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Learning all the Time · Saturday January 31, 2009 by Christine

by Christine

I’ve taken the title of John Holt’s book as the title of today’s blog. It was a Christmas present from my parents in law and emphasised so much how children learn through everything they experience in their lives.

I’ve seen so much proof of this with Christopher over the last two years (is it really that long?) that I have a deep unease at leaving my other children (without special needs) in mainstream school where the curriculum is so narrow and opportunities to explore so limited. I have reservations that I don’t know what they’re learning at school and how they are coping and I worry that the eldest (who is good at art ,drama and ICT) will see his self esteem disappearing as he struggles to keep up with his peers in English and maths because he finds it hard to get his ideas down on paper quickly enough.

Only today my eldest son Thomas burst into the house having spent an ’”awesome’ afternoon, off roading with his friend’s dad in his landrover, quadbiking , and discussing motor cross and I thought ‘That’s what I want him to feel about school’.

Although I occasionally worry that I’m not teaching Christopher (my home educated son with Aspergers) enough as I work part time, he never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge.

Only the other day my husband said he’d noticed how Christopher has started to take control of his own time when I’m at work, reading books, watching documentaries,practising his drums. This is the son who suffers from Oppositional defiant disorder and refuses to comply with authority at school!

He was in his room the other day drawing and I asked if I could look at his picture, he had LOADS of them which he had obviously been drawing over a matter of weeks, detailed pictures of the hotel we are staying in on holiday, the music shop, me in the supermarket, a war game he intends to design…so much creativity and imagination.

Then one day he asked where Sicily was. I explained it was an island off the bottom of Italy.Two weeks later he rushed through to the kitchen to say he’d worked out where it was now as he’d seen a map on the television and could visualise it. And today he was discussing Japan’s involvement in WW2. My husband told him Japan only became involved after the Americans bombed some of their ships. My son replied ‘Oh at Pearl Harbour you mean?’- He is eight years old!

I have to make a decision about home education for my other children. We were forced into it, we had no choice.What we didn’t know was how wonderful it is. It’s fun, it makes learning real, and it fosters the idea that education isn’t just about school, it’s about life and it never ever stops once you’ve got the bug!

All I need to do now is go for it…watch this space!

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Onwards and Upwards! · Tuesday December 30, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

Well after almost a term of full time education we reached the Christmas holidays intact!

Having deregistered Christopher from school we eventually received a phone call from the Education authority telling us what we ‘must’ do. This was followed up by an information pack.

Fortunately having been an active member of the HE Special forum for 1 1/2 years I have to say that most of the information given on the phone was inacurate and misleading and if you knew what you were looking for ,in the information pack it was clear that, in fact ,most of the information I was led to believe was compulsary was in fact just recommended.

I completed and sent off my educational philosophy and now await a meeting (subject to my agreement) with the Home education officer sometime in the New year!

Full time home education has been so much more relaxing than flexi schooling although ,having had the benefit of time to see the effects , and to experiment with different ideas and forms of teaching I already knew Christopher’s strengths and weaknesses,knew he was a visual learner and had the advantage of knowing how successful one to one learning actually is .

The icing on the cake was a comment made to me by a parent who had previously made it clear that there was no excuse for my son’s ‘bad behaviour’ at school – a criticism often levelled at parents of autistic children.

She pointed out that Christopher had been so much calmer and seemed happier over the last couple of months- exactly the same length of time he hadn’t been attending school!( She wasn’t aware we had deregistered him!) What more proof do I need that I’m doing the right thing for my son!

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Moving into Full time Home Education-Wish us Luck! · Tuesday October 28, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

Well after one and a half years of flexi schooling we’ve finally taken the plunge and plan to start full time home education at the beginning of the next half term.Flexi schooling has provided us with the time to build up support networks and gain experience in Home education but it’s now time for us to cut our ties with the Education system and go it alone.

