Turton Tower and the Titanic.

Did you miss me? I didn’t get a chance to write last week as Jessy refused to go to Cubs. I think this was due to the excellent Home Ed trip we went on. It was very busy on a boiling hot day with lots of information to take in and things to try, so I think he was too frazzled! We went to Turton Tower and learned about the Tudors with some hands on workshops.

The front entrance of Turton Tower.

What remains of the actual tower.

In our first workshop we learned about house construction Tudor style and the kids had a chance to try wattle and daub. Jessy wasn’t ready to join in yet but I could tell he was interested. Next, we went indoors for the one Jessy was looking forward to – Tudor style sweet making!

Jessy's rolled ball of sugar and rosewater paste, ready to be pressed into a mould.

Jessy’s rolled ball of sugar and rosewater paste, ready to be pressed into a mould.

They made shapes by pressing the paste into wooden moulds and then dipped them in cinnamon and allowed them to dry and harden. Jessy made a Tudor Rose. Next, we moved onto a workshop about weapons by a vibrant animated man who was loudly enthusiastic about his knowledge!

Trying on armour.

Trying on armour.

Lifting the heavy gun.

Lifting the heavy gun.

Finally we got involved with outdoor cooking as it would have been done for troops of soldiers. The kids got involved with making a mixture of dried fruits and nuts which were threaded, wound onto a spit, covered with batter and roasted over an open fire. It looked delicious, but sadly we weren’t allowed to eat any.

Learning how to thread the fruit and nuts.

Learning how to thread the fruit and nuts.

Jessy concentrating hard on the threading task.

Jessy concentrating hard on the threading task.

Stew in the pot and the fruit and batter mix roasting on a spit.

Stew in the pot and the fruit and batter mix roasting on a spit.

Finally, our whole group came together (there were about 80 of us!) to watch an archery and shooting display. The children were all shocked at how loud the gun shot was.

The archer retrieves his arrows and everyone waits for the gun shot display.

The archer retrieves his arrows and everyone waits for the gun shot display.

It was a lovely day out and we’ve decided we’d like to go back to have a tour of the house and explore the grounds more.

Apart from this trip, the pace of life has felt slow. We’ve enjoyed more Japanese study on Language Nut and Nihongo Master. Jessy is getting confident with his favourite vocab section. We finished watching all the Harry Potter films. I bought CDs of the RiddleTM songs that we love. Teenage twins created a great collection of Harry Potter inspired songs which are very catchy and great to sing along to. We have been compulsively listening to them and now know most of the lyrics off by heart. Our neighbours probably do too! Jessy likes to look them up online to learn them faster.

Jessy often leaves things for a long time before showing an interest in them. This week we’ve enjoyed two of the gifts he was given for his birthday in February. We’ve been reading ‘Bad Kids’ which is very similar to Horrible Histories and Jessy has enjoyed taunting me with his new knowledge of vile punishments throughout history! He also built his Mini Titanic kit completely on his own. He’s enjoyed taking it apart and rebuilding it again so many times I’ve lost count!

The insides of the Titanic.

The insides of the Titanic.

The Titanic sails again!

The Titanic sails again!

Anais came round to play on Sunday. She’s got back into Pokemon, so we all got creative and imagined new Pokemon.

Pokemon by Anais.

Pokemon by Anais.

Jessy's Pokemon.

Jessy’s Pokemon.

My Pokemon designs.

My Pokemon designs.

I’d definitely say that we haven’t been as busy lately as usual. There has been less activity. However, I realised today that we’re thinking about and working on other things. I’ll write a separate blog about that I think, and keep this one about what we’ve been up to. Watch this space!

Sneaky peak into the world of play.

This is a little extra mini-blog that I wanted to share. There’s a virtual gold star for anyone who can spot the only creature that isn’t a toy in the photos. 😉

It can get tiring as a parent constantly tidying and re-tidying and tidying again. I should probably get Jessy to tidy his playroom more, but one of the benefits of a playroom is not feeling that I have to nag him to keep it tidy. Then the job gets too big and it’s easier and quicker to tackle it myself. If he has friends coming round then it benefits me to tidy the playroom because they are more likely to play in there and not turn my living room into Chaos HQ! The blank canvas of a tidy room seems inspirational. A few hours after leaving his playroom immaculate in time for the arrival of his friend it looked like this:

Instant mess!

Instant mess!

