A Week in the Life: Home Ed.

It’s been a week of illness, so we’ve spent a lot of time in front of the TV. Generally we limit screen time and use it sparingly, but this week we watched both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films in one afternoon. We also watched the Lego Batman film, courtesy of the Into Film Festival.

We’ve started our new nature curriculum which I’ve enjoyed. I plan to post about it separately.

Christmas is fast approaching and I find myself wondering where 2017 has gone. Facebook reminds me that this time last year I took a month off from social media and I’m nostalgic for those last few days of 2016 that I enjoyed so much. I vividly remember putting up the Christmas tree as the sun set over the day, casting a golden hue over a living room covered in tinsel and glitter. I recall my eldest gorging on enormous pomegranates, his face splashed with jewel-coloured juice and his smile wide and sticky.

We dragged the Christmas books down from the attic – the box that has one book too many in and is splitting at the seams. The smell of those books, dusty and damp, never fails to fill me full of excitement for the magic of the tales told between their stained pages.

We walk to see a friend. The sun beats down on an icy morning and we race down the canal path where it splits into two, seeing who can run the fastest to where the paths reconvene. I lose, as ever, even taking the shorter path.

Forest School brings little fingers wrapped in woollen gloves and hats perched at jaunty angles atop my boys’ heads. They learn how to tie knots and make simple wooden frames. We warm up in the ranger’s office with hot chocolate and investigate water filters and shed snakes’ skins. Getting home, the boys raid their stick collection to make stick picture frames for their bedrooms.

Home ed. this week has consisted of nature journals, reading, a few snippets of maths, but mostly getting outside in between the bouts of lethargy. We carry on ploughing through the Roald Dahl books, moving on to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

The boys are awestruck to see how pine cones open up when they are warm and dry. My eldest brought some home on a wet afternoon and put them on a radiator to dry. They knew how they closed up when the weather is wet, as wet weather isn’t conducive to seed dispersal, but to actually see it – they’ve told everyone they’ve seen this week about the magic of pine cones.

The snowberries dance in the gentle breeze, plump and pure as the boys roll them in their fingers whispering, ‘what are these, mum?!’

We pass mahonias as tall as me, their prickly leaves and yellow flowers standing proud in the bleakness of a wet afternoon.

I genuinely struggle to understand why people stay indoors as the cooler weather devours us. There is so much beauty over these last few months of the year and I want to shout from the rooftops: ‘Take your children outdoors! Come see the spellbinding magic that is the world in November.’

But I don’t. Instead, I decline yet another invite to an indoor play-area and we venture out alone to witness this beauty.

Darley Park, Derby

I’ve visited Darley Park numerous times and never known that it accommodates the largest collection of hydrangeas in the U.K.

Admittedly, November wasn’t the best time to stumble upon it as most of the plants are losing their flowers in preparation for winter, but there were a few solitary blooms still peeking out.

Yet I do find the tawny, dying flowers somewhat beautiful and we spent a little while wandering down the overgrown pathways.

I have to confess that this is not one of my favourite parks. I have friends that practically live here, and summer always brings a few nice picnics by the river with those same friends. But mostly, I find this park a little dreary.

There are some beautiful trees, gnarled and twisted into grotesque, unnatural looking shapes. The grounds are well-kept, the cafe friendly and welcoming. There’s just something about the park that I don’t particularly enjoy.

At least I know to visit in summer, when the hydrangeas will be back to their finest.

Oh, and rocks. More rocks to add to our collection ready to re-hide.

Derbyshire Rocks

Exploring Nature with Children: The Handbook of Nature Study

This arrived this morning:

It’s the handbook suggested to go alongside our Exploring Nature With Children Curriculum. It’s beautiful. The prose is so delightfully old fashioned that I can’t put it down. It was first published in 1939.

“Nature study cultivates in the child a love of the beautiful; it brings to him early perception of colour, form and music. He sees whatever there is in his environment, whether it be the thunder-head piled up in the western sky, or the gold flash of the oriole in the elm; whether it be the purple of the shadows on the snow, or the azure glint on the wing of the little butterfly. Also, what there is of sound, he hears; he reads the music score of the bird orchestra, separating each part and knowing which bird sings it. And the patter of the rain, the gurgle of the brook, the sighing of the wind in the pine, he notes and loves and becomes enriched thereby.”

How beautiful is that?

Or this:

“Let us not inflict permanent injury on the child by turning him away from nature instead of toward it. However, of the love of nature is in the teacher’s heart, there is no danger; such a teacher, no matter by what method, takes the child gently by the hand and walks with him paths that lead to the seeing and comprehending of what he may find beneath his feet or above his head. And these paths, whether they lead among the lowliest plants, or whether to the stars, finally converge and bring the wanderer to that serene peace and hopeful faith that is the sure inheritance of all those who realise fully that they are working units of this wonderful universe.”

I love it.

Spanning across 700 pages is Anna Botsford Comstock’s elegance prose, covering the teaching of nature, birds, insects, amphibians, trees, wildflowers and everything in between.

“The child studies the cabbage butterfly in all its stages, the exquisitely sculptured yellow egg, the velvety green caterpillar, the chrysalis with its protecting colours, the white-winged butterfly, and becomes interested in the life of the insect. Not under any consideration, when the attention of the child is focused on the insect, should we suggest a remedy for it when it becomes a pest. Let the life story of the butterfly stand as a fascinating page of nature’s book.”

The boys are in bed now, and I sit on my own bed as the day draws to a close around me, with this book resting on my lap. It’s perfect. It’s the nature book I never knew I wanted, and I can’t wait to share it with my boys.

This Little Robin

It snowed during the night. Not enough to qualify as snowfall but just enough to coat the ground and then freeze over. Despite having poorly boys