Tribes and Trapeze

I have so much more energy this week which is great. The horrid exhaustion has gone along with the permanent nausea and I feel as if I’m nesting. Unfortunately for the kids I think it means I’m even more of a nag about housework than usual! So what have we been uo to this week? I recently bought a box set of the ‘Tribe’ documentary series aired on BBC a few years ago. I really enjoyed it at the time and was reminded of it when Jessy and I looked at pictures of Tribal tattoos. It has a 15 rating which I wouldn’t usually consider letting him watch. However, having seen the series before I felt it would be appropriate as long as I watched them with him to explain anything he didn’t understand. There is a lot of violence in many of the Tribes featured and many people live naked which I believe is the reason for the high rating. It’s a world away from a violent 15 rated film containing nudity though! Both Jessy and A have really enjoyed them. They’ve both been most squeamish about the blood letting and blood drinking in a couple of the episodes.

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On Monday they went to Wood School feeling inspired by the programmes to try making some arrows and fighting sticks like the ones they had seen. I mentioned it to one of their teachers who said she was sure they could facilitate that. A came home with a very impressive bow and arrow she had made, that worked wonderfully. Unfortunately she lost the arrow while playing with it in some bushes before we even got home. Apparently the arrows have to be made from very straight strong sticks which can be hard to find but I’m hopeful she’ll be able to make a replacement next week.

At home the children have done a lot of letter writing. Jessy often writes letters to people he’s close to and has an ongoing letter dialogue with Dennis who we see regularly. His letters are very often Hogwarts inspired, detailing term start dates and who might be enrolling at the school. A decided that she would like a Pen Pal and I felt sure that other Home Ed kids would probably enjoy that too so I put up a message on one of the Home Ed Facebook groups I’m on. We got a reply within less than a minute from the Mum of a girl who is the same age and has many of the same interests. Interestingly, she also goes to school at the moment so they will have that in common too once A goes back. A was so pleased to have a new Pen Pal she wrote a letter before she even knew her name! The wax sealing stamps have been hugely popular this week again and they’ve gone through almost two whole sticks!

Letter for a new Pen Pal.

Letter for a new Pen Pal.

The renewed popularity of the wax stamps has meant that they’ve wanted to turn the gas hob on and off many times a day which has been a good opportunity to give reminders about doing it safely and sensibly. A can be very cautious, but she’s gone from being quite scared and flustered to being able to light the gas ring calmly and confidently. I’m pleased as I think a calm confidence is safer than being flustered and uncertain. We also extended the theme to give A the opportunity to practice striking a match and lighting a candle. Again, she was keen to try but very nervous at first. I let them gain some confidence by burning a few matches over a sink of water to ensure it was safe. I think they would have gone through the box but I wanted to be clear that whilst knowing how to use a match safely for useful purposes is important, they are not to be played with simply for the fun of it.

The crocheted monster game is still going strong and this week they decided to make robot staff for the little world the monsters live in. Since Jessy was very young it has been quite common for him to leave new things untouched on a shelf for up to a year before taking an interest. He was given a robot craft kit for Christmas last year and has shown no interest in it until he suddenly took it down from his bookshelf and built lots. He shared them with A as she had used her kit a while ago and shared hers with other friends. They made some cute and quirky little robots.

Robot staff.

Robot staff.

The Harry Potter theme is still a constant in the background in our house. A has been very excited to finally finish reading ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ and Jessy is steaming ahead towards the end of ‘Order of the Phoenix’. They have watched a couple of the films this week. They developed a habit of watching a film in the mornings when I was so tired out in my first trimester. I relaxed the ‘no screens’ rule in the mornings as I needed the rest and they needed some compensation! We all love films and I don’t really object to them watching a film either. This week they have been inspired to make their own Harry Potter film. Jessy started a video series a while ago based on the book he was writing ‘Jessy McAlister and the Secret Monster’. A offered to help him expand on it. With her experience in theatre from Stagecoach, she helped provide some structure and created a simple script for them to follow. I even got to play myself in the story telling them to get their books ready for Hogwats (Jessy’s imaginary school for little witches and wizards). They were very dedicated and kept persevering even though they had problems with the recording device and had to keep starting again.They had a 10 minute long little film in the end which we all watched.

Today we went to something new – Circus Skills. New activities can often be very difficult for Jessy and we tend to stick to what he knows. However, on this occasion two of his best friends were going and the plan was to go along after they’d both come to our house for a bit. A is often keen to try new things and having her around always seems to help Jessy’s confidence too. I was really pleased that he was happy to go along and join in. We were lucky because the group was going to be cancelled but when our friend said we had 4 children who wanted to come she agreed to put it on. She also put the word out on our Home Ed e-mail list and another 4 friends also turned up. They all had a great time trying juggling and the trapeze.

Jessy's first go on the trapeze.

Jessy’s first go on the trapeze.

A's first go.

A’s first go.

At first they were taught how to do ‘the pike’ and then how to go from a pike into hanging upside down. I could tell this part was a lot more nerve racking. Jessy looked quite anxious and A seemed positively terrified! They both managed it though and everyone clapped for all the kids.

Jessy upside down

Jessy upside down

A upside down.

A upside down.

As for me, I feel like I’ve spent most of the week tidying. I have a friend coming to visit tomorrow with her two daughters. I’ve never actually met her before but we’ve got to know each other over the years, first on a parenting forum and then over the phone. I do like the house to look nice if possible when new people come to visit so it’s been a great excuse to clear some rooms that have been abandoned for a while and get on top of things a bit more. I’m feeling very pregnant considering I’m only 15 weeks! I felt the baby move for the first time when I was in the bath which was very exciting. I’ve decided to start taking ‘bump’ pictures as I already have a big one! I didn’t look anything like this at this stage with Jessy! I have to admit that too much scoffing has definitely added to it, but I think I actually look pregnant too. You can make up your own mind!

15 weeks. Bump!

15 weeks. Bump!

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.

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.