Ants, Cats and Eggs

This week started innocently enough with a Home Ed meeting at Longford Park, Chorlton where Jessy enjoys the climbing rock.

Jessy tucked into a hole in the climbing rock.

Jessy tucked into a hole in the climbing rock.

The next day, however, there was a shocking discovery! Tom Riddle’s Diary in our house! Jessy asked it a burning question and the diary showed him Hagrid with his giant spider Aragog, being discovered by Tom Riddle.

Jessy asked the diary a question.

Jessy asked the diary a question.

The diary replied by showing Hagrid with Aragog being discovered by Tom Riddle.

The diary replied by showing Hagrid with Aragog being discovered by Tom Riddle.

Luckily Jessy destroyed the diary when he realised the danger!

Thursday Jessy is at Wood School. On Friday we went to our friend’s birthday tea and met their new dog.

Saturday was one of those days where autonomous education seemed to flow really well. In the morning I found Jessy taking his Ant-o-sphere out of the box. It was a birthday present. It is made up of several chambers which replicate an ants’ nest, the idea being to keep and study ants. We had one when he was younger, and I think he will gain more from it now he’s bit older. Jessy explored the contents while I read the booklet out loud. We went into the yard to find grass, leaves and moss to go in the spheres. Next we needed ants! The last time we did this, finding ants was no problem as our garden was over run with them – both red and black! This time we weren’t sure where to find any, so we looked it up and found conflicting information. We remembered Jessy’s bugs collection from the magazine he used to get each week. Jessy found a giant ant in the collection and we read a bit about Carpenter ants from the magazine.

Some of Jessy's bug collection which came with 'Bugs Magazine'.

Some of Jessy’s bug collection which came with ‘Bugs Magazine’.

After that we decided to head out to the local park and look for ants. Within minutes though it was clear that it was just too cold for the ants to be out. It was snowing! We did spot a hole which we recognised as the entrance to an ant nest, and Jessy dug around a bit with a stick, but we soon called it quits. Back at home I suggested we watch something about ants. Jessy was flagging slightly and when we went to look on YouTube he spotted a lego version of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ which he really wanted to watch, so we agreed to watch that first. It was quite entertaining! We found an ant documentary on YouTube, ‘Natural World: Empire of the Desert Ants, which we both really enjoyed. It followed a single Honey Ant colony from the moment the Queen dug the first hole in the ground, to the sad demise 8 years later. I felt genuinely upset when the Queen we had watched build up her ant Empire was destroyed! The ants were fascinating and incredibly brutal too! We both enjoyed our spontaneous ant themed day.

We had a quiet Sunday where we listened to old fashioned children’s songs and chatted. Jessy asked about the character Cho Chang in Harry Potter, and whether she had come from a Chinese school. That led to a discussion about emigration and Britain being a multi-cultural society and how people travel and live all over the world. That evening we travelled to Birmingham on a coach to see my niece performing in a huge Stagecoach performance of ‘Cats’ celebrating 25 years of Stagecoach. The arena was absolutely enormous! Jessy had never been anywhere quite like it before.

A small portion of the enormous venue!

A small portion of the enormous venue!

Jessy is very close to his cousin and was really excited to see her. We both enjoyed the show very much and it was brilliant to finally spot Anais after keeping our eyes peeled through the whole thing! It was 1.30am by the time we got to bed, so I decided not to send Jessy to Wood School the next day.

Jessy started the day in a very humorous mood. He created a short version of ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ on paper (which he called ‘the stupid version) and then enacted it as a play. He could barely get his words out for laughing and kept literally falling over with the hilarity of it!

The characters were deliberately drawn in this odd way.

The characters were deliberately drawn in this odd way.

The destruction of the basilisk.

The destruction of the basilisk.

As he often does, he ripped the paper into small pieces afterwards. He was still laughing!

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Our day at home brought about a confession from Jessy and a chance for us to do some problem solving together. Jessy confessed that in the mornings he’s been sneaking chocolate and going on the computer. Jessy has been getting up before me for years now. He’s always been very sensible and enjoys time alone, while I have never been an early bird, so it works well. A while ago we made an agreement that screen time happens later once I’m up, so that I can help him monitor it. He’s usually been very good about it. The bit that troubled me most is that I’ve asked him on several occasions whether he’s been on the computer and what he’s eaten and he’s been lying to me about it. This raises a red flag for me. If he is feeling the need to lie to me it is most likely that I’m doing something wrong. Keeping open communication and trust between us is so important to me. I explained that to him and said that I can’t do my job of helping him and doing my best to keep him safe and healthy if he isn’t honest with me. I realised that I may have been too grumpy and shouty recently when he’s done something I don’t like or broken a rule. I recognised this and reassured him that I would try to be calmer and talk to him like we were doing. I talked about balance when it comes to food an activities to remind him why we have some limits around food and screen time, and reminded him that we’ve decided those rules together.

