Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Autumn preparations...

After a quiet-ish Friday, Saturday and Sunday - most of which were spent pottering around the house with a few peeps recovering from various bugs and nasties, Monday was a social day.

We headed off to meet a few other families at a nearby park.  Sadly the number of families dwindled somewhat and and were far below expectations, but a good time was still had by all (I think!).  The park was a new one to us, and only a 10-15 minute drive away!  The play equipment was put to good use, and Chelsea seemed to be chatting to all and sundry - including a lecturer from the nearby college.  As always she was a great ambassador for home-education, talking eloquently and confidently, and at the end of the conversation the lecturer was well and truly impressed, mentioning that she may consider the HE-ing option for her own daughter who was 3.  It appears that Chelsea has planted that seed of thought, and the lady has gone off looking at finding further information.  Chelsea, Tiegan and Callum also 'made friends' with a little lad aged around 2 and a half who seemed quite sad to have to say goodbye - I just love how age isn't a issue for so many home-educated children.

Silly billy mini me forgot to take my camera though, so no pics from the day I'm afraid :(

Our Tuesday has been enjoyable :)  Our 'school room / resource room' has been re-christened our 'Learning Library' *grin*.  Much of today has been spent within its walls.  I have been racking my brains about how to combine my love and belief in unschooling with my need to, at times, "gather evidence of learning".   I know that our life will change greatly within the coming months and I would like to be settled on some sort of child-led routine.   On the whole I trust my children.  I do know (after much research and personal experience) that living life is learning in itself.   I am fully relaxed in the knowledge that if my children live rich and fulfilled lives, with plenty of opportunities to explore resources and try new things, they will gather information and gain an education.  My children love to learn new things.  Their minds are ever open, enquiring, questioning, wanting to know all they can on subjects that interest them.  But, I feel that we do have drifting-on-by days.  Far too many drifting-on-by days for my liking if I'm honest.  Days when I look around and see glazed expressions gazing at laptop screens for what seems like hours on end.  Days when I witness glazed expressions gazing at TV screens as they play video games.  I am not denying that laptops and video games are educational, I know that they are and they certainly have their place firmly within our home, but I can't help myself thinking about just how much educational value is gained from repetitive website visiting and same ol' video game playing.

So I am introducing a folder system.

Now before all of the avid unschoolers out there think I'm abandoning ship and cease reading my blog, let me just explain how I envisage it will work (and indeed how it has worked today).

I am putting together a set of ringbinder files:

  • Handwriting and Story Prompts.
  • History Ideas.
  • Project Suggestions - for projects or lapbooking ideas.
  • Geography Ideas.
  • Art and Craft Inspiration.
  • Famous people past and present.
  • Science Experiments.
and a separate folder for Tiegan's Brownie Badge work.

None of these will be forced upon the children.  None will be used as bribery (we don't do the "Do an hour of school work for an hour of video game" thing).  But the folders will be there, available for use.

I have lost track of how many times I've heard "I want to write something but I don't know what..."  or "I want to write a story, but I don't know where to start or what to write about..."  I sometimes struggle to inspire or come up with ideas when put on the spot, so having files there already organised to give a wealth of suggestions and ideas will (I think) be of benefit.  Tiegan is totally in love with the folder plan.  She has begged for more structured stuff, she craves work, she loves doing 'school' and enjoys being told what to do work wise.  Now she can just pick a folder, choose a prompt and start on her own accord.  Today she flicked through the files and chose a writing prompt.  I'll add the prompt as an example here....

If you were an alien, what would your life be like?

Think about...
  • What would your house look like?
  • What clothes would you wear?
  • What would you look like?
  • What food would you eat?
  • What sort of hobbies would you have?
  • How would you travel?
  • What would your planet look like?
  • What would your family look like?
  • Would you have any pets? Describe them?
What else do you think you could add?

Draw pictures to illustrate.

I included a token cute alien picture to the top of the prompt page to add interest.

Tiegan really enjoyed it.  It was telling her what to do, but child-led.  It was helping her know what to write, but allowed enough freedom for imagination.  After doing as much as she wanted to, she asked me to print off some handwriting practice sheets - cursive writing this time.  So she did a few sheets of practice letters and then made a couple of cards, illustrated, and including the words "I love you lots and lots mummy" and the same for daddy.  One of those heart-warming moments that us parents are so fortunate to experience.

The other 3 are making the right noises regarding the new system too - so let's wait and see how it works with fingers firmly crossed that we have reached the right compromise for our philosophy.

This afternoon, it was decided that we should start working on our Autumn Wall Display.

