Monday, 30 September 2013


We had a rather busy weekend, and it's starting to show . . .

On Saturday we played another session of the Pathfinder role-playing game.  The scenario is called Reign of Winter, and we are about 10 game sessions in - J has a dwarven fighter called Thorin, M a human cleric called Palin, L an elven ranger called Heredir and I am a human sorcerer called Pirri.

The game came about because we wanted to play together more, because J wants to go to the games club but needs more practise at playing and because M and L don't get to role-play much in a lot of the games they play due to time constraints.

We start each session with a question for each of us to answer about our character - to build up the back story and help them become more than a sheet of numbers.

J has a lot to learn - just now he is seeing all the cool things the other player characters (PC's) do and wishing his character could do them.  He isn't realising that each character has different things to bring to the game, he wishes he could do EVERYTHING. 

M and L need to learn to relax together - they are both very good at "advising" the other on what to do. 

So, Saturday afternoon we spent three hours playing, whilst A played out front with her local friends.

Sunday morning I took part in "Messy Harvest" at our church and did a craft activity (one of six on offer) with the children there. A came with me, J was meant to but chose not to in the end.  M went to his rugby club, and L stayed home with J playing minecraft.

Later A and M went to a bag-pack for their scout troop.  That is when they are in uniform standing at the tills in a supermarket offering to pack bags of shopping for donations.  I was dreading it! A is helpful and polite, I knew she would be fine, but M is a bit prone to clumsiness and dropping stuff . . . I also worried that he would be bored and cause mischief.  As it turns out the group look like they raised a fair amount of money, A and M both behaved, and all went well.

Today was roller-skating at multi sports, which they all loved.  Again, all was happy and chilled.

Lastly we went to a local soft play place - it's new, and pretty huge.  It was one of the children's friends birthday, so off we went to play for the afternoon with some other local home educators.

It was nice to see the new place, I don't think I'd like it outside of school time though - it was loud enough today with not so many people in there.

Most of the afternoon was great - in spite of lots of spilled drinks (not by my guys though!) - and we only had one problem when J clashed with an older boy.  I talked to him, to the other child's mother, and she talked to her so and all was sorted quickly and efficiently.

So a good weekend, a good Monday, and now I need to make sure we all have enough down time to relax and keep things going in the right direction.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Maths makes my head hurt!

Today I am very proud of L.  Well, I have been all week really, but today especially so.

Over the summer we spent a long time talking about which IGCSE's he felt able to tackle, which he was interested in, which would be useful, which I felt he needed, and finally which he felt he needed for his future plans.

We settled on a retake of Biology, and doing ICT and Maths this year, with more to follow.  He feels ICT looks "easy", so we may add another once we see how we go with these three.  One of the benefits of being an external candidate is that we don't actually need to decide which exams to enter him for until February next year, which gives us plenty of time to sus out how it is going, and tweak our plans accordingly.

Earlier this year (January-ish) we focused on ploughing through his biology text book.  We did do some maths - looking at handling data and recording results etc - but mostly it was biology all the way to prepare for the exams in May.

When L decided to tackle maths I was more than a little scared.  Maths is not something I am very good at - I just about scraped a C 21 years ago, and I was *very* glad to leave the frightening looking stuff behind!

We picked up a workbook from CGP that covers Edexcel's IGCSE maths.  I looked at the first page and panicked. It is straight into complex stuff!

11 x (77 / 7) + 121 - 2 x(10+1)2    (< read that 2 as squared, I can't work out how to do superscript!)

and that's one of the easier ones, because I can't find most of the symbols on this keyboard!

So, as I said, I panicked.  Then I had a long think - the options were either I pass on my illogical attitude (that I *just can't do it*) or I learn with L.  It seemed a simple choice really. I found some good videos on the Khan Academy website, prepared ahead of time, found a page on Facebook for home ed maths, gritted my teeth and got him started.  I also  know a lovely home edder who is a maths tutor - if it all went (or still manages to go) wrong I plan to smile sweetly at her and beg for help :)

We watched the first video (about BODMAS and the order of operations), talked it through, and off he went.  He didn't exactly whizz through them, but he worked steadily through the first set of ten sums, and got them all right - with the exception of needing to be shown that a squaring was outside a set of brackets, but that was a dyslexic moment rather than a not-understanding moment.  With just a little preparation both he and I now understand it :)

Today he is looking at roots as well as order of operations.  I hunted out a good explanation, we looked at it together, and now he is off working independently again - so far (4/5 of the way through the set) he is doing perfectly.

So, I am proud of L - he is grasping concepts I find tricky, he is hitting the ground running and getting his head around it all really well, he is listening to the explanations and isn't afraid to say "Hang on, I don't get that bit."  His attitude to this has really impressed me, and I'm so glad he is seeing the sense of how this stuff works.  At this rate I can't see any clouds on the horizon.

All in all, a very good start to the year from Mr L :)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Writing and the inimicable Mr J

We're having a bit of trouble with J at the moment. 

He is really struggling with writing - he has no uniformity in how he forms his letters, they are hard to read, lots are reversed and he is very reluctant to do more than a sentence.

For ages this held us back - both he physically and me mentally - because I wanted him to be able to write at least legibly before we moved to more complex written work.  There is only so much "fill in the blank" stuff I can come up with.

We've tried various times going back to the start, with page after page of letters, but it just hasn't stuck.

He has a new workbook - with Maths English and Science in it - and he is quite happy to go for that at the moment.  We began (as you do) with the first page - place value and ordering numbers.  He got fed up and we managed 2/3 of the page, before moving on to some reading of his book club book (which is a good history book, so involved more than just reading). 

The next day we tried again, and barely managed to finish the page we'd left partly done.  We moved on to the first English exercise, and I said I would write for him. 