On my good days I try to have us problem solve together. Jessy was on the ball. It was clear from his confession that he wasn’t enjoying the situation and wanted to stop. He came up with the plan. He asked me to put all the sweet things away for a week. More than a week would be upsetting he said, but he felt a week would help him get out of the habit. With the computer, he came up with the idea of just putting it off and unplugging it and I suggested putting a ‘stop!’ sign on the computer. We both felt better after that.

This morning I heard him giggling downstairs when he found my sign on the keyboard saying, ‘BEWARE!! Very small elephants holding feather dusters will tickle the toes of anyone who uses this computer before Lucy is up!’ For good measure I also stuck a sign on the T.V saying ‘No! Not the T.V either!’, just in case!

The rest of yesterday involved reading, writing, playing and drawing all around the current favourite Harry Potter theme. We finally put the batteries in the duelling set Jessy got from his Aunty and had fun playing with it.

Harry vs Draco!

Harry vs Draco!

Today a spare place came up for Jessy in a Greek Mythology workshop. I was really pleased but he wasn’t. He gets anxious about doing new things and doesn’t like sudden changes so I’m not sure why I was surprised when he didn’t want to go. I spent half an hour or so trying to convince him, talking about courage and overcoming fears and trying to remind him of all the times when he hasn’t wanted to go somewhere but enjoyed it when we got there. It all had no effect.

Then I had a WOBBLE!!! Every home educating parent knows about wobbles. They can strike at any time whether you’ve been home educating for less than a week or more than a decade. Suddenly it is all wrong! It can’t possibly work! He will have to go to school and all the effort counts for nothing because all he wants to do is play on the computer in his pyjamas which is obviously illegal!! There were tears. First mine, then his. Then there were cuddles. Then we got on with our day and got on with home education.

As it happens, after the huge wobble was over we had another one of those spontaneous theme days. Jessy wanted to crack an egg and I’d come across egg experiments online. I suggested that instead of wasting the egg we should find something to do with it. I found lots of simple science experiments involving eggs so we went and bought more eggs! The first thing we did was put an egg in a glass of vinegar, as that experiment takes a few days. I’ll show the results in the next blog.

The next one we did involved two glasses of water. the first was plain water and the egg sank. Into the second you put 10 teaspoons of salt and the egg floats! I captured Jessy’s gleeful expression as the egg floated at the top.

Jessy stirring the salt into the water.

Jessy stirring the salt into the water.

The egg in salt water floats!

The egg in salt water floats!

One egg sunk and one floated.

One egg sunk and one floated.

The next experiment involved trying to crush an egg between forefinger and thumb, showing how surprisingly strong the egg is! Jessy rounded off the egg themed day by watching ‘An Egg’s Guide to Minecraft’ which is actually rather funny!

Trying to crush the egg.

Trying to crush the egg.

This evening Jessy was at Cubs which is when I get this blog done, although he’s home now with a very blue mouth from a bubblegum lolly he saved (off-set by Rainbow Trout and green stuff for dinner!) so I should go and get him to bed!

By pinkylucy

Mammals, Dens and Japanese.

I think it’s about time I got back to the ‘Adventures in Autonomous Education’! I’m going to get back into writing more regularly. So, in the spirit of adventure, autonomy and education here’s a snapshot of today when we actually were ‘Home’ Educating – or in other words, we didn’t make it out of the house!

On the PinkLucy side of the family I started trying the 5:2 diet today. I’m not a fan of diets but my motivation has ground to a halt whilst the growth of my waistline has maintained a not so healthy speed, so I’m willing to try something to get me going. Today was my first fast day and as I type I feel a little lightheaded but not ravenous. Jessy has, of course, delighted in taunting me with chocolate eggs.

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to go and choose our Easter Eggs. I’m not sure I’d realised how long it was until Easter. The whining for Easter eggs began this morning. Deciding it might be a good idea to spread out the chocolate consumption I decided to make Jessy a Treasure Hunt with a few little eggs at the end. I’ve loved making Treasure Hunts since I was a child. They even rhyme a bit. It’s also a semi-sneaky way of getting Jessy to read out loud to me which I never push but do enjoy hearing.