Working on our Autumn Wall Display

I started off by fixing some cheap (less than £2 a roll) lining paper to the wall.  I used drawing pins to ensure good adherence, and chose this option instead of our usual blue-tack choice.  Blue tack does seem to make a dreadful mess of our walls in this room.  Using the lining paper as our background, we started to place various items on top of it using very thin square foam sticky pads.  I printed an Autumn poem from the internet and mounted it on cheap paper, cut out the letters spelling Autumn for the display heading, and then we all brainstormed words that we associated with Autumn.  Amongst many other suggestions, Callum mentioned Caramel, whilst Tiegan thought of Trick and Treating and Bonfires.  Joseph thought of Conkers and Dark Nights, and Chelsea stated Shooting Stars, Crunchy, and Woolly Jumpers.

We typed each word into our word-processing program and chose a suitable font.  We changed the font colour to various autumnal tones, printed them onto heavyweight white paper, cut them out, and inked them using co-ordinating ink pads.  Once we had mounted them onto backing paper, the display looked like this...

Autumn Wall Display under construction

The added leaves are a "dingbat" font that I printed and cut out.

I've left lots of space so the display can be added to with the children's work.  We are pretty pleased with how it's come together, and at such little financial cost!

Once that was done, we ate dinner and I started creating Callum's Reading Tree poster.  I first used the idea with Joseph. He came out of school unable to read at all due to the phonics reading method they implemented not working for him.  Because of his speech dyspraxia, the sounding out of words was never going to help him - he just got more and more confused as his speech pronunciation difficulties made the word sound completely different to what it was.  We had lots of frustration battles.  He desperately wanted to read - or so I thought - so I plodded on as best I could.  He would ask me to sit and help him, so I thought I was helping him as it was his choice to bring me the book.  It soon became clear though that it wasn't Joseph wanting to read.  It was actually Joseph thinking he should be reading.  Once this was established, I backed right off, suggesting that either I read to him or we did another activity instead. I sat and waited, trusting that the time for Joseph to be ready for reading would happen - I just needed to show my love of books, and for us to continue with our family reading sessions.  Within a few months Joseph started to realise that he needed to be able to read.  He came to understand that reading could unlock so many things for him - not least the ability to decipher his Playstation game instructions without assistance.  Once this need had been established, it all fell into place - but there was a small issue of confidence - or lack of it.  Joseph was improving daily, but couldn't see this improvement himself. He started to get frustrated with himself, believing that he wasn't learning quickly enough.  No matter how much I praised Joe or how often I tried to explain how well he was getting on, nothing could instil self-belief in his ability to read.

I started thinking about what I could do to help him know that he was improving.  I thought about reading tests, checklists, etc, but didn't feel comfortable with any of those.  I wanted something visual, but not something that tested ability.  I made a Reading Tree.  In the beginning it was a bare tree, but it's leaves soon flourished as more words were learnt.   Within weeks we had a fully covered tree, filled with leaves with words written on them.  Joseph could clearly see his progress.  He could see the tree growing.  Each leaf was a symbol of his reading success.  Once the confidence and self-belief was there, the reading thing was easy :)

I did attempt to do something similar for Tiegan.  This time the idea was a sunshine, with each sun ray symbolising a read word.  Tiegan raced ahead with her reading and could read whole chapter books within weeks of learning to read.  I couldn't keep up with the sun rays!  That idea was soon shelved :)

Callum is now showing an interest in reading.  He has always loved books.  Library visiting is always welcomed, and story time a daily activity.  He loves joining in with our family reading time, even when the chapter books are levelled at way above his age.  He listens intently, asks questions, and can see how a story is formed through the words on each page.  He now has his own Reading Tree so he can visualise his own reading progress.  It doesn't matter if 6 months down the line the tree is still pretty much bare - it will still be around for when he is ready for it.

Again it was made with very little financial cost.  Lining paper was used as the background piece, affixed to the wall with drawing pins.  The tree trunk was hand drawn and cut from an opened file folder (less than £4 for 100 from Staples).  The branches were cut from another file of the same type.  Scrap pieces of paper formed the clouds, sunshine, grass, owl in hole, and plane.  Leaves will be added from paper scraps. I use double sided tape or a glue stick as adhesive.

This evening Callum added his first two leaves...he has decided that two a day is his goal (totally his own idea, he suggested it whilst we were having our walk in the dark this evening). :)

Placing a word leaf.

Callums Reading Tree - The Beginning

He loves his tree.  His favourite part of it is the owl.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how the idea works for him, at the moment it appears to be a hit.