I sighed deeply and was about to call them to tidy up when something stopped me. I often talk about how so much of Jessy’s learning happens through play. It’s one of those things that is impossible to measure and difficult to record, but I fully trust that it’s true. So before I hollered to the kids, I decided to have a little sneak peek into their world of play. To look beyond the mess that I see and notice the play lying all around me. I found this on top of the huge beanbag:

The Mad Scientist

The Mad Scientist

A scientist engrossed in his work, encased in his bright red building perched on top of a mountain. Behind him stands a transporter – no walking down the mountain for this penguin! Beam me up! Above him looms the threat of an enormous dalek, but the scientist works on unperturbed. Perhaps the fate of the world rests on his discovery!

Down on the ground I looked more closely:

Three headed dog!

Three headed dog!

The pyramid strikes an impressive pose in the background as an oversized crocodile emerges on the scene. A three headed dog chews viciously on a stick large enough for all three to share, but is the creature friend or foe? A huge dragon is feasting on the unfortunate inhabitants of a stranded camper van. The cyber man have fallen, but what could be so daring or dangerous as to defeat them? A sonic screwdriver lies abandoned, perhaps this answers the question. Army back-up is approaching from the rear, but which is the monster they have been sent to vanquish? Further back I spot something mysterious….

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Why are all these creatures standing on their heads? Have they been bewitched? Attacked? Does it offer some kind of protection? I will probably never know. I thought I’d seen it all until I peered behind the beanbag….

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A hidden dalek army! Hiding in the shadow of the huge red dalek they have been using the chaos and carnage as a perfect cover to gather and plot their next attack. Is all hope lost? I believed so until I spotted this directly under the dalek HQ:

Secret Lookout!

Secret Lookout!

One brave soldier, hidden in a Tardis secret base, literally under the noses (or plungers) of the daleks above! Risking all, this lone rebel provides intelligence to the hidden rebellion. Perhaps he is in communication with the scientist on the mountain? I fear he was too late for some…

Friends or enemies?

Friends or enemies?

This poor bear lay far from the main scene of battle. Fallen on top of his Unicorn buddy. Did the snake kill him or does she just slither heartlessly over the corpse of a fallen fluffy soldier? Perhaps they were even friends and her slither is a final kiss goodbye.

It was fun to walk into their world. Even if I got the story wrong, I feel the magic of play as I write this. I could be eight again, lost in the worlds of imaginary play that seemed so so real. I remember the fear of the wicked wizard, the urgency of the quest, swimming through ponds of treacle and growing wings to soar with a herd of flying ponies. I remember that it isn’t just mess.

Media Madness and Domestic Bliss

My most successful attempt at getting Jessy involved in domestic chores has been ‘Happy House Hour’. We spend one hour on a Sunday doing housework together. I pick 6 different tasks and we do them for 10 minutes each. It’s an idea from ‘Fly Lady’. The aim isn’t to do things perfectly or get it all finished, just to get some stuff done. It’s a good way to introduce him to new tasks and the short time scale makes it feels manageable. This week he was nervous about mopping, but so proud of himself when he mastered it that he volunteered to do the next bathroom. In fact he’s been enjoying helping in the home this week. He decided he wanted to cook dinner for us and settled on bacon, chips and eggs. I reminded him how to put the gas hob on and reminded him about gas safety. He read the instructions on the chips, preset the oven and put the chips on the tray. Turning them over halfway through proved tricky but he didn’t give up! My niece and I helped out, I kept the bacon sizzling while Anais chopped carrots to give us some fresh veg. Jessy served it all up for us and was rightly proud of himself as we sat down to eat. He also had a new found appreciation for how much thought goes into cooking even a simple meal!

Dinner, mostly cooked by Jessy.

Dinner, mostly cooked by Jessy.

He also sorted out a load of laundry (I’m very particular about colour segregation!) and put it on. Later in the week he asked to bake biscuits. Baking has never held his interest for long, but this time he was very focused and did all the measuring himself. We used a recipe in a wonderful old book called ‘The Home Encyclopedia’ I found in a charity shop, which features an A-Z on how to be a domestic goddess! We had to do some conversions when it came to weights and oven temperatures. The biscuits were delightful and I ate far more than I should have done!