Well blow me down! The page was about homophones - and J could pick them all out, spot which should be used when and aced the page - in about five minutes flat.  This was things like pick eight or ate to complete a sentence.  Then we turned to the science section, and he whizzed through that too. 

It took me aback a bit - here he was doing complex tasks, spelling words like carbohydrate perfectly, but he still can't get the J in his name the right way around . . .

I don't think J is dyslexic - he spells really well, one of his quirks is to spell words rather than say them and his reading is very strong - I wonder if he has dysgraphia perhaps though.  So - yay! - more research is on the cards.

We have settled to a plan for now - J is using a cursive handwriting book, it has started with very basic letter forms, but builds quickly into words.  He can see that he needs to form the letters just so in order for them to link, and he seems to be trying hard.  We will still use the other book, but I will do most of the writing there.

It seems, therefore that just as with L 8 years ago, we need to separate learning from written work.  For L it was because of dyslexia and his difficulty reading and spelling.  For J just the writing.  I am wondering if using a PC would be a good move, or if it will just mean he does even less writing.

Much to ponder, and I suspect there isn't one right answer.

I guess we'll just have to try and see how we get on :)

First group assesment session

So, Friday was J's first group assessment.

He was very excited about it, got ready to go out with no issues, bounded in to the waiting room happily saying hi to everyone.

When it was time to go in he was first up  and away from us, no qualms at all about going in.

When we picked him up, he raced out of the corridor and almost bowled his Dad over . . . he was saying bye to people by name and still happy and bouncy.

As we left he was like a slippery eel - I could barely keep hold of his hand as we crossed roads, and he was all over the place in the car park.

He says the session went well, he found a particular toy and played a lot with that, but he isn't telling us much about what else happened.

He says there were no problems, no tellings off, and he's looking forward to next week already.

I am reassured by the fact he is happy, and I know they team will be recording how he leaves and reunites with us, I hope he was as bouncy in the room with them as he was on the way home!

This was the "getting to know you" week - so they set some ground rules, introduced themselves, and then played.  They have a snack near to the end of the session, which J enjoyed - fruit and milk.

All in all a good start to things :)

It's not always easy . . .

Last week was the first time the kids were back at their regular multi-sports session after the summer, it was A's first session but M and J have been going for well over a year.  They were all looking forward to it - so surely a good time would be had by all . . .

I learned after the session that M had been a bit intimidating and had hit someone.  After a week of cogitating I thought I'd share how we deal with this sort of thing in general, and specifically how I dealt with it last week.

Firstly - I asked M to come to my room, where it is usually quiet and calm, we cuddled and I asked him in general terms about the session - was it fun, what had they done, what did he enjoy, that sort of thing.  We talked for about five minutes, it "felt" like he had had a good time and been happy.  I knew that he had come bouncing out of the session though - thoroughly hyped up and a bit OTT.  As he hadn't volunteered anything I asked if anyone had got hurt - he answered no.  That made everything else much more tricky.  I asked if he hurt anyone, again no, had anyone got upset?  No.

At this point I always run over what I actually know - in this case I trust both the parent and the child, and there was another person who mentioned the incident.  In the past we have had manipulative children claim that M has done something that I am certain he hasn't.  Once I knew he hadn't because he was sat beside me, not out on the field as the complainant claimed, other times there has been ambiguity, and that makes it tough to deal with.

So, there was nothing else to do but come straight out and ask - had he hurt anyone?  No.  How about by accident? Still no.   X has said you hurt her - what happened?  "I don't know.  Is she alright?"  A few more questions trying to work out when or how it might have happened still gave me no clues.

Now seems like a good time to talk about memory - specifically ASD memory.  Quite often M is convinced that something happened a particular way, when I am sure it happened another way.  For a long time I interpreted this as lying, but I don't think it is.  M is absolutely convinced that he is recalling whatever it was accurately - when he does lie he is very obvious! From reading other peoples blogs, and various books, this is pretty common in those with ASD.  It seems that so much happens without M being able to see cause and effect that his mind "fills in the blanks" - a little like persistence of vision when you drive past a fence with gaps, you see an unbroken landscape that is perhaps a little blurred.  That is how M sees these events - he subconsciously fills in the gaps, then is convinced that this is the truth.

So, back to this particular incident . . . Before I could really work out how to avoid this sort of thing, I needed to work out why M had no idea anything had happened.  Without going back to see, I can only guess but I can have a pretty educated guess. . . M is uncoordinated - when he runs arms and legs flail about rather randomly.  If he is racing someone to somewhere or something he subconsciously pushes - I think this is a feature of ADHD and poor executive function (he acts without thinking).  He doesn't look at peoples faces, and doesn't "get" body language.  Lastly he is very good at tuning out the background - often you need to get his attention before starting to speak to him as he just won't register what is said around him. 

When you put all those together, what I *think* probably happened is that he was racing to somewhere, either pushed past or accidentally bumped the young lady and just didn't realise, then he carried on to wherever he was going, and didn't see the result of what he had done.

So, first things first, I suggested to him what I thought may have happened.  He agrees it's possible, but still isn't sure.  We talked about trying to pay attention to people around you.  We talked about not pushing, and thinking about how it would feel to be pushed - at this point the disconnect he has between the names of feelings and how they actually feel was apparent again.  We talked about wanting everyone at the session to have fun, and how he couldn't dominate or they wouldn't have fun.  We did go over not hitting, but that's well trodden ground.

Before this weeks session I reminded him of all of this, and he seems to have remembered what we talked about.

Now comes the really awkward admission though . . . I have no idea if it will help.  M knows not to hit, and when he is calm and thinking he doesn't.  When he gets over excited, or in the heat of the moment, he isn't able to go through that subconscious checklist of "Is this a good idea / what happened last time / what could go wrong/ will I get in trouble."

I have, however, done my best, done all I can think of, followed the "expert advice."

One last thing, though . . .

