Mostly Running Around

My last couple of blogs have been a bit ‘bookish’. Don’t get me wrong, I adore books. I adore them so much that all my bookcases were packed double deep (until they went into storage) and I refer to books as ‘my babies’. It’s just that it seems a bit of a misrepresentation. We read everyday as part of our bedtime routine. We’re nearing the end of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman. This epic story centered around the feisty 12 year old Lyra, and later on her brave and gentle companion Will, spanning many worlds has been part of our lives for a long time and I’ll be sad to see them go. Anyway, as I was saying, this blog isn’t going to be about books, but clearly as I love them so much it will be a little bit about books after all!

The trilogy we’ve been reading.

Despite the epic bedtime sagas, books do not feature very strongly in our educational repertoire. I think this only struck home recently when I was chatting to one of Jessy’s teachers from Wood School. Her children go to school, where as many of the children at Wood School are home educated. Some are flexi-schooled. I’m guessing that the parents have diverse approaches to what they would like their children to gain from Wood School. My approach is that I am happy for him to be in an environment where his autonomy is respected, where I know he will be spoken to with respect and treated with respect by the adults around him. I appreciate the fact that interesting activities are on offer, but I am content for Jessy to choose what he does while he’s there. From all reports, what he mostly likes to do is run around with sticks and play imagination games. Wrestling and play fighting with other boys features too.

So the teacher was interested in our autonomous approach and asked what we got up to. “Oh lots!” I replied enthusiastically. I decided to go through our week to give her a quick idea:

“On Monday he goes to Wood School where he mostly runs around.

On Tuesday we sometimes go to a Steiner Kindergarten where he loves running around and playing.

On alternate Wednesdays we go to Adventure playground where he… runs around with his friends.

On Thursday he’s at Wood School where he…. er…… runs around …

and every other Friday we go climbing where he CLIMBS!”

Jessy reaching the top of the climbing wall last Friday.

I was so pleased to have a variation on the theme come Friday that I failed to notice that climbing is a bit like running, only upwards. I sighed. There was a slightly uncomfortable silence. I laughed and said “Ah well, he seems to be learning everything somehow!” The amazing thing is that he really does!

There you have it. In a nutshell. Our Autonomous Education Programme is: Mostly running around!

Jessy also climbs statues. Manchester Piccadilly Gardens.


Dragons and Monsters and Geese!


Today is ‘Treat Day’. This highly anticipated occasion happens weekly. I bestow upon my sugar-loving child the choice of One Sweet Treat, be it an ice cream, a bun, chocolate or sweets. If I’m honest I have been bestowing far too much of late. Not having our own place means I’m disorganised with food and our eating habits have been far from virtuous. Still, Jessy wakes up just as excited every Saturday and declares it ‘Treat Day!’ Last Saturday Jessy wanted a custard fudge doughnut from Martins. He remembers these from when he was 3 years old and I used to take him to the bun shop after ballet. He told me that Martins brings back nice memories. By the time we got there last Saturday they had a few old looking custard tarts, some unwanted lemon buns, and some uninspiring Halloween cakes. Much loud disappointment ensued along with a lock-in style protest of refusing to leave the shop until a custard fudge doughnut miraculously appeared.


Having eventually escaped Martins, I had a plan for this week. We will be there at 9 o’clock. Before anyone has bought anything! Now I will start getting to the actual point of this blog! On the way we heard the unmistakable honking of geese and Jessy shouted ‘Look!’ as he pointed to the sky. A messy flock of geese flew over our heads. I pointed out a few ‘V’ formations, but the thing Jessy liked best is that they had made the shape of a face. My doughnut plan worked, and when we got in we sat down with custard fudge doughnuts to find out a bit more about geese. We found a charming video on Youtube about Canada Geese: and read a little about them too. I asked Jessy if he would draw me a picture of a Canada goose. (Ok, I let him watch annoying orange videos in exchange for a picture!)

A Canada goose on the water.

This afternoon we went to the Zion Centre in Hulme to see a one-man threatre production called ‘The Dragon who Hates Poetry’. The performer was full of energy and had a good sense of humour and we both enjoyed the show. Afterwards Jessy took the opportunity to colour a dragon and get it laminated.