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The interesting conversations continue. Jessy’s mind is always fully awake before mine is and one morning he began talking about Global Conflict and what he believes causes it before I’d even woken up. I gradually emerged into consciousness as he told me that he thinks the problem lies in the fact that male animals are designed to fight for a mate but because human men no longer fight for a mate they end up fighting about other things instead and causing war and conflict. Taking on board his theory I mentioned territory as well, and we decided that War really is just a huge fight for territory. He then began to question why everyone in the world can’t have the same amount of things as that would be fair. I introduced the idea of communism (I hadn’t opened my eyes yet!) and said that some countries have tried it, and although it may seem fair it doesn’t seem to make people feel happy, as people don’t all want to be the same, and people like to have something to work for and wish for. I then flagged up the problems with Capitalism, explaining how a very few people have most of the world’s wealth, which doesn’t make people happy either. (eyes opening, but still lying down.) Jessy then excitedly declared that he’d had a great idea! He said that people who are rich should give more of their money to people who are poor. I explained about taxes and how it does work like that to some extent. He proposed a personalised taxation system, whereby individual rich people give to individual poor people. He said that a rich man should give money to a homeless man, but he should know which person it was going to. I think his idea is a lovely one, although sadly I don’t think it will catch on – particularly with this government. After that lighthearted start to my morning I got out of bed!

I’ve been wondering whether we need to cut something out of our weekly schedule. It’s lovely to spend so much time out at parks and with friends but I’m feeling the loss of our time at home. It’s the days at home which germinate the little seeds that makes autonomous education work. I’ve also realised that one day at home isn’t enough. Jessy and I are both introverts. We enjoy our social time, but we need to recharge our batteries by quiet time alone. Being busier has meant that when we do get a day in, we both only seem good to sit in our pyjamas and watch films! To some extent I’ve made my peace with this. One day a week I’m totally relaxing the screen time rules and letting us bask in a day of media filled relaxation. Now that I’ve made this ‘officially OK’ in my head I can keep a bit of an eye on what we’re watching.

We’ve had a screen day today. I bought a subscription to LanguageNut with a discount voucher code because they have the option of Japanese. It’s a programme designed for children Jessy’s age. He wasn’t sure at first, but once we got into the songs and games section he got really into it and learned all the vocab in the section he’d picked. He’s memorising the words written in Japanese characters too, even though he can’t actually read them properly. We’ve been singing the catchy little song ‘Nama-ay wa nan desu ka? Watashi wa John des. Annata wa?’ all day! (What is your name? My name is John? How about you?) After that Jessy watched a couple of episodes of his ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ DVD which was a firm favourite years ago but hasn’t been watched for a while. He then played games pretending to be a dinosaur and acting out some of what he’d learned. I got out the huge dinoaur book which we haven’t looked at in a while too. We’ve also watched a guided tour of a space station which was another one thrown up on Facebook and well worth a watch:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/suni_iss_tour.html

Although it’s a lot to clock up in one day we’ve definitely both been learning! I know what Jessy would pick as his best media moment of the week though. I finally caved in and decided to let him watch the Harry Potter films. We’re still only about half way through the Goblet of Fire, so finishing the series is a long way off. He’s also picked up so many details of the films and stories from his friends who have read and/or seen the whole lot, that there’s very little of importance he doesn’t already know, despite my best efforts! I don’t want him to lose interest before he gets a chance to see them either. With the later ones the films are just the bare skeleton of the stories anyway. It’s very interesting to compare the two as well. His other favourite video of the week has been the story of Peverell brothers. It’s a Harry Potter related story, and is a fairytale told to young witches and wizards and features in ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’. It has a pleasantly haunting sound and I haven’t minded the repetitive listening!

The other new feature has been ‘The Hookman’ computer game from the “Campfire Legends’ series. I didn’t realise the one we already have is the 2nd in the series, so this gave us the background. It’s a spooky style hidden objects game, with lots of logic puzzles. Jessy is usually better at them than I am! This game has been the inspiration for his writing this week. It seems the spooky scientist is spying on us and keeps putting notes through the letterbox! Jessy made a specific request to play chess this week. He plays when he goes to Sheffield, and he was showing off the new tips he’d picked up. We were lucky to have  a lovely sunny day, so we played chess in the sunshine:

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We’ve still enjoyed lots of time out and about in various parks as usual but I’ve enjoyed doing other things too. Sometimes I feel as if I’m always trying to strike the right balance, but when I really think about it, things are rarely completely balanced. The scales tip one way, and then another and often hover around. I just need to remember that that is ok.

Jessy and Anais climbing in Hulme Park.

Jessy and Anais climbing in Hulme Park.