No matter how often it happens, no matter what happens, if my child does the wrong thing TELL ME! Too often people just don't tell us when stuff happens, and then it happens again and again.  Eventually when I am told instead of trying to deal with a one off issue I am trying to stop an established behaviour - which is much harder!  Even if it looks like I am doing nothing, I *will* do my best and try to stop the behaviour.  Often, as with this incident, it is best to wait for the child to be calm and relaxed - no one ever learnt anything whilst they were in meltdown - so whilst it might look like nothing is happening "in the moment" when the storm passes the talking starts.

This week M managed to stand too close to someone and got whacked with a hockey stick . . . after a bit of crying (which was warranted, it was a heck of a lump) he went back in happily.  As far as I know nothing else went wrong . . .

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Educational Philosophy (Ed Phil)

As promised last post - our Educational Philosophy.

Educational Philosophy 2013


Re: Children's names and DoB

Our educational approach is based on our belief that each child deserves an education specifically tailored to their strengths, weaknesses and interests. To be of any real use this needs to be flexible, responsive, and supportive, taking direct account of how those points change and develop over time, and aware of where the child is educationally at that moment.  This means that we do not plan our education months in advance, because to do so would ignore the individual child’s response to their education.  Where the child has difficulty, work is at a slower pace, where the child excels work is faster, to attempt to predict this would undermine the child’s innate motivation, and potentially instil either insecurity (“they think this is easy?”) or overconfidence (“they think this is hard?”), neither of which is desirable.    We use a mixture of directed learning - primarily using workbooks and worksheets covering Math. Science and English skills - and discovery based learning, following an interest expressed by the child and exploring the subject as far as they wish. 

Our primary objective remains to enable each of our children to investigate their own fields of interest, thereby encouraging them to discover innate aptitudes, abilities and strengths, whilst supporting the development of literacy and numeracy skills, and knowledge of the world around them.

As stated previously, we use a balance of directed learning - using workbooks, worksheets and CD-ROMs primarily covering English and Maths and science – and discovery based learning, following an interest expressed by one of our children as far as they wish, nurturing it by using books, the internet, DVD’s, television documentaries and educational visits to extend our knowledge of the subject, and using activities to consolidate the learning.  We continue to find that what starts as an interest expressed by one child soon becomes an interest shared by all, and they work together well.  We also find that projects soon expand well beyond the initial parameters and are far broader and deeper than envisaged at their inception.

All of our children have access to a wide range of resources including a computer with internet access and interest specific software; the public library; a wide range of books at home; TV programmes; audio equipment; visits and outings that support their interests; continuous support, positive interest and encouragement both from us and members of our extended families. 

We attend various home education groups, including a ranger led park group, book club, roller-skating, multi-sports and hall based meetings.

We continue to network with other Home Educators in the Northamptonshire area, as well as offering other social opportunities to our children with a broad range of school-educated children, home educated children and family members.

Overall we intend to encourage their interests by providing a varied and stimulating environment, whilst maintaining a degree of directive input  - in order to maintain a balance of learning - by ensuring that attractive opportunities are presented across an appropriate range of areas.

We believe that we are providing a personalised education that will ensure our children gain attitudes, skills and knowledge that fit them to live in, and adapt to the challenges of, a rapidly changing world. This broad education introduces our children to skills relating to, and knowledge of, both a wide range of subjects and varied types of subject and therefore ensures an opening of the mind, without compartmentalising learning by breaking it up into artificially narrow areas.  This balanced education aims to ensure that no one “subject area” takes up so much time that there is no room for others by incorporating cross curricular projects, along side a variety of approaches to specific subjects.


We also believe that by ensuring our children see us (their parents) learning about the world around us as an on going process that we enjoy, they will understand that learning is a life-long process to be valued and enjoyed, rather than a race to be endured whilst they are young.  Equally we hope that by seeing that we, their parents, do not know everything but are willing and able to find out, they will learn that it is OK to not know, and they will learn how to find out.  Part of this process is teaching them to use reference books and the internet to find information, and then evaluate it for accuracy and bias.  As use of the internet continues to evolve we believe that the ability to evaluate information critically is enormously important.



Thoughts on oversight

When we started to home educate we had no idea how we would make it work.  I had a vague idea about workbooks, sticking to the national curriculum in case L wanted to go to school, but we learnt on the job - as we went along.  In a lot of ways we are learning still.

About once a year our Local Authority (LA) write to us asking to visit us.  Often they over step their powers and say they will be visiting on X date, or they want to see samples of work, or they want to meet the children.  Some years I have let them visit - when I wanted to talk to someone about specific things - most years I write back saying that no, they won't be visiting, or seeing work, or meeting the children. 

It is important to remember that the responsibility for my children's education rests with my husband and I, not the LA.  They don't get to inspect what we do, nor dictate to us how we should do it and we certainly don't need their approval.  All they are needed for is a quick check that we are still providing an education.

Lots of people get confused because LA's and the government / OFSTED are responsible for making sure schools are doing an OK job.  The reason that outside agencies (LA / OFSTED) are involved there is three fold :

  •  because schools are acting "in loco parentis" - legally in place of the parents - parents need to  know it is all going well on a general level.

  • because schools spend government money, raised by taxes, taxpayers have a right to know the money is being spent well.

  • because teachers are government employees they need to be accountable to the government.

At no point in our home education journey have any of those applied to us, thus we do not need that oversight and in fact it is intrusive.  As we get no funding or support, the oversight takes our time and energy away from our children.  We get nothing back, but are being asked to present our family and our ways for judgement.