I was really pleased when Jessy took my suggestion to write in his writing practice activity book while I made the hunt. This is one of those books that has been sitting around the house unused for many years. Lately though, I’ve been feeling that Jessy would benefit from a bit more practice at forming letters. He writes many of them in his own unique way and I’d like him to at least know and try the correct formations, as it may make writing easier for him. His spelling is coming on brilliantly and he enjoys writing but it really is higgedly piggedly to say the least! He was put off by the age on the book because it’s much younger than his age. I talked about how one of the nice things about autonomous education is that you can do things at your own pace. To boost his confidence I reminded him that he can do maths from an age 10-11 activity book which makes up for needing to practice at the younger level for writing.

Jessy practising his writing.

Jessy practising his writing.

He enjoyed the Treasure Hunt (which is a good job as it always hurts my knees going up and down the stairs to plant the clues!) and the prize!

Some of the Treasure Hunt clues - and half the prize.

Some of the Treasure Hunt clues – and half the prize.

One of the clues in the Treasure Hunt mentioned an ‘amphibian’. Jessy couldn’t remember what an amphibian is and thought that a platypus was in that category. I remembered that a platypus is an egg laying mammal but couldn’t remember what they are called so we looked it up and discovered they are ‘Monotremes’. I decided to try and go with the ‘mammal’ theme if I could hold Jessy’s interest. Quick searches didn’t bring up much. The first educational piece was incredibly complicated so we gave up on that one. We found a little study guide piece but it stopped 5 minutes in and we couldn’t find the rest! Instead I got out the Planet Earth documentary set and asked Jessy to find one he thought would be about mammals. We watched ‘The Plains’ episode which wasn’t only about mammals but at least kept to the animal theme. We added the documentary series ‘Life of Mammals’ to Jessy’s Lovefilm DVD list.

About an hour in Jessy was getting twitchy and I felt like he could do with some fresh air. I reminded him about the old blind we picked up in an alleyway recently which he wants to use as a roof for his den in the yard. Jessy’s den is essentially a bit of space which has been mostly blocked off by an extension. I can just fit through the gap but many adults can’t get in so he loves it! He didn’t want to work on his den but I used another trick I have up my sleeve and said I was going to bring the blind through to the back. That way he’d see it and I thought it might encourage him outside. He decided to draw up a plan for the den:

Plans for the den

Plans for the den

Once the plans were made he wanted to have a go. I was so happy to get outside after being ill in bed for over a week that I was happy to help. Jessy started by getting together the materials for the roof:

The roof materials

The roof materials

I decided to let Jessy come up with the ideas and solve the problems. I did help a bit and pointed out if something was beyond what I could manage, but mostly it was in his hands. He climbed like a monkey up onto the high wall to secure the first part of the roof. His initial plan had been to hammer the other side into the bricks with nails. We both had a go though and couldn’t make it work.

Trying to hammer nails into the brick.

Trying to hammer nails into the brick.

It was Jessy who suddenly came up with the idea of wedging a broom between the walls and placing the blind on top. It worked!

The new roof!

The new roof!

The next part of the roof proved much more tricky and despite some brave climbing and dragging we had to admit defeat.

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Brave climbing!

I suggested we could use the wood differently and create a secret mini-den at the back. Jessy liked this idea although he told me to turn it around as the sticking out nails were on the inside wall. I was glad he noticed! The next thing on the plan had been to use the carpet mat to make a door. After several attempts we realised there was no way to secure it. By this point I felt more like ‘one of the kids’ than an observing parent so I shared my ideas more freely. I gave a few suggestions for the new door which didn’t match with Jessy’s vision, and then spotted an old wheelie bin that looked like it would fit quite well. Jessy like that idea as he wanted a door that could move easily. He decided to use the carpet in the entranceway.

We added a broom for housekeeping (or flying!) and a couple of wooden blocks for little seats.

The secret mini-den and little seats.

The secret mini-den and little seats.

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The carpeted entrance and wheelie bin door

We upgraded the chairs to a bench by adding a plank of wood and added an arty table (Jessy wanted a roof shaped stone placed under the transparent box.) Jessy secured a look-out telescope to the blind string. Then came the finishing touches – a box of marbles and some plastic pots, chosen because they can be left outside without getting damaged. The den upgrade was complete!

The look-out telescope

The look-out telescope

The arty table and entertainments.