Like many parents with an ASD child we have found the whole experience of mainstream education draining and stressful. We have fought for (and won) a statement with 15 hours support for Christopher in school. We have turned our lives upside down in our efforts to work alongside school and despite all this we have found that during holiday periods when the routine of school is taken away then the quality of our lives has improved and Christopher continues to flourish and learn in a way which would not be possible in a school enviroment.

So yippee! No more meetings, phone calls and emails – we can get on with the business of Educating which is after all what school is supposed to be about isn’t it?Despite Government targets for more P.E in school and initiatives to introduce Music back into Primary schools, children like Christopher who excel in these subjects are losing out. Maths and literacy are seen as paramount, there’s very little time for anything else and subjects like music are fitted in at the end of a busy day as after school activities together with homework. 

Home education will allow Christopher to take his Drum lessons during the day (he’s already been to the Music Shop to look at Drum kits) ,participate in the local Football team,try out new sports and build on what he’s good at.

Writing is less important at home as he can discuss what he’s learned when we listen to BBC Schools radio or an audio book in the car .We have all the time in the world to look for fossils on the beach and watch the tide rush in or make boats from plastic bottles, weighted down with plasticine balast because the project intriuged Christopher when he read about it in a book at bedtime.

We don’t feel angry with school, they’ve done everything they can and we are grateful for that,  but we are saddened that our little boy has been totally let down by a system which is supposed to be for everyone. The current system isn’t working, parents haven’t got choices, which is evidenced by the growing number of parents opting out of the Education system to Home educate and until the Government begin to listen, any child who doesn’t fit into their system will have a Special educational need!

It’s a pretty good job they didn’t tell Thomas Eddison and Albert Einstein!

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Frugal Living · Saturday August 16, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

During the summer we have continued with our home education as usual and have involved Thomas and Caitlin who usually attend school.

I love the flexibility of being able to do what we want when we want to and the children have tried so many things that they don’t have time to do during the school term.

One of the things we’ve begun to change in our household is our reliance on the utilities, like gas, electricity and petrol. With prices soaring we are convinced that the way forward is to become more self sufficient and it was brought home to us big time following our holiday in Florida in May.

Disneyland was full of fast food, paper cups and napkins . Everyone travelled by car and the buildings which were lit up at night made me realise just how many ressources are being wasted.

Our return to England made me rethink how we could change our lifestyle and albeit belatedly we started to separate our rubbish, compost more , and recycle what we didn’t want on recycle.co.uk.

The children are in charge of the trips to the compost bin, telling dad off when he forgets and puts a banana skin in the kitchen bin instead of the compost bin, and of unloading the plastic bags and bottles at the recycling area at Tesco.

They also sold some unwanted toys on ebay and made some money to buy new toys and I had a fantastic find in our local furniture recycling shop- a beautiful oak wardrobe and dressing table for Caitlin’s room for £120. They would have cost me £1000 had we bought them new.

We even looked at recycling a dog at our local rescue centre, however as we had desperatly settled on a black labrador puppy we succumbed to a two week old puppy born in the farm up the road, rather than the flea bitten wolfhound which had been abandoned at Appleby horsefair by the gypsies which I rather took to!

Even buying a dog led to obtaining a dog cage on recyucle.co.uk and our trip to the dog rescue wasn’t wasted as we learned about a charity which rescues battery hens which are then homed by families and which, after a few weeks settle nicely and finish their days as happy healthy free range hens.

We plan to adopt 6 of them, Molly, Dolly, Polly and Holly, Heather and Birdseye (The last two names were chosen by the kids!)

With a friend being on holiday Thomas was in charge of watering their vegetables and we were allowed to eat the crops. He picked fresh tomatoes, broccoli, mange tout and courgettes and that’s led to us talking about growing our own vegetables next year!

We have already inherited apple, pear and plum trees and loads and loads of brambles but most of them were left on the ground to rot last year so we have resolved to use or give away as many as possible.