We popped into town after that and my pyjama buying compulsion struck again. I feel a strong magnetic pull towards Primark’s pyjama section whenever I can see the place! The new super-soft ones are so superbly splendidly soft that I could just live in them. So we got another pair each as one is just not going to cut it. Jessy fell in love with a monster sleepsuit, because it had a hood and he’s always wanted one with a hood. I love sleepsuits too and when I found a supersoft sleepsuit in the style of a sheep with a pink bow I could have fainted. Or that may just have been the heat of the overcrowded shop. I was so happy I didn’t even mind standing in the Saturday Primark queue from Hell. I told Jessy to just ‘think of the monster sleepsuit’ so he kept saying ‘monster sleepsuit!’ over and over and got very excited convincing himself that the queue was moving because of him. Perhaps it was.

My little monster.

Diving into Fractions

“What is half of three quarters?” Jessy asked me yesterday morning. We had 10 minutes before we had to leave to catch the bus. Still, I feel compelled to answer questions like this. I realised quickly, however, that I didn’t know the answer. Jessy ran to get paper and a pen. Maths is not my strongest point. I can understand most mathematical concepts if I put some effort into it but I found myself puzzling this one through trial and error and hastily scribbled diagrams. I think I was more impressed than Jessy when I came up with the answer and remembered the ‘magic’ formula for dividing fractions! I realised I could do with some help though, so I told Jessy I’d search out a book while he was at wood school.

I headed for Waterstones on Deansgate. The books in the children’s section were all aimed too young. The books in the Teaching Resources section cost a fortune and didn’t seem to include fractions anyway. Discovering a hand book for teachers entitled ‘How to Get the Little Buggars to Behave’ gave me a huge ‘I’m so glad I Home Educate!’ moment. Eventually I found the right section and began to browse the maths books. I have no idea what Jessy would be learning if he were at school, so I started with the books aimed at his age group. They weren’t even writing fractions yet! So I went up a notch into the 8-9 category. At last some fractions appeared, albeit a fairly basic introduction. The 10-11 age book began to tackle dividing fractions in order to simplify them. I realised that the equation we had tackled over breakfast was probably teenage level maths! I needed to keep it close to the original question he’d asked in order to hold his interest, but I realised that he’d need to understand these initial concepts in order to tackle the more complicated stuff. With this in mind I added a ‘Times Tables’ book and headed to the checkout.

I must have pitched it right because he was keen to try the books today. After I’d dealt with the dead mouse in the living room left by the cute fluffy cat we currently live with, Jessy breezed through the 8-9 level fractions without a hitch. One of the things that always amazes me about Jessy is how he improves whilst seemingly doing nothing. It was lovely to see how his writing had come on dramatically. The last time we did a maths workbook it was completely illegible. He got every answer right but couldn’t write it down. I had a proud Mummy moment as I watched him easily fit the mixed fractions in small boxes with clearly written numerals. I wasn’t surprised by this though, he focused on writing and drawing for a long time. His literary interest temporarily eclipsed his interest in maths, and it sometimes seemed as if he struggled with even simple addition which he could accomplish with ease previously. So I was pleasantly surprised to watch him sail through maths topics above his age range.

It shouldn’t surprise me really, It’s the whole point of autonomous education – that we learn and achieve when we are interested in something. I should also be used to the waves of interest, the natural ebb and flow of an autonomously educated child. The waves can be nerve racking to ride at times! Skills appear to be drowned by new interests and you fear they will never resurface, only to find them bursting through the waves bolder and brighter than ever. So I enjoyed seeing his mathematical skill re-emerge and still going strong! We added decimals to his range of interest after I explained how they have a lot in common with fractions.

Jessy bravely tackled the first part in the 10-11 book but I could see his concentration was waning . He was clearly capable, just getting tired and I didn’t want him to think he wasn’t up to the challenge. After peering at the mouse, which had been saved in a plastic container, we decided to have a break. We watched the video of Felix Baumgartner doing his record breaking jump from the stratosphere. It was very impressive, but I think we both enjoyed the videos of his earlier base jumping and gliding stunts even more. Jessy giggled with glee at Felix jumping in a taxi, stuffing in the trailing parachute still on his back to escape after an illegal jump! We spent a while browsing videos of skydiving and base jumping and talking about whether we’d like to try it.

We buried the mouse before dinner. Jessy named the mouse Bobby McAlister and wrote a tombstone for him.

Dinner was very exciting because Jessy lost his first tooth! Being over seven and a half means this has been a long wait with some of his peers having lost their first tooth years ago! Jessy is convinced that the Tooth Fairy is actually Santa which I think is a very interesting theory. He wanted me to Google it to discover whether he’s right or not!