The arty table and entertainments.

After that I was ready for a sit down (with a lovely mug of hot water seeing as it’s fast day!) I’ve been using an online programme that came on Facebook to learn some Japanese. A lot of language programmes focus heavily on learning through listening which I find very hard. This one begins by teaching you to read Hiragana – the Japanese symbols first taught to young children. I’ve really enjoyed getting into the language this way. I showed Jessy a little of what I’d done and he watched while I did one of the drills. I was amazed at how many of the symbols and words he knew. I mean, properly gobsmacked. As we don’t do any formal lessons or testing it can be difficult to know how he would learn in a more formal way. His memory seems to be incredible though. He consistently got symbols and words right he can only have seen a few times at most. I enjoyed him joining in.

After that I made a quick dinner of salmon, potatoes and greens and I swapped my potatoes for a flat mushroom. Then it was time to take Jessy to Cubs. He should get his first badge today for filling in a form all week about his food and exercise. Now I need to go and pick him up! Bye!

By pinkylucy

Harry Potter Housewarming and 8th Birthday Party.

Jessy is like me. When he gets into something he really gets into it and it takes over his whole life. At the moment he’s into Harry Potter. Naturally, this had to be the theme for his upcoming 8th birthday party. Usually a ‘theme’ involves some paper plates and cups with the relevant pictures on and a home-made piñata. So, I typed ‘Harry Potter party supplies’ into Google and it all snowballed from there. I found amazing photos of houses transformed into Hogwarts. Broomsticks, snitches, potions and all sorts. I tried to look away and just buy some plates with a picture of Harry Potter on. I really did. The seed had been sown though.

One lazy morning Jessy and I started chatting about ideas. We could have a wand shop! And house banners, and the Hogwarts Express! I ordered some House banners from America because Jessy loved them so much. Jessy set to work whittling wands at Wood School. While he was whittling, I wandered the charity shops of Manchester finding interesting looking bottles, and cauldron-esque vases. I emptied the local discount store of little glass jars which inspired me to create Honeydukes sweet shop. It just seemed to keep on growing! We found some instructions for making wands out of paper and paint, and they turned out so well I made lots more. We didn’t have a dining table for days and I’m not sure we ate very well and I burned a blister on my hand, but the wands were lovely!

Not only did the party grow in terms of ideas, but also numbers. We decided to make it our housewarming party as well as Jessy’s birthday which meant I invited people from far and wide and they came! Some things are better said with pictures than words, so here is the story of our Harry Potter party from wistful beginning to exhausted happy end.

Students arrived into Diagon Alley where first years could acquire a wand from Ollivander’s Wand Shop. They do say that the wand chooses the wizard, and when the correct wand was chosen a loud crackling was heard when the young witch or wizard tried pointing it. (The trick here was bubble wrap covered with a black t-shirt which I twisted as they turned away and pointed the wand!) Students were then given their ticket for the Hogwarts Express and told to find Platform 9 and 3/4.

A selection of the paper wands we made.

A selection of the paper wands we made.

Ollivander's Wand Shop

Ollivander’s Wand Shop

Hogwarts Express Ticket

After a little encouragement to ‘take it at a run’ when heading straight through the wall to the platform, they emerged onto Platform 9 3/4 to discover the Hogwarts Express waiting for them.

Where is Platform 9 and 3/4?

Where is Platform 9 and 3/4?

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As it was a party, the chocolate frogs on the train were given out free!

Chocolate frogs! We had a platter piled 3 layers high in the end!

Chocolate frogs! We had a platter piled 3 layers high in the end!

After the journey the students arrived at Hogwarts and were taken through to the Great Hall for the feast! The ceiling of the Great Hall was, of course, bewitched to look like the night sky and the Hogwarts banner hung proudly.

The bewitched ceiling and my new funky chandleier!

The bewitched ceiling and my new funky chandleier!

Ready for a feast!

Ready for a feast!

Ferrero Rocher Snitch

Ferrero Rocher Snitch

Welcome to Hogwarts!

Welcome to Hogwarts!

The students then needed to be sorted into Houses. The Sorting Ceremony was conducted in the common room by Professor McGonagall. They had to get past the Fat Lady to enter! Once inside they found a tempting array of potions ingredients just out of reach! These were intended for decoration only. They were some of the first things we made when preparing for the party, along with the labels. Jessy insisted on Unicorn Blood! It’s difficult to see in the picture, but we had a Sorting Hat, a tall chair, and a small black bag containing house badges that students could pick without looking. I knew more people would want to be in Gryffindor than any other house so I had many more Gryffindor badges. We still had a fair number of Ravenclaws, Slytherins and Hufflepuffs though.