As we've been at this for ten years now, we have refined our way of dealing with the intrusion.  The Human rights act 1998 says" the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." With that in mind we set out our Educational Philosophy - after all the LA cannot respect our right to follow our convictions if they don't know what they are!  Our Ed Phil (as they are often called in home ed circles) has evolved a bit over the years, but really hasn't changed all that much.  So, when we get the letter, I write a covering letter refusing the visit and anything else they asked for, and enclose our Ed Phil and a very brief run down on what the children have achieved over the year.  We make a point of saying that we do not plan ahead very far, so a retrospective view is all they can have :) We do, however, include any imminent plans - such as trips or courses in the next month.  This year the statement for each child was about 2/3 of a page, and we've had the grudging "that looks OK, see you in 12 months" letter.

So, just in case it helps anyone the next post is our Ed Phil - feel free to use it as inspiration :) But if you're in Northampton be a bit creative about rewording it ;)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Jumping back on the horse

September always feels a bit like a new beginning for me, but this year we seem to be hitting that point a little later than usual.  With the summer holidays (and the summer weather) a fading memory, Uncle N's visit over and clubs restarting we are finally getting back to what passes for "normal" in this house.

Life here has rhythms, patterns, right now they are reasserting themselves - and all of us are embracing them, enjoying the return of our routine. 

The summer for us is a time of relaxing, no clubs, no structure, lots of visits to parks and friends. As the weather turns we tend to retreat indoors a bit more - we still go out and see friends but it's more likely to be at their home (or ours), we still go to parks, but it will be a shorter stay, not hours of playing in the warm sunshine.  We generally become a bit more bookish too.  Over the past few years I have learnt to embrace this - I think of it as tidal learning - sometimes we are more structured, other times more impulsive.  I don't believe - not for one moment - either is better, or more conducive to learning, but I do think both have their place and time, both fill a need and as long as the children are happy I am happy to go with what is right for them right now.

Today was the first Multi-sports session of the new academic year.  With a new coach and lots of new children it was a "team building" session, with lots of short games.  Normally the kids do one sport for half an hour then switch. 

It was also A's first session, and she enjoyed it a lot :)

A went into the session happily, seems to have joined in and didn't come out part way complaining. 

It's interesting to think about how different that is to any of the boys - L has always watched for one or two sessions before joining in, M bounds in like an enthusiastic puppy ignoring social norms and niceties - creating waves, J tries for a bit then backs off.  None of the boys were ready for activities that didn't involve parents at 6, none of them liked being left places without us.  I wonder what made the difference?  A knew a lot of the children involved, two of her brothers were there, they have been going for ages and she wanted to join in, and of course she is NT.  Perhaps all of that.  Perhaps none, and it's just because she is A and they are themselves.

M, unfortunately came out of the hall bouncy and pushing boundaries - which has continued since we got home. When he did the group assessments with CAMHs they noticed that he became "Hyper aroused" by physical activities, and I think that this morning we've seen more of that.  I hope that it's just his being "out of practise" after an 8 week break . . .

So, multi sport today, but what else shapes our week?

Monday evenings L goes to a friends house to play role playing games.  At the moment the game is on hiatus because the family are preparing to move, but in the past they have played D&D, Shadow run and MechWarrior.

Tuesday evenings A does Beavers, J Cubs and M Scouts.  This can be a bit of a logistical nightmare because I can't drive, so my husband has to yo-yo to get everyone where they need to be.  The groups are also awful at co-ordinating, and we've had two children meant to be dropped off and picked up at the same time but different places quite often.

Wednesdays J and A used to go to a children's social club, but that has just folded - I am hoping to find a replacement soon.  M and L go to a games club in a nearby town.  Every other week they stay on to play at the adult games club and my husband gets to play too.

Thursdays A does Girls Brigade, and I go to the nearby pub with a good friend :)

Fridays - once a month we go to a ranger led park session, we did pond dipping last week :) Then it's back home for M to go to chess club, J to go to a church social club and A to go to a friends house.

Sundays is Rugby for M and church for A and I.

Once a month we are going to a home ed book club, and an inclusive sports club.  We have also started to go to another club for children with SEN and their siblings - at the moment we're joining activities a bit randomly, but the group runs stuff most weeks so we'll have to see how that goes.

Add in to this one off trips and more informal meets - like visiting a friend or them coming here, park meet ups, kids playing out, family trips - and our week fills up very quickly!

I like having a busy life, but sometimes it's just a little manic trying to fit it all in!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Games we love


So, what games do we play, and where do we find them?  We like European boxed games, because they seem to be much more innovative.  They aren’t a variation of snakes and ladders, or just a “roll the die and move X squares”


This game is called The Enchanted Forest – by Ravensburger – You begin at one end of the board, and have to find various treasures.  The treasure pictures are on the base of the trees, and you have to get to specific spaces to look at them.  You roll two six sided dice and can combine the rolls or move independently.  There is a small deck of cards that show the treasures, one will be drawn randomly to show you what to look for, then when you know where it is you have to get to the castle to tell the king.  The combination of memory, strategy and a little bluffing, makes for a nicely playable game.  You can play it pretty straight forwardly, or as the kids get older you can play more strategically.  A(6) and J(9) really like this one.



This is “The amazing labyrinth” (also by Ravensburger).  You move through the maze collecting treasures, but the maze shifts each turn as a loose tile card is used to push things around.  Each time you set it up the maze it is different, which makes this game fun to come back to repeatedly.  Our daughter A (6) has begun to tell a story as the game goes along, which is a fun addition.


We like a fist full of penguins for lots of reasons . . . firstly J is a bit penguin obsessed, which is why we picked it up.  Thankfully it also plays well J This is a dice based game, where you roll a set of six sided dice and depending on which animals you roll you score different amounts.  The penguins can be used to re-roll or “buy” extra dice.  The game is limited to three turns each, which makes it a great way to fill half an hour.  It is also quite strategic and encourages a lot of comparative maths. 