If you are wondering what all this rambling has to do with home education then her’s just a few things which have learned…...

We have read books about black labradors, caring for a puppy, done market research at pets at home and on the internet, read about hens and making a chicken coop.

Decorated two old wellies for the village horticultural show and made a vegetable animal to boot (sorry the joke wasn’t intentional) from my neighbour’s very, very large courgette (and won second prize).

It’s education about REAL LIFE and revolves around people rather than material possessions and I’m really proud of all they have learned!

Book reading has trebled over the summer holiday and Thomas,(who is generally very reluctant to read if he can avoid it) came down the other day and asked me if it would be possible to build a den in the garden out of straw.He’s been reading ‘Conor’s Eco Den’ by Pippa Goodheart and it had fired his imagination!

I’ll be very sad when Thomas and Caitlin go back to school , but we’ve done so much above and beyond the national curriculum and working with them gives me the opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses so that I can facilitate them in what they want to learn rather than what the government dictates their teachers should teach them.

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Travel broadens the Mind! · Saturday May 31, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

It’s a while since I added to my blog as we whave been away on holiday to Florida for two weeks.

As we intended to spend most of our time in Theme parks I was a little bit concerned as to the Educational benefit Christopher would get from the whole adventure. Boy, how wrong I was!

As each day passed I kept a record of the things we had seen and done and began to realise just how much we were all learning.

We discussed the life styles of the people we saw – the amount of burgers being eaten and cars being driven everywhere and this resulted in debates about Healthy eating and excercise. The sheer volume of paper napkins and cups being used in the Theme parks led to discussions about the importance of protecting our earth and recycling our litter.

We saw citrus groves, yellow school buses, red cardinals (small red birds like chaffinches), found a lizard in the waste paper basket and so many ‘ordinary’ things ’ which we could so easily have overlooked, but, by writing about them I suddenly realised that we were exposing our children to something very important – different cultures and ways of life.

We have even found a wonderful book about the science of roller coasters since we arrived home and Christopher has listened intentlty to scientific theories on gravity, force,inertia all because of his fascination with the rides he had encountered on holiday.

Even just having a swimming pool where the children could relax each day when we returned to our villa meant that the children’s swimming skills advanced dramatically in the two weeks we were away, until Christopher , who previously had been able to swim five strokes under water in the shallow end, was suddenly diving down, out of his depth because he wanted to retrieve objects from the bottom of the pool.

The holiday was a great success and it taught me another very important lesson…namely that there are things to be learned from all aspects of life, even Mickey Mouse!

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When the going gets Tough! · Monday April 21, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

Home schooling isn’t always a bed of roses. Sometimes on days like today you don’t seem to get very far!

Christopher woke up today with a scowl on his face , wrapped himself in his covers and disappeared under the duvet. I’ve learnt on days like this to ignore him and it works very well if I’m in a good mood. Today I wasn’t at my best!

I’ve begun to keep a log of his behaviour , as the days we call his ‘autistic days’ seem to occur in cycles of about 4-6 weeks. I have no scientific basis at all for my theory that he’s often worse when it’s a full moon (sounds a bit cranky I know) but having made a note of them in my diary I noted that full moon was yesterday. I’ve discovered other mother’s have experienced the same thing.

Anyway to get to the point, days when Christopher’s oppositional defiant disorder are at it’s worst are not easy. He needles his siblings, refuses to do anything he doesn’t want to do and moans and groans about virtually everything.

Today he didn’t want his teacher to do his one to one time for an hour. Fortunately I was at work today so I ignored his complaints and left him to his dad . The mistake I made when I got home was to try and make him do his English comprehension. He did do it but only after a lengthy battle of wills. I would have been far better preserving my energy and reading him a story which would have put no demands on him and given us quality time together instead of a war zone.

Having said that however, home education gives me the flexibility to do just that if the time isn’t right to learn a certain thing. We can go on a bike ride instead, visit a museum or just walk on the beach.