Tomorrow we will be adding to our Autumn display.  Chelsea wants to write her own poem for it, and Tiegan wants to add some writing (but doesn't know exactly what yet) and a picture or two.  Joseph just wants to add *something* but has gone to bed thinking about what to do.  I get the impression that he has an idea but doesn't wish to share it just yet.

I want to make a start on our History Timeline wall.  I've got the lining paper strip on the wall already, just need to think about dates, what I want to add, and how to add it.  I have the idea of an interactive timeline, with tags, pockets, etc,  in my head.  Chelsea said that her old school one of just dates and pictures was boring and she didn't bother to look at it very often.  I want ours to be similar to a timeline lapbook but on the wall - oh I do love a challenge :)

I also want to go and join another nearby library service.  I sent an email enquiring if we could as I wasn't sure about area segregation, but the reply I received was very welcoming.  It will be nice to have a wider range of book choice - but we must still use our little local one.  It's definitely a case of use it or lose it...


  1. Hi Julia

    Inspiring writing and ideas. I love the way that you give yourself permission to implement changes when the energy seams stuck/stagnant(that doesn't describe exactly what I mean but I can't think of the right word:-)
    We have been experiencing something similar - I was inspired by your Autumn display idea the other day and asked Connor if he would like to do one (I had the whole thing planned ha!) Now we have a solar system display underway. All his idea and we still have more planned)

    Their social development is astounding, they both talk to everyone and anyone, age is not an issue but they do get bored at times and resort to games and TV. They have both never been to school and I battle with myself that school would solve the boredom. Fortunately I have friends who flexi school who remind me that boredom happens frequently at school and would not solve the issue. I debate between ciriculums, which still don't feel right for me in that I want them to be in charge of their own learning more. I have some which I have decided wold be excellent for reference and detail when they decide they want to look at a particular area.

    I trust that their interest is a reflection of their organic learning and also feel that they need more from me in terms of showing them what is out there and available in terms of knowledge/ideas/experiences etc

    Anyway, after that rambling, your thoughts have inspired some thoughts of my own into action

    I may start my own blog, ramblings of a wild woman!! he he


  2. I love your reading tree idea :) My ds is just starting to read too and I could see that being a real boost for his confidence. I might just borrow your idea.
    Thank you :)

  3. Omg that reading tree idea is fabulous! I suspect I shall be borrowing this idea when Rye starts to be interested in reading.

    I really like the folder ideas too. I shall do this myself I think..yes, yes I know he's only 3 and half... but more for ideas I have for themes to our crafting/play so I don't forget what I had in mind.

    Gosh lass, you're a vertible library of information & fab ideas :-)

  4. Fab post, thank you.

    Love the idea of the folders - we have one child who just soaks up knowledge and another who needs some help so maybe this idea may work for us too.


  5. We have just booted my husband out of his "office", which is basically just an open plan filing cabinet!!! He now has a small but organised space and we are going to have our own "unschool" room...the children are trying to think of a name for the room that doesn't suggest school. I LOVE the reading tree poster and am thinking, as my 2 can both now read, that it would be great to use for definitions of words just learned!
    I too often have those moments of panic that the children have learned nothing and then remember something I saw on Sandra Dodds website about National Learn NOTHING Day....Haha!...I soon calm down as I know this would be impossible! But it is so good when families do just what is right for themselves and not feeling they have to follow something to the letter! You've given me alot of inspiration today Julia.


  6. wow, you guys have been busy. What a fantastic Autumn display, it's going to look gorgeous. We've a little nature corner in our playroom, with all sorts on it, and some Autumn-y books from our shelves pulled out for special display, but I love the idea of the poster and may well steal it!!

    Loved the reading tree as well - personally I think all the ideas you've mentioned fit with my understanding of unschooling entirely - making resources available for use/inspiration as and when desired by the children - the fact is you're not, as you said, forcing them to do x amount of "folder work" per day, but the folders, and the ideas are there when they are ready and enthusiastic - sometimes there needs to be a bit of prompting suggesting to inspire a new bout of enthusiasm for learning. Hope it all goes well,

  7. Anonymous3:55 pm

    I'm another one who'd like to steal the reading tree idea :) It's going to need some thinking through for me though - I have a six year old and a four year old who are both just beginning to read, and I need to find a way to avoid it turning into a competition - school has already left my six year old thinking that he 'should' be able to read already.

  8. I love the little owl in the tree - so cute!

  9. Anonymous11:47 am

    I love your folder idea too so I've nicked that! It will be particularly great for us with art ideas as I need prompting in that department. Thank you!!