here.  I am now sitting on the sofa watching the football, and almost falling asleep, but I really want to write something.  I have no idea where to start, but I thought I would just jump right in and see how it goes.  It may not be the most coherent post ever…

Half term went very fast, with the long weekend at Granny and Grandpa’s house, extended because daddy was working nearby on the Wednesday, a spy-themed afternoon at a local home-ed group on the Thursday and a couple of reasonably quiet days at home catching up on the washing – we must have done other things as well, but I can’t remember much.  We didn’t make it to Dramabuds or football on Saturday, but Owl went to choir and Monkey and Rabbit went to ballet, where there was a guest appearance by Angelina Ballerina herself (which was a little bewildering to say the least).

After some frantic unpacking and repacking we went back to Granny’s house again, visiting RHS Wisley on the way.  We spent three days at Granny’s while Suburban Dad was away at a conference.  We got quite a lot of work done, had our new friend over to play again, played stuck-in-the-mud, grandmother’s footsteps and Lego, Lego, Lego…  We arrived home late on Wednesday night, and I spent Thursday at home with my four and an extra two-year old while my friend had a hospital appointment.  The boys got some work done, the children all played nicely and the small visitor built a very tall Duplo tower and was extremely proud of himself.

This weekend we have had a wonderful time at a family wedding, and we were extremely lucky to be able to stay with friends of the bride and groom for two nights – accommodation for the 6 of us is very hard to come by.  The wedding was lovely, the bride was beautiful; Rabbit was a flower girl and she was beautiful too, and very good.  We went to the reception and had a very enjoyable evening catching up with all the family, and I remember saying many times, we will stay as long as the children are good.  At about half past ten, we thought it was probably time to go back as our hosts had already left!  The following day we returned to the reception venue which was at a farm and they were having an open day.  We spent some more time with the family, and had a lovely and unexpected afternoon of learning and fun.

Highlights of the farm day:

  • watching the sheep shearing
  • looking at the puppies, ferrets and chickens
  • seeing live bees and buying honey (Monkey was very interested in this)
  • making bread and eating it (Rabbit particularly enjoyed this)
  • watching a working blacksmith (who allowed Owl to have a go)
  • chatting to a man making a fence
  • seeing some people making baskets
  • playing with farm toys
  • colouring lots of pictures (Tiddler)
  • collecting wool, feathers, straw, flowers and grasses and using them to decorate sticks

Finally we left the farm rather late in the day, and we had to stop at a service station for supper.  As we set off for home at 7pm, the car broke down, so we ended up making use of the facilities for a further two hours while waiting for the AA.  It could have been worse, I suppose.  If you have to break down, a safe place with toilets, coffee and a play area is ideal!  In the end we were towed home which rounded off the children’s weekend perfectly.

Another thing I have forgotten to blog about is our painted lady caterpillars which arrived about ten days ago.  It has been fascinating to see how quickly they grow, and the children are loving it.  I’m wishing I’d been organised enough to take photos of them at different stages because they have changed a lot already.  Well, it is such a popular activity that I expect we’ll be doing it again next year, so perhaps we’ll do some better recording then.  For now, we are just enjoying observing them.

In the last couple of days, we have done a fair bit of Maths, a little Geography and History and some drawing and writing about our weekend, and this afternoon we went to the local Ecology Centre with another home educating family.  We did pond dipping and bug hunting, and explored the sensory garden (we may have eaten rather a lot of the mint and chives), before an urgent need for the toilet forced us to repair to the pub across the road.  I am sorry for the disturbance we caused with our seven children aged 2 to 8, and I’m not sure the six pounds we spent on a pot of tea and two packets of crisps was quite enough to compensate but that was more or less all the money we had with us!  We then walked home to meet Granny who was taking Monkey on the train to London.   They are spending the night at the flat with Grandpa and going to the National Gallery tomorrow.  (Note to self: get Monkey to blog his Gallery visit when he comes home!)

My baby boy is eight

I’ve been a bit quiet on here over the weekend.  You could be forgiven for thinking that the celebration of the non-retirement of a certain elderly lady had something to do with it, and that is partly true, but it was overshadowed for me by the birthday of my firstborn.

So little Owl, it’s been eight years, hard to believe…here are some random things I remember… the smile on your daddy’s face when we found out we were expecting you; feeling you kicking along to the music when we were singing in a concert a month or so before you were born; your daddy singing to you in my tummy; the first time I kissed your little head, the first time I held you, you holding my finger – they could be anyone’s memories, but they are mine and I will never forget them.

The first outing with you in your pram; drinking champagne to celebrate when you were two weeks old; a sunny outing to Canterbury when you were two months old, and your first holiday – a week at Granny and Grandpa’s house – around the same time.  I remember your baby smile, your laugh, you thought that “Row row row the boat” was the funniest thing ever.  I remember how happy you were nearly all the time, lying in your carrycot, sitting in your blue and green chair, having cuddles, being carried in the lovely Wilkinet sling, splashing in the bath… I always said that you were an easy baby, though now I’ve had four and found you all to be easy I’ve come to the conclusion that I just really like babies.