School doesn’t allow for bad days, I remember well the times when I would pick up Christopher from school to be collared by a flustered teacher intent on filling me in on how difficult his behaviour had been that day. School becomes a very stressful place when you are continually being ‘caught’ by the teacher at going home time when all you want to do is give your children a hug and take them to the park!

Any way Home education beats school hands down as far as I’m concerned! Tomorrow is another day and we’ll just start again. So at bed time Christopher said ’ I don’t like you shouting mummy, I won’t shout if you don’t shout’ and we shook on it!

For anyone in the same boat I’ve found ‘Educating Oppositional and Defiant Children’ by Philip S. Hall and Nancy D. Hall a very useful book.

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Making Friends · Saturday April 12, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

I’m convinced that one of the reasons mainstream schooling doesn’t work for many children with Aspergers is because they’re being forced together with many other children of the same age in order to ‘socialise’

Even in reception year Christopher would complain that the playground was ‘too noisy’ and of course we didn’t understand him.

That’s where home schooling has a clear advantage. People often seem to think that by home schooling your children they will miss out on socialising but I’ve just looked at our diary for the last week and boy are they wrong!

In spite of his Aspergers Christopher wants to play and have friends, he just doesn’t always get it right! We’ve found that two hours of play is ideal, five hours of people at school is not. Christopher gets to the point where he wants to be on his own and at home he has the time and space to go to his room with a video for half an hour and come back down when he’s ready to talk.

At school he couldn’t get away to wind down when it all got too much for him , the result was that he finally escaped the school premises firstly at the age of 4 and again at 6!

We went to our local National Autistic society support group yesterday. Usually Christopher is the only child there but yesterday there were three babies and a toddler. Christopher froze and wouldn’t acknowledge anyone at first (something I haven’t seen for a while ) Knowing he felt stressed, I sat him next to me, gave him a book to read and ignored him.

He began to take an interest in twin boys of 8 months lying next to us and next thing I knew he was down on his hands and knees playing with them and chatting to their mum! He helped me collect the coffee cups at the end, had an animated discussion with another mum about funding for a playstation for the older boys in the group and announced on the way home that he’d made a new friend. It turned out to be another mum who’d been speaking to him.

In real life we mix with people of all age groups and abilities so why should school be any different?

Christopher fits far more naturally into the key stage 1 year groups at school as emotionally he’s at the same level of those younger than himself. By allowing him to play with the younger ones it has given him some responsability and he will listen to them read, explain how to play certain games and feels accepted and part of the group.

After school football, swimming with the National Autistic society, having small groups of friends round are all helping Christopher to learn how to be socially acceptable in a natural and caring enviroment. Older and younger people are more tolerant, less likely to bully and by building up Christopher’s confidence and self esteem, with careful selection I’m sure that he will be successful in his career choice albeit running his own business, being a sportsman or something which doesn’t involve too much ‘team work’ but we’ll get there!

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Flexi schooling at its best! · Thursday April 10, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

Thomas and Caitlin went back to school this week. It was science week and Christopher went in for the morning as ‘The Lego man ’ came in.

The children spent the morning building a town from lego and when I rang Christopher at lunch time , when he came back home from school, to see how it had gone, he had had a lovely time.

I scoured the charity shops without any luck for some lego but a request on recylce .co.uk (another useful ressource) came up trumps- two sweetie jars full of lego!

The children spent the whole evening building lego buildings and didn’t even mention the play station. Success!

Caitlin brought a chart home from school so we could chart the phases of the moon! She was asleep by the time the moon came out so there was I in my wellies and dressing gown in the garden looking at the moon! What we do in the name of education!