The Fat Lady

The Fat Lady

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Potions

Potions

Home made potions ingredients

Home made potions ingredients

The Sorting Ceremony

The Sorting Ceremony

We then played a game well known in the Muggle world – Pass the Parcel. The contents were suited to wizards and witches with every layer housing a snake or lizard. The centre of our pass the parcels are always for sharing and as a nod to Slytherin house there were large tubs of yellow belly jelly snakes which they held up triumphantly before scoffing them! Being model students they even shared with the teachers.

Slytherin' snakes!

Slytherin’ snakes!

Everybody was very excited about the next event – Flying Lessons! They were held in the Tall Tower (the attic for Muggles) by two Witch teachers. It was a chaotic class with so many brooms and so many new flyers! The teachers handled it admirably!

First Flying Lesson!

First Flying Lesson!

A student takes flying advice from the teacher.

A student takes flying advice from the teacher.

After such a physical lesson it was time for the students to settle down and concentrate. Charms Class was sensibly held in the kitchen where there is no carpet. Professor McAlister (my good self!) explained that we would be making a confidence potion by adding a charm spell to a clear drink. She explained the importance of keeping the potion cold and taught them the spell. (I had intended to look up the Latin for confidence but didn’t get time so I made it up on the spot!) “Confidus Instatus!” I said, flicking my wand, and the class followed. The students then chose from cream soda, lemonade or water and were each handed a cup of ice. They were told to cast their spell over the cup and then pour their drink over the ice. Miraculously all the potions turned different colours before their eyes! An added sprinkle of ‘pure gold dust’ (edible gold glitter in golden sugar) and their potions were complete. As one 8 year old boy said with a look of awe: “It isn’t real – but it works!”

Confidus Instatus!

Confidus Instatus!

All the charms worked!

All the charms worked! (click on the photo for a larger version and you can see the different coloured drinks.)

After Charms Class I was pestered constantly about when they were going to the sweet shop! Ravenclaw dormitory had been kept out of bounds for good reason! Eventually it was time to gather in the Hall to be escorted to Honeydukes Confections. All the students had been given a little spending pouch containing 14 gold coins.

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Banners

Eagerly clutching their spending pouches, the students were escorted upstairs to Honeydukes Confections. I had priced everything carefully so that everyone could buy one of everything. I pre-prepared several bags and made an exciting offer of a free spooky skull with any pre-prepared bag. Most students went for the deal but a few chose their own and some wanted to keep a few coins to take home so they bought fewer sweets. There was also a challenge to the brave! Having recently been to Harry Potter Studios, I had acquired some genuine Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and extracted the most disgusting flavours to put on offer.

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Honeydukes Confections

Handing out the special offer bags

Handing out the special offer bags

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Some students chose their own.

A challenge to the brave

A challenge to the brave

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Super sour exploding Fizz Bombs!

Super sour exploding Fizz Bombs! Or was it the Vomit flavoured bean?

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Poor Moaning Myrtle missed out on all the fun as usual and continued haunting the downstairs toilet.

Moaning Myrtle

Moaning Myrtle

In between all the activities, the students practiced their levitation skills on the bouncy castle which had been provided as compensation for outdoor Quidditch being disallowed. There were a couple of incidences of Trolls on the bouncy castle, but the students pooled their magical knowledge and handled the situation brilliantly!

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Meanwhile, my friend Charlotte, who looked every bit the part of a Hogwarts teacher, had transformed the living room into a school photograph studio! She took some amazing photographs, here are just a few:

Jessy&Dutch

Rosie

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The school day was almost at an end. It was just time to celebrate the birthday student’s big day with some cake. We’ve learned over the years that whilst birthday cakes look pretty, Jessy doesn’t actually like them. He does, however, love the toffee, lemon and carrot cakes form M&S so that is what we get. A few snitches and a couple of scars kept them on theme.

Snitch and Scar cakes

Snitch and Scar cakes

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Candle blowing

After that the school day was officially over and people gradually began to weave their way back into the Muggle world. We all had such a wonderful time. This party truly made me understand the purpose of a housewarming party. My house really did feel thoroughly warmed. I have so many memories of fun and laughter and children’s excited happy sugar-filled faces. I’ve never done a party like this before, and perhaps I never will again, but it’s been a great experience from start to finish.