Later on Jessy picked up the Times Tables book and I had to fight my urge to persuade him to go through the book in order. He wanted to do the activity with the pictures of doors and keys. He’s had a fascination with keys for years. It was part way through the section on the six times table, but Jessy always tackles things in an ad hoc fashion! One completed quest on Reading Eggspress later and it was time for bed.

Book Learning

Now that Jessy is at Wood School two days a week I have quite a bit of free time. Travelling on the buses though means it often makes more sense to just stay out until it’s time to pick him up as by the tme I get home half the day seems to have gone already! Yesterday I fancied a browse around the charity shops in Didsbury. By 10am I had a bag full of brilliant books! I adore vintage school story books and anything of that ilk and I managed to pick up an excellent one from around the 1930s called ‘Nelson’s Jolly Book for Girls’ with plenty of ‘spiffing schoolgirl’ stories. In the same shop I found a charming book on Edwardian childhood. I had to get the ‘How Cool Stuff Works’ book for Jessy, if only for the i-pod picture on the cover which showed the insides of the i-pod when you turn it at the right angle. Jessy wanted me to include a photo of this. The insides angle didn’t show very well but you get the idea!

Continuing my school theme I found a copy of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which I studied at school. It always seemed to bear a striking resemblance to my actual school life! I had a long lingering lunch whilst reading a ‘Best of June and School Friend’ compilation which was the last book I bought before my bag was well and truly stuffed!

On a Tuesday we often go to a Steiner Kindergarten group. Jessy is the oldest child there though so I’ve been expecting him to grow out of it soon and when he announced yesterday that he didn’t want to go because it was ‘full of babies’ I decided not to force the issue. I quite fancied a quiet day in too, especially with all our new books!

So today we’ve had a ‘book learning’ day. I was excited to show Jessy the ‘How Cool Stuff Works’ one I’d found for him, but I started chatting to him about how I didn’t think he would have liked being a child in Edwardian times. I explained that many of the children hardly saw their parents at all, either because they were raised by Nannies from a few months old or because everyone including the children had to work. We talked about what was similar to his life too, such as many children in wealthier families being home educated, albeit by a Governess. This drew him to the Edwardian Childhood book, so we climbed onto the bed, and I read to him. We noticed how the houses looked very similar to a lot of the houses where we are currently staying, because many of them would have been built in the Edwardian period. We talked about how differently children were treated and how they were expected to behave. He seemed quite fascinated by the passage about the dreaded canings at school!

We then had a complete change of topic and dived into the other book. Jessy likes to play ‘pot luck’ with information books, so he opened it at a random page and we learned all about a Space Probe which has been chasing a comet since 2004 and will finally catch up with it in 2014. We followed it’s trajectory in the diagrams and tried to guess where we thought it might be now. We then read a little about growing skin in laboratories which prompted us to talk  about when his friend had been in hospital with burns a couple of years ago, and how that technology could have helped him. I think he was hitting information overload at this point and he started playing with our Build-A-Bear teddies instead.

An Edwardian boy having a similar day to Jessy, enjoying books and toys.

Later on we went to the cinema to see Para-Norman and had the whole cinema to ourselves which we thought was great! It seemed like a fitting relaxing end to our day of ‘book learning’!

After the cinema showing

Pretzel Mathematics

Just a quickie today about something that happened this morning while we were getting dressed.

Jessy got me a lovely photo frame with a funny picture of him and me in it for my birthday. I look slightly deranged and not too attractive which is possibly something to do with my recent ex organising the presents he got me. He also got me a packet of Pretzel Flipz, which redeems the ex for any photo mischief! Who else remembers Pretzel Flipz? They come in a shiny blue packet and inside are the chocolatey pretzels of wonder. I love them. It was a great present as they are hard to find.

I was feeling generous this morning so when he asked me for one I said ‘yes’. (Unlike all the other times when I clung possessively to ‘my precious’!) In fact I was feeling so generous I gave him two. A few minutes later I noticed a little crumb of pretzel flip (is a singular one a flip?) on the duvet. These things are not to be wasted so I pointed it out to him. “That must have been about 100th of a pretzel flipz!” he declared. I said I thought it was probably more than that but his mind was already racing. “Is this room 100th of the house?” he asked. I said I didn’t think it was, so then he wanted to know what was 100th of the house. He counted up the rooms. We had a bit of a debate as to whether to count the landing. When we realised that without the landing the number of rooms were 9 it started feeling a bit complicated, so I suggested we lump the hall and landing together to make 10.