This morning Christopher and I spent an hour designing a paper aeroplane because there was an aeroplane race at school and he was going in after play time until lunch.When I went to pick him up he was delighted he’d come third

We spent the afternoon at home, him playing lego whilst I played a classical music C.D. in the background. Christopher watched a DVD about Beethoven this morning so I played two pieces of music by Beethoven. We also discussed the compilation of classical music and the fact that various instruments represented different sounds eg. cannons, birds, fireworks etc. Christopher was quite happy to listen and surprisingly didn’t complain that the music was old fashioned. We often don’t give children credit for their ability to absorb all sorts of things which are often regarded as ‘above them’ because they are so young.

After school we were back for the afterschool soccer club. Christopher is very sporty and is gradually learning to join in team games . His AS means that he hates to lose but he also has great focus and is very competative and he has asked to take part in the cross country after school next week. A couple of years ago he wouldn’t have joined in in case he didn’t win.

As he gets older his confidence and self esteem is growing as we introduce him to groups and sports that we feel he can deal with.
Instead of the child who was made to feel a failure only two years ago, for us a combination of flexi schooling and a very patient and understanding teacher who has listened to us as parents , has made all the difference to Christopher who now realises that he is a talented sportsman.

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Bringing Poetry to Life! · Friday April 4, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

This week with it being the Easter holidays all three children were at home and I had wanted to take them to Dove Cottage in Grasmere to find out about William Wordsworth.

Our first stop was a guided tour round the tiny cottage, a bit over the heads of my three but we did learn that Wordsworth’s dog was called Pepper, that Wordworth had a visitor called De Quincy (who smoked Opium)- which resulted in a discussion about ‘bad drugs and good drugs) and we saw a tinder box being used and heard how fires were often kept alight twenty four hours a day because they were so difficult to light. The guide also explained about window taxes and that people blocked up their windows to save taxes.

The museum was far more child friendly , with a simple questionnaire for the children to take round the museum and look for things in the glass cases.

I’ve found with museums that there’s often a website you can visit before going on excursions. They’re very useful for highlighting the educational ressources available. and for deciding on which subject you are going to focus . In this case there is a children’s activity room and the highlight of the trip was an hour painting daffodils and making Victoria pegdolls of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, whilst I read some of his simpler poems. The children had a lovely time and had something to take home afterwards.

The great thing about learning in this way is that you can just keep on building up your knowledge as the opportunity arises. The subject won’t just end because we have ‘run out of time’.

The decision to study Wordsworth came about quite coincidentally when I discovered that he’s written a series of sonnets about the Duddon valley, an area in which we often walk, and poetry comes alive when you can point out areas Wordsworth wrote about.

We shall visit Rydal Mount and Wordsworth House in Cockermouth too when we get the opportunity.

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Charity shops - A Treasure Trove for Home learning? · Sunday March 30, 2008 by Christine

by Christine

Reading took the form of reading us 1001 jokes today, or at least that’s what it seemed. Amazing what a Charity shop purchase can achieve. The 1001 Joke book provided, reading practice, use of homophones and figures of speech (very useful if you have Aspergers and can take things literally.)

Education is no longer a separate part of our lives. since we started home educating Christopher it’s become an intergral part of our lifestyle and has effected us all, hence Saturdays are no different from the other days of the week.

Christopher’s condition (Aspergers and oppositional defiant disorder) can make him very difficult to ‘teach’ and we have learned that an autonomouse style of learning, mostly led by his interests is the most effective way for him to learn.

Today he spent an hour with his brother Thomas building towers from dominos. He established that if he built up the towers with dominos at alternate angles (like the breeze blocks on daddy’s pallett) they were stronger than if they all lay the same way. Similarly if he doubled the thickness of the tower it was less likely to fall over when you rolled a tennis ball at it because it had added strength.

They then proceeded to work out how they could make letters of the alphabet from the dominos and spell words.

In the years before home education, board games played little part in our family life as we were all so ‘busy’. Watching the children learn so much from them and socialise together has been a huge suprise and we are constantly looking for games we can use to help them learn, we scour Charity shops whever we go. They are a treasure trove of educational books, games and videos.

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