Make N Break is a timed game that encourages visual discrimination and hand eye  co-ordination.  You roll a die to see how long you get, then set the timer.  During your time you build the structures on the cards from the ten differently coloured wooden blocks. You race to see how many points you can get within your time.  For younger children you can get rid of the timer, and you can also play on your own too. 


Another fast paced game is jungle speed.  Although you can play with more, it works best as a two player game.  Essentially it is a game of snap, with colourful cards that can be very similar to one another.  The hook though is that you have two stacks of cards each, and turn them with different hands.  When you see a match you have to grab the wooden totem – with the correct hand!  It plays well, encourages quick thought and visual discrimination, as well as hand eye co-ordination.


Pitch car is another very good game – the track is made of different pieces that fit together like a jigsaw to give you lots of different tracks to play.  Then you flick your car around the track in a straight forward race.  There is also a pitch car mini set, which is the same game, just on a smaller scale.


We have a soft spot for Cube Quest, because we met the designers when it launched as king brick – a game made in their garage.  Now it’s being made on a much more professional level, by Game Wright.  Essentially, you have cubes that are your army, and you try to knock your opponents king off the play board. You can play it as a straight forward game, or you can be very strategic about which cubes you use, where you place them and so on.  The cubes have different faces, and different “special abilities”, which alter the game play as you go along.


Lords of Waterdeep is a game aimed at older children – I would say 10+, unless they are experienced with lots of games.  Over eight turns you complete different quests to earn victory points.  Each player is a “lord of Waterdeep” but doesn’t know which Lord the others are.  At the end of the game each lord will score bonus points for specific types of quest.  This plays well – but is a longer more complex game than the ones above.



Pandemic is a co-operative game in which the players race to save the world from four different diseases.  One of the nice side effects of this game is that it uses city names as locations, meaning that the children are all getting quite familiar with where those cities are.  This game plays well, and is fun.  It is a pretty strategic game, meaning it will probably be better for those of 10+.



Forbidden Island is another co operative game, but much simpler than pandemic.  In this game the team of players is racing to collect four treasures from an island that is sinking. Each turn they can move, or shore-up parts of the island, and working as a team is essential.


There are many, many more awesome games out there, and a good place to shop for them is - the staff at Leisure games are friendly and helpful (I’ve known them a long time, and they really are good at their jobs!)  If you see a game on their website and want to know more they are also very happy to answer questions and provide advice.  Unlike the staff at various chain stores, the LG staff all play games, so they really know the stock well.

Every now and then I’ll do another post about the games we play – but seriously, find something you like the look of, and give it a go!  Playing games lets learning sneak in when no one is looking, it builds relationships and social skills, and it fun! 

***disclaimer*** There are lots of local games shops out there, all of them need support - Leisure Games is just the shop I know, trust, and am happy to recommend. 

Not just fun and games . . . .

When I was a child, playing a family board game meant playing Monopoly.  The thought filled me with dread, and if we did eventually play my big sister would always cheat. 

Now, with children of my own, playing games is an integral part of our lives.  We have all learnt a lot from playing games together, more than most people realise is possible.

There are games out there that set out to be educational – we tend to avoid those because a lot of times the fun gets pushed out as the “education” gets squeezed in, but pretty much all games are educational if you know what you’re looking at.

There are obvious points – games with dice encourage quick maths, games with cards mean quick reading, taking turns is essential, and winning or loosing gracefully is a serious life skill. 

There are less obvious points though . . .

We have children with specific difficulties, and for them playing games is an essential part of learning to be.  J has ASD, and with that comes a lot of impatience, and a lack of understanding of others.  The last two points in my list above – taking turns and winning or loosing gracefully – are vital skills for life.  They have also been hard lessons for him to learn.  For the past four years we have worked through a series of stages with him.  At first he was not interested in the games we played.  Then he would come and watch for a bit.  A few months later he would declare he was on someone’s team and playing with them.  Quite often he’d stay with the game for a couple of turns then drift away.  It took years to move from playing with another person to playing by himself, but now he manages to stick with games that last a couple of hours.  Slowly and gently he has stretched his attention span, expanded the length of time he can be around other people, and at the same time practised taking turns and giving others time “in the spot light” (ie not being annoying and attention seeking when it is another persons turn.)  Along side this we have had to help him work on managing his emotions when he looses.  As a family of six, with frequent visitors, J doesn’t win every time – or even anything close to half the time – and showing him that he could have fun playing a game without that time being wasted if he didn’t win has helped us in lots of other situations.

A key point is that the skills J is learning whilst playing games and having fun are directly transferable to “real life”.  Taking turns?  That one is obvious.  Being gracious in defeat is less so – often as adults we debate something, and the decision made by a group is not what we wanted.  As a child seeing the upside of not getting your own way helps in a wide range of situations – from choosing which game to play, which film to watch, whose turn it is first on the computer, which park we go to, down to decisions about food, who sits where in the car, who holds the dogs lead.  Getting used to not “winning” but still being able to be happy really counts for a lot.

L (our eldest) is dyslexic.  So reading has always been a chore for him.  So many games we play have small amounts of reading – sometimes just a few words, at most a sentence or two– and when he was resisting any form of reading he would still read to play games.  As a teenager L can often struggle both with having younger siblings, and with his brothers differences.  Playing games together helps to build tolerance and understanding. 

M (too many letters to list here!) has lots of difficulties.  He finds social interaction can go wrong quite quickly and he has no idea why. Games give him a structure to his interactions, and that lets him relax because he knows the rules, and he knows how to function in the situation.  Like J games have stretched M’s attention span, taught him to take turns, and to be relaxed about the outcome of a game.   He has also learnt to think ahead, to plan before acting, to look for consequences of any particular move or play.  Games have also taught him to budget his pocket money, and take care of his possessions.
As a family, we find that we can spend time together over a game with all the kids taking part – from the 14 year old down to the 6 year old.  Games give us so much more than I remember as a child . . . and the children don't even realise :)

In the next post I'll look at some of our favourite games, how they play and why we like them.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wobbling and chewing make for a happy M

Now that we have a direction to look in to help Mr M we have been able to experiment with ideas other people have found helpful.