Jessy can be quite instinctive about his maths and seemed to realise that we now just had to divide the one room into ten parts. He started by imagining cutting it in half and then half again. “Hmmm, but that leaves me with 4” he said. He was starting to lose interest a little at this point so I said we could half the room and then split each half into five. We then came up with a patch of space that was roughly 100th of the house.

Perhaps I should share my treats more often. You never know what might happen. 🙂

Falling off the lines

Well I did say that this blog was going to be a home ed blog so I thought I’d better write about some home ed stuff. I actually wrote this over a week ago but it disappeared when I tried to post it and I’ve only just stopped sulking long enough to write it again!

“What’s that?” Jessy asked. I was sitting on the bed making a list of what to pack for a short trip away. The only paper I had was a traditional writing pad, the plain paper ones with an extra sheet with dark lines to use as a guide. Jessy was interested in that extra sheet.

When you autonomously educate like I do, you have to keep your eye open for moments of opportunity. Sometimes I let them slip by, but this one was perfectly timed. Jessy wasn’t really interested in pens or pencils until he was six. Actually, that’s not entirely true, he liked to tie bundles of crayons together with elastic hairbands and use them as missiles in his games. He didn’t start drawing with them until he was six.

Once he started he became prolific. He draws in an amazing away. As if it’s an animation. Very often the paper would end up looking like a page of scribbles, but the story had been epic! Full of action and explosions and alien invasions. After a while he started spreading the story out over several sheets of paper and creating comics. He’d draw the pictures and tell the story verbally. Eventually he got interested in adding text to the pictures. So began his first forays into writing.

It really took off when he discovered how much he enjoyed sending and receiving letters. We got an old fashioned wax sealing kit which inspired him to write even more letters just so he could add the wax seal. There were a few hiccups though. We don’t do formal lessons so I’d never taught Jessy to write. His letter formation was individual to say the least, and whilst he knew about capital and lower case letters there was no rhyme or reason to their usage. Size seemed to be a free choice too. Jessy’s eclectic use of the alphabet caused a few difficulties for the postman (or postwoman – what is a decent gender neutral term for this occupation?) A couple of letters didn’t reach their destination. This prompted me to talk a little more formally about letter construction, upper and lower case, size and spacing. It had become relevant so it seemed the right time to share the information and he listened attentively.

Lines were another matter. It struck me one day that Jessy had never written on lined paper. We don’t own any. Books are not printed on lined paper so he didn’t really see it either. He had no concept that letters sit in different places on a ‘line’. Envelopes don’t have lines either so it didn’t seem imperative to include that. I put it on the back burner and waited for an opportunity to present itself.

And here it was. A small piece of paper covered in dark lines. I explained how it is used to make it easier to write neatly, not just to keep the writing straight, but because of where letters sit on a line. I didn’t offer to teach him, just began writing out the alphabet in capital and lower case letters. We then laughed because I’d written it on a plain piece of paper which wasn’t very helpful! Jessy asked if I’d write it on the lined piece and I decided that this opportunity was more important than preserving my line guide.

I use a lot of humour when it comes to our language. Let’s face it English is hilarious! So many things don’t make sense, so many ways to make different sounds, unnecessary letters all over the place. I have mostly imparted the subject of English via affectionate mockery. It seemed a good place to start. This was my spontaneous story about letters and lines:

Everything was going fine, a,b, c, d, and e all sat nicely on the line. (My story doesn’t translate well at this stage due to ‘f’ being above the line in a typed font and half below in my written form so imagine for me if you will!) Suddenly ‘f’ fell down! Ooops! ‘f’ was so annoyed that it pushed g off the line too. (Jessy was giggling by this point.) ‘h’ and I said ‘hi’, but oh no! ‘j’ fell halfway down! (more giggles) Everyone knows kicking k is a bully because he kicks, but l, m,n, and o managed to stay up, but p did a pee and dribbled all the way down. (at this Jessy started rolling around with laughter clutching his sides while I made ‘psssss’ noises to add to the effect.) Capital Q only has that little tail so that it can kick lower case q off the line. All was well with r, s, t, u, v and w but WHY OH WHY couldn’t y stay on the line?? Much melodramatic wailing of why y? Why oh why? Time for a sleep with zzzzzz.

Of course he wanted the story again, and that is about as close as I get to an English lesson. It works for us!

Some of Jessy’s random styled writing:

Wax sealed letters ready for posting.