I could go on all day and all night writing about you over the last eight years, but I have to admit that would be interesting only to me, and your daddy perhaps.  So I’ll skip forward to the here and now… my biggest boy, you are clever and thoughtful, you ask amazing questions, you read so much that I learn many things I never knew just from listening to you talk, especially about Science and History.  You sing beautifully, play the piano and violin very well and even compose your own pieces of music.  You get this from your daddy, along with your practical skills (you get your screwdriver and fix things without having to ask for help; you are even beginning to provide valuable IT support when daddy is out) and also your tendency not to listen to a word I say, but at least I know because you have the same expression on your face as he does when you are daydreaming.

From me you get your desire to learn everything all at once, especially languages.  It’s great fun starting to learn new things, but perhaps together we need to try and finish a few of them!  You also have my love of reading, especially late at night, everything from Secret Seven books to Science encyclopedias, and of course Lego books.  You can concentrate for a very long time on things you really want to achieve – building complex Lego models, drawing complicated and detailed pictures, designing and building models out of anything you can find.  When you have something important you want to say, you talk and talk without stopping, but you are also a good listener.  You are very sensitive and caring, and you love your brothers and your sister.  You love meeting new people and playing with old friends; you are confident and friendly and good at joining in everything with enthusiasm.  You enjoy tennis and football, church and music lessons, choir and Beavers.

You chose to have a bowling party, after trying it for the first time a few weeks ago.   That seems like a very big boy thing to choose; we are entering a new era of parenting and it’s fun.  You had a good time with the friends you took bowling, and with lots more friends and family members who came back afterwards for a barbecue.  And then your birthday celebrations continued over the weekend at Granny and Grandpa’s house.  You went to a street party and made a new friend; got your first Hornby set, a draughts and chess set and even more Lego; went out for lunch with your family and then spent the afternoon playing with the friend you had met a day earlier; even found time for a Latin lesson with Grandpa.

And now we are home and you are sad that your birthday is over.  Except it isn’t, quite.  There will be another bowling party later this month, because we couldn’t manage to take all your friends at once on the bus!  And then it really will be over, until next year.   And then you will be nine… I can’t comprehend that right now.  I hope you know how much your mummy and daddy love you.  I think you do.  We have different ways of showing it.  I tell you I love you a lot.  Your daddy mainly expresses his love through cake.  We both think we are the luckiest parents in the world because we have you and your brothers and your sister.  Thank you for being such a lovely son.

A day out with Thomas and a day to recover

Yesterday we went to a Thomas the Tank Engine day at the Eastleigh Lakeside Steam Railway.  We set off early and arrived in time to eat our packed breakfast in the blazing sunshine while waiting for the tickets to go on sale.  We had a good view of the miniature trains, including Thomas, Gordon and Henry, which kept the children entertained while we were waiting.  Once inside we met up with my aunt and uncle and two cousins, one of whom is over from Australia with her two smallest ones, and it was lovely to see them all.  The children had a wonderful time – they went on three train rides, played in the playground, had a walk round the lake (where we saw a swan with her seven babies), saw a Punch and Judy show and a magic show, had lunch in the cafe, and later on an ice cream.  Half way through the afternoon, we decided to decamp to the nearest pub so that the adults could have a proper catch up (as we usually only see each other once a year) and that was very successful too.  Luckily we found a pub with a nice beer garden, which had a bouncy castle and a playground so the children were happy.  We set off home when we should really have been thinking about supper, so we stopped at a service station, where we met – completely by chance – another cousin who was returning from a family wedding with her three little ones, so the children had fun playing together.

Today was quite a contrast as we had a day at home, and daddy had the day off work which was great… particularly as Rabbit was sick three times and very poorly all day.  So she stayed home from Pre-school and lay on the sofa watching Cbeebies all day, the boys did some work (rather slowly as they were very tired) and Tiddler pottered around quite cheerfully, and helpfully had a four-hour nap in the middle of the day – we really did wear him out yesterday!  So we managed a satisfying amount of washing, tidying, cleaning, cooking and garden chores – though of course not as much as I hoped, but maybe my list was a bit ambitious.  I’m now studiously avoiding looking at it until tomorrow.

Home Ed on the move

One of the things I love most about the Home Ed lifestyle is that you can take your classroom anywhere.  This is especially useful for us when Suburban Dad is away overnight for work.  The children really miss him and daily life is just that little bit harder for me, so our favourite thing to do when Daddy is away is to go and stay with Granny.  Having lots of extra attention from Granny makes the absence of Daddy more tolerable for the kids;  I also enjoy the company and the change of scene (it helps that my mum lives in a very beautiful rural location!)

Another benefit is that without the regular activities we fill up our week with at home, the big ones certainly get a lot more concentrated learning done, while the little ones are having a wonderful time playing with Granny.  I am not saying it doesn’t work at home – it just works differently. For me it is a good balance to have a fairly busy schedule most of the time, with lots of opportunities for socialising and shared learning, but to get away from it all occasionally and enjoy having more time to develop the boys’ learning and also relax and have fun together.

I really like being able to cover more subjects in one day without having to rush from one to the next.  In two days, we have done Maths, Reading, Spelling, Story Writing, Science, Geography, History, Latin, French and violin practice.  The children have also had plenty of free time for drawing and making things, playing with lego and trains, board games and puzzles, listening to stories, playing in the garden (Grandmother’s footsteps, stuck in the mud, blowing bubbles…) and probably loads of other things I’ve forgotten.

Today we have come home, and it’s good to be back.  We had a great afternoon at our small local Home Ed group, with lots of outdoor play and some brilliant Science activities (making sherbet which was very successful, and using lemons as batteries which is a work in progress!)  The big boys then went to Beavers before returning home tired but happy.

So thanks to mum for a lovely relaxing couple of days, to our good friends who hosted the group this afternoon and to the Beavers leaders who work hard every week, without much thanks I suspect.  Hmm, perhaps I need to go and thank all these people, in case they are not reading this.  It’s good to write all this down – it makes me realise how lucky we are.

Ballet is fun for boys

Ever since my two biggest boys were small, I have wanted to give them, among other learning opportunities, the chance to try ballet.  I’m not sure why it felt so important, but it has long since troubled me that we steer our children down narrow paths according to gender, with little room for diversity.  The polarisation of girls and boys, pinks and blues, seems summed up by our choice (many of us) to send our sons to football on a Saturday and our daughters to ballet.  I really don’t mind if my boys decide they love football best and my little girl chooses ballet, but what kind of a choice is it if they don’t get to try out both?

Having held this opinion for the best part of 8 years did not, however, lead to any swift and decisive action on my part.  When Owl was about 2 I vaguely enquired about some ballet lessons I saw advertised, but the time and location weren’t convenient and nothing came of it.  When he was 5 he started football, and nearly two years later Monkey joined him in the same class.  Some months ago, we discovered another football class nearby that takes children from age 3 up so Rabbit was able to join.  She has nearly always been the only girl there but it hasn’t bothered her.  She has a lot of fun and thinks that wearing football kit is cool (an accolade she only ever awards to boy clothes.  “Girl clothes aren’t cool mummy, they are pretty.”  I haven’t managed to persuade her that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive!)  So far so good, but still no ballet…

Then earlier this year I found out about a free trial ballet lesson at a dance school very near us, aimed at children aged 3 to 6.  I signed Monkey and Rabbit up for it and established that it was okay for Owl to join in for the trial although he is too old for the classes.  We went along and it was an excellent lesson.  Even Tiddler joined in and all four children loved it.  I signed the two eligible children up for a term of lessons on Saturday afternoons ( 3 hours after football so plenty of time for getting changed and cleaned up!)  Owl was disappointed that he couldn’t join in but he goes to choir at the same time so at least he has something else fun to do.  I also told him I would try to find out about ballet classes for his age, although so far I haven’t succeeded (cue overload of parental guilt…)

Still, I was really happy that two of the children were able to try ballet.  So, we went along for the first lesson, which was okay but Monkey was upset that he was the only boy, and even Rabbit felt left out as all the other children were dressed in pretty pink ballerina outfits.  A quick flurry of bidding on ebay soon sorted that one out, but that only added to Monkey’s sense of isolation.  He started to protest about going to the lessons, but I asked him to keep trying, reminding him how much he had enjoyed the trial.  I’m sure some would say I shouldn’t have pushed him but my parenting instinct was telling me to keep it going if possible.  It was hard though, hearing him tell me that “Ballet is for girls” and watching him get upset about going.

A few weeks in I was beginning to think that we should give it up after all, but we talked about how real ballets have men in them and they have special clothes and shoes for dancing and Monkey started to get interested.  Another ebay session later and he now has black ballet shoes which arrived today.  I don’t know if they have magical properties, or if it is coincidence, but this afternoon when I asked him to get ready for ballet he handed me a note, said brusquely “Read. This. Information!” and ran out of the room.  This is the note.

It was a priceless parenting moment!  So if you are a parent of boys and wondering if they should have a go at ballet (or your girls want to do football), I hope this post will encourage you that it is worth a try.

Postscript:  this morning Rabbit and Tiddler went to a trial session of Dramabuds and they both enjoyed it.  So for the rest of this term they will doing that on a Saturday morning, which means no more football for Rabbit.  I think that’s okay, but I hope she will rejoin the boys next term, which might mean taking her to a midweek drama lesson if she wants to continue.   And that will lead to more childcare headaches… it is so much more difficult to do activities in the week unless they are suitable for all four children, but there are only so many things one can cram into a Saturday.

Just one more thing: should it worry me that Rabbit was only interested in ballet clothes if they were pink?  Perhaps that’s for another post…

Just another Home Ed blog

Well here I am at the start of this new journey.  After months of thinking about it, I’ve finally done it – and all it took was the prompting of a child who really wants to write a blog.  So I think there will be a few guest posts from him, and his younger siblings in due course.  For the children, I hope it will be a fun way for them to develop their writing skills.  And for me as well, but also to record some of the steps along the road of our life as a family.  I hope there may be experiences and ideas we can share along the way, to encourage and inspire other parents and home educators.  But for now, I think we’re just doing it because we can.  Thank you for reading!