Harvey Milk and Angelina

Back in 2003, I spent a few months living in San Francisco. I would have stayed out there longer apart from the fact I’d planned to have a baby and I felt that if I didn’t come back to Manchester and get on with it then I’d end up living the single child free life in San Francisco instead! I bought a lot of books when I was out there and among them were several lovely children’s books. I wanted to gather together children’s books representing gay families and giving messages of acceptance. As a teenager, growing into my lesbian sexuality, I remember struggling with the lack of representation around me. All the magazine quizzes were about ‘boys’. Wanting a girlfriend was only mentioned in the problem pages. I didn’t want my child to grow up feeling the same way. In among them was ‘The Harvey Milk Story’. This one had an age recommendation of 8+. So, it has sat on various bookshelves since Jessy was no more than a tadpole in a test tube. And now he is eight. I took the book down and showed it to him and he wanted me to read it. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in America. He worked hard to try and create a more equal society for everyone. It’s been a long time since I looked at the story, so his assassination came as a nasty shock. I think Jessy felt the same, as he wanted me to read the end part of the story again and then we talked about it. I always feel sad discussing homophobia with him. He genuinely cannot understand why anyone would think it is wrong to love someone because they have the same gender. Neither can I, but unfortunately he may have to deal with those opinions at some point. Luckily he hasn’t come across any hostility so far about his family.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

We’ve had a little move away from only reading Harry Potter this week. Jessy has suddenly taken a renewed interest in his old Angelina Ballerina books. He loved them when he was 3 or 4, but has only scoffed at them for a while now. All of a sudden he wanted me to read them to him, and he read one to me too (after I promised not to cry!) Although they are aimed at a younger audience I’ve found the simpler stories and pictures a useful tool for talking about how the characters are feeling, and how he thinks they might be feeling which is something Jessy finds hard. My 10 year old niece Anais came to stay for a few days and even she enjoyed them.

We’ve mostly been out and about enjoying the sunshine. We went to Highfields park with our friends on Friday morning. They had plans to go BMX biking in Platt Fields Park in the afternoon, so we went with them as Anais was keen to have a go. Jessy doesn’t ride a bike. He was given one for his birthday a few years ago but never took to it and it went rusty before he learned to ride. He’s never wanted another one. He enjoyed lying in the sun reading The Goblet of Fire and getting his hair stroked. (He always calls it a ‘nit check’, but we all know it’s just his excuse to get his hair played with by Dennis!) Once Anais got the hang of standing up on the pedals, she did really well on the BMX and had a great time.

When we’ve been in Jessy decided to make his own ‘Pippi baby’ (little monster toys I make out of left over clothes) He was doing very well with the sewing, but the next day he got tired of it and stuck it all together with masking tape instead! He was still happy with his toy. I found something interesting on facebook (facebook contributes quite a lot to autonomous education I’ve found!) about a method taught to Japanese children for multiplication. I thought Jessy would take to it, and although Anais officially ‘hates maths’ she always seems keen to give things a go when she’s here. We all had a go, but as it was nearly bedtime we didn’t spend long on it so I think we’ll re-visit it on our next day in.

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On Saturday evening I found out about the Manchester Day Parade which gave us something fun to do on Sunday. The kids loved the parade and I splashed out on the couple of ridiculously priced fairground rides and bought candy floss and sugar dummies which made for happy children!

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Jessy enjoying himself on the carousel.

Jessy enjoying himself on the carousel.

We strolled back to the bus stop, stopping on the way to listen to some drummers in the street and watch a friend of Jessy’s dancing with the dancer of the group. Anais plucked up the courage to have a go too and had a great time.

Anais dancing.

Anais dancing.

Jessy’s choice of ‘fun things to do on the way to the bus stop’ was his usual statue climbing. I did have a near heart attack when he slid down Queen Victoria’s ample skirts and I thought he might fall, but he was ok! We moved onto Wellington, a more climber friendly statue! I bumped into a couple of people from last weekend’s conference. I’m not sure they recognised me at first in ‘no-make up Mum Mode’. It was pointed out that my outfit of little tartan ra-ra skirt, Little Miss Trouble T-shirt and a big red ribbon in my hair still made me quite recognisable though! They were on their way to a Women’s group meeting that I rarely get to nowadays, but I felt happy to be enjoying the sunshine with the kids. I like the balance in my life.

Climber friendly statue

Climber friendly statue

Talking of balance in my life, I went to the next part of my Shamanic Women’s course yesterday. Jessy was having so much fun playing at his friends’ house that I also ended up with an unexpected day to myself today. What did I do with a day to myself? Hung up washing and read books on parenting!! I loved it though! I picked Jessy up in time for dinner and cubs. Bye for now!