M is a sensory seeker - he enjoys rocking, fiddling and chewing things.  Usually the need to move is directly proportionate to the excitement and concentration of the moment - the more excited he is the more he needs to move, the more he concentrates the more he chews and rocks.

At the moment Uncle N is staying, so M is pretty excited.  I like N's visits because they are long enough at 4 or 5 days for things to calm down and the excitement levels to reduce a fair bit.  There is also a lot of playing of games - meaning a lot of sitting and concentrating.

Yesterday we played Small World - a fun strategy game where you try to conquer as many territories as you can with your fantasy race, before the race "goes into decline" and you start again with another.  There is a lot of strategy involved - and a fair dose of sibling rivalry between L and M.  With five players each round took a while, but the game is limited to eight turns, so it was quite manageable.

M couldn't sit still, but it was a perfect time for him to use his (relatively) new balance cushion*. We have previously spent most meals with my husband or I telling M to stop rocking his chair, "all four feet on the floor please" on endless loop, but since we got the cushion that has almost completely stopped.  He still fidgets and jiggles, but the cushion is partly inflated, so whilst he moves the chair does not.  It seems to be working well :)

We also noticed that he tends to chew things - toys, remotes, pens, clothes.  So we picked up a Chewie Gem * The one we got is slightly different to the linked one, it's too big really to take out, but M has it on a ribbon around his neck and he finds it soothing and relaxing to use.

The third part of our trying things out was a fiddle toy - we bought one that was a stretchy octopus sort of thing.  M loved it, it helped him focus, but it didn't last.  He pulled and squished it a bit too much and now it is deflated and missing some bobbly bits.  That was a bit of an issue because M believes everything has a soul (he has said so many times to me) and a personality, so it was like loosing a friend.  We bought him a wooden ball with nobbles on, but it's not quite the same.

The last part of our success with "things" is probably the biggest and best bit.  Earlier this year M began to have night terrors - we'd have 30 - 45 minutes of screaming, shouting and swearing every night.  Often twice a night.  He'd pace around the house and get aggressive if we spoke to him or made physical contact.  This happened *every night* for about 4 months.  We looked for solutions online - we tried limiting media, talking things through, providing positive endings, disturbing him when it was about the time the terrors normally started.  Nothing worked.  Then I read about "deep pressure therapy" - M likes to be well wrapped, so I thought we'd give it a go.  Then I looked online for weighted blankets, and the cheapest I found was £100!  At this point everything else we had tried had failed, I had no more confidence in the blanket than any other thing we had tried, so I was unwilling to try and find that £100.  Instead I made one.  A £7 sheet (M chose the colour and texture) and £11 worth of "poly pellets".  £18 + a bit of time seemed much more reasonable an investment.  I had underestimated the time it took to make - I followed this tutorial, which is a nice simple one - but it took me SEVEN HOURS! 

After all that time I was wishing I'd just coughed up the £100 . . . but from the first night it worked.  Amazingly M sleeps through about 95% of the time now.  When he does wake it takes a couple of minutes to soothe him - and he is far less agitated and aggressive.  It has been an amazing change, there is so much less tension here because we are all getting a lot more sleep!

Being able to try these things has helped us all.  Not everything works for every child, but we have had far more success than I expected, and life is calming down because of that.

* We have used, and had excellent service from them, however I know other people have had issues with them.  This link is just to show you what I mean by the items, not a recommendation of the company :)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Crazy visit time!

I've mentioned before that my children have a favourite uncle - Uncle N. 

Today Uncle N arrived for a 4 1/2 day visit - and the children are all very excited :)

Right now they are all next door trying to teach Uncle N to play a game on the PS2.  Only Uncle N and A are playing, but the other three are giving lots of instructions . . .

There are lots of plans for games, and we almost need a timetable to make sure we fit them all in.

Earlier Uncle N and A played Rock, Paper, Scissors, Bang! A cool game we picked up at UK games Expo earlier in the year.  You can download and print a version here

Later in the week we're expecting some Doctor Who roleplaying - run by Uncle N - with J taking a character for the first time.

M is also intending to run another Tales From the Wood game - he has been preparing and reading for about a week :)

I anticipate lots of other games sneaking in too, I'll let you know how it all goes . . .

So, how is this home educating?  This is the best kind of educating - living and learning intertwined, inseparable, indistinguishable from one another.

Uncle N is great -  but there is only one of him.  The children are learning to share his attention, to negotiate, to have fair turns doing things with him.  They are working on finding a common preference so they can all play together.  There are a lot of the "soft skills" coming into play there.

The games themselves have lots of opportunities to learn new skills or practise old ones - turn taking and social interaction are the two obvious ones, but basic maths and reading come into most games, as well as planning, lateral thinking, strategizing, negotiating, winning or loosing with good grace.

Sometimes it is stressful, often it's loud, but the learning sneaks in and things grow easier the more we play.  The lessons the children are learning in how to manage games well are applicable in so many areas of life, and I'm sure this is an easier arena to learn them in :)

Group assessment time again :)

On Friday (yes, I know I'm a bit behind!) J had an appointment with CAMHS to discuss him going to a series of group assessments.  He is rather excited about the sessions because M has already been through the process and thoroughly enjoyed it.  We're quite happy too, because the process replaces school input, and with M it was quite a good indicator of his issues.

We started off with two of the ladies who will be leading the group - one is a play specialist, and I am not sure of the others particular qualifications.  They introduced themselves to J, and talked about how the groups would be set up.  There will be five or six children, from 5 - 10, and they will meet every Friday for five weeks.  The sessions are 1 1/4 hours long.  Each session will be a little different, and they ran through their plans.

The first week is introductions and talking about themselves, another week is races and active games, the final week they go to a cafĂ©.  In between there are various specific activities like drawing their family and a one-to-one imaginative activity.

They discussed the rules - no hurting, and no talking about things that happen there with anyone other than us (parents).  As such I'll be vague about anything that happens - but I think it's OK to talk about the general procedure, just not to discuss specific children.

Attention then turned to us (both my husband and I were there) - did we have any questions (no, we've been through this one before), letting us know they have a "containment hold" they use if necessary for the safety of the group (though it's not been needed in a long time).  The final question, however caught me on the hop.

I was pretty relaxed, thinking I knew what was going to happen and not expecting the "so, in general terms what are your concerns?"  The trouble is J - like any child with extra needs - is a complex individual.  I could talk for hours about the differences and difficulties he faces.  I could go on and on and still think of something five minutes after the conversation ends.  Usually I try to mentally prepare a sort of bullet point list.  I'd forgotten to do that.  I gave them some random points, can't even remember clearly what I said now!  I'm not too worried though, because we have had two long appointments discussing this stuff so it will all be on file . . .

Now we are left at that awkward point.  I usually tell J to behave before anything he is at without me - generally run over a list of "do's and don'ts" - sometimes he even listens (!)  This time I actually sort of *want* him to play up.  I want him to have an observable level of difficulty doing things, so that the team can see and draw conclusions.  But I don't want him to upset the other children, or hurt anyone . . .

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Social butterflies . . .

I thought I'd tackle one of the most common questions about home educating -

Do they have friends?

Do they socialise? 

Aren't they isolated?

It doesn't matter how the question is asked, the worry behind it is always the same - without the framework of daily interaction how will children form connections with other human beings. 

It's a bit of a daft question, really.  If a child wants to find friends, they will - be that at the shops, over the fence, at the park, at group meetings, or at clubs.

My children are so different from one another that I've had the luxury (again) of seeing things with a little more perspective than most - also as we've been home educating for more than ten years now I've had time to see just how things developed for each of them.

A is a very sociable child - at six she is accomplished at most sorts of socialising.  She can deal with family gatherings - nattering with adults she barely knows, playing with children she sees at most three times a year.  She loves the park, and will find a playmate more or less every time we go - whether that is someone we went to the park with, or to meet, or just a random child.  She has an understanding that if she plays with a random child they are friends for that moment, not friends for life and she's fine with that.  At the groups she does - Beavers, Girls Brigade and Junior Church - she has formed firm friendships with other children, and relationships with the leaders.  This summer she went to a friends house to play for the day without any of the rest of the family.  Right now she is out playing with a Lithuanian lad who lives two doors away.  When it comes to making connections, there's no holding her back.  Within the family, too, she is happy to play with any of her brothers with only a small amount of bickering.

J, on the other hand, is an unsettling mix of sociable and isolationist.  He likes new people, new places, new groups.  When we first moved here he was chattering away to our new neighbours happily within days.  He has no reticence about approaching strangers, or telling them *everything*.  When we go to parks he will find a random child and play happily for a while.  Often he breaks the ice then M joins in and they play together - less often M breaks the ice and J joins in.  It's a different story when we go places with other people though.  J has friends - but sometimes we can be in the same place and he will totally ignore them.  Other times they will play together for a while then J will drift off for some "alone time" as he calls it.  If we go to organised events J can (now) cope with the structure and activities - but for years he'd be OK for a short time then need to get some space. In the past five or so years he has stretched the time he is OK within a group from 5 minutes to maybe an hour if he is enjoying the activity.  After activities he can cope with one or two children being with him now, as long as there is space.  J goes to Cubs, a church youth club, and a multi sports group.  It is hard to work out if he is happy because often just before a group he will start to resist going. He has just stopped going to a weekly rugby session because he just wasn't joining in or enjoying it.  With J we feel that we need to prod him a little to get him to go to regular groups - if he really isn't enjoying it then we are happy to let him stop, if we left him to his own devices he would stay at home all the time, yet once we get him out of the house he generally enjoys being out and seeing people.  J very rarely ever asks to see particular children, or even to go out.  Family gatherings can be difficult.  J gets bored, doesn't like talking to people he knows but doesn't see a lot, and is often hard work. That causes tension, which makes J worse. There is one particular uncle who is an exception to this - the uncle comes on holiday with us, comes up to stay, Skypes the kids once a week *every* week, and has an awesome relationship with them.  If he is about the J (and M) will be glued to his side and everything will stay calm :)

M, yet again, is another kettle of fish altogether.  M loves regular, structured activities.  He goes to a weekly chess club, a weekly games club, rugby, Scouts, multi sports - he'd go to the church youth group too if it didn't clash with chess . . .  M loves to see other people, when we go to parks he will recruit as many other children as he can for a long rambling game where he is in charge. If he meets a random child, they are (in his mind) instantly friends, and M wants me to exchange contact details with the other parent so they can keep in touch.  Part of the trouble comes from M being . . . persistent.  He isn't happy when someone wants to end a game, or an activity stops - he will try everything he can to extend it, even though it's not appropriate to do so.  He often carries games just a step too far, is just a bit too directive (bossy!), only wants his ideas in the game etc.  As with J family gatherings can be hard work - boredom, lack of understanding, and some peoples unwillingness to engage with him mean M is hard work.  If there's stuff to do he is usually fine and self contained.  If the favourite uncle is about they will sit for hours talking and playing games. 

L . . . Hmmmm, well L is a teenager now - both in actual age and in attitude too.  He has a small but select group of friends, and is really unwilling to move beyond that.  As an individual L is perfectly capable in most social settings - though he's not very talkative until he is comfortable - he can cope well with family gatherings (but he gets embarrassed by M and J ), he tends to get bored in parks unless there is someone there he knows and likes, but if we go to an activity (that is suitable for his age) he'll engage with it and the others there.  He goes to a friends house once a week for role playing, goes to a weekly games club, and is looking for a sport to take part in.  Other than that his meet ups are much more ad hoc - going to a friends house, or them coming over.

Each of the children have had the same opportunities, but they have all reacted in different ways.  They all approach making friends differently but seem happy with the level of interaction they get.

We're at the stage now that we don't actively seek out activities based on "will the children meet new friends" - although we have done that in the past.  Now friends are a happy side effect of going places, not the reason at all.

So, to answer the dreaded S question - there is no magic number of friends that is "enough", no amount of time spent socialising that is "the right amount", all you should really be concerned with are two questions:

Is my child happy with the amount of friends they have?

Are they happy with the amount of time we spend with those friends?

As home educating parents if the answer to either of those is no, we have a bit of work to do - new opportunities to find, more facilitating to do - but then as a child in school I felt isolated - I didn't see most my friends outside of school and holidays were so long!

Really though I feel that all a parent can do is offer opportunities - opportunities to go out, to have fun, to learn and experience new things.  If you do that, your child will make friends along the way - in their own way, at their own pace, and those friendships will be stronger for it.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

That time of year again . . .

On Friday we got our annual "are you still home educating" letter from our LA local authority).  We have never really managed to be "hidden", "under the radar" or "unknown" - when we took L out of nursery they informed the LA, and when we asked for an assessment of J not too long after we moved here that seems to have alerted our new LA too.

The letter was, however, asking for far too much from us.  I know the LA feel the need to make sure we're home educating "properly", but the government guidance is quite clear that they have no duty to monitor us, and no powers to insist on visiting or seeing the children.  The letter informed us that an "Education Entitlement Officer" would be visiting on Tuesday, would like to meet the children, and would like to see our "Planned programme of education" covering the next 12 months.  Enclosed was also a very silly form for us to fill in if we chose . . .

The form has some rather specific subject areas, and asks for planned learning outcomes and how we intend to measure them.  Bearing in mind it lists three subjects (with space for four more) and asks for twelve months worth of plans, that part fits on one side of A4 paper . . . if we *did* plan that far ahead how on Earth would we fit that all in there?

As it happens, we really *don't* work that way.  At the moment L is working out which IGCSE's he wants to take this year then we will buy the course books and work through them.  If we need to supplement the information we will look for sources at the time.

I have plans for the next few weeks with the other three - we found some cool workbooks that they all like the look of, and I have an handwriting book to work through with each of them.  That's as far as our plans go . . . once we get into the work books we'll see if they are pitched at the right level, look at whether any of the kids have got stuck at one point or another and find resources to help.  We'll also look at what they enjoyed or excelled at and go for more of that, and if they express an interest in a particular topic we'll go find resources and do that.  There wasn't a space on the form for random vague plans  . . .

We needed to respond though, so after a quick think I wrote a covering letter telling them the form was "inappropriate and intrusive" and giving them a list of points as to why we were cancelling the visit and not rescheduling.  Then I updated our educational philosophy, and wrote about half a side of A4 about each child - it was a round up of major achievements that had happened in the past year, a list of the types of socialising they each do, and a very vague idea of where we intend to go from here.  There were no concrete plans, no examples of work or lists of workbooks completed, no lists of groups attended or outings experienced. 

Yesterday (Monday) I got an email from the letter writers superior talking about reviewing the form - our report seems to have been accepted, although they haven't explicitly said that yet - so all that's left is to work out if I have the energy and time to try and fix the LA's policies and procedures with them . . .

Monday, 2 September 2013

Book club!

On Monday we tried a new group, I was a little nervous about it but everything seems to have worked well :)

The group is a Home Ed Book Club, being organised by a very lovely and enthusiastic local home edder.

I was nervous for so many reasons :

          whilst my younger three (M J and A) all enjoy stories, they are not the most active readers, I
          was hoping that the enthusiasm of other children, and the set up of the group would inspire     
          them a bit more.

          in the past we have had a few sticky moments with some of the people who were interested
          in going.

          L was coming with us, but had no interest in the book club, I was worried the younger ones
          would wander off with him, and not properly join in.

          With anything new it's hard to know how M and J will react, this was a new group so they had 
           no idea what was expected of them, and what the ground rules were.

In the event, it all worked well, the format of the group is not a typical book club.  Each child bought a book with them, with a slip of paper inside. On the paper they had written or drawn something they enjoyed about the book, then the book was wrapped up.  We put all the wrapped books in a pile and talked about how you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.  there was also a "spares" bag.  Towards the end of the session the kids all chose a wrapped book to take home and read - we'll get together in a month and do it all again :)

We also chose a "random" to look for in the book - this time it is "strange quote", so the kids will have to keep an eye out for that as they read.  We played a snowball quiz game - the children wrote questions on a piece of paper, scrunched them up and threw them at each other.  That was the only sticky point of the afternoon for us.  The team had 15 children, and needed to come up with 5 questions.  J and M both had very strong opinions of what their questions should be and negotiating that was a bit tricky.  We got there in the end though.  Then came the quiz, and J had no idea of any answers, which left him rather upset and led us down a familiar path of calling himself stupid and worthless.  The questions were all really obscure, and I had no clue either, but he feels so angry with himself for not knowing, and we had some tears.  As ever though the storm passed quickly, and he was happily exploring the grounds of the old Abbey we were meeting in.  The one hour book club was always intended to end with some free time, but we ended up staying for several hours as the kids explored, climbed trees, and had fun with both old and new friends.

L spent the afternoon with another home educated lad of more-or-less his age, who also wasn't really interested in the book club but was there with his younger sisters.

All in all, a successful day which left them inspired to read their borrowed books. Long may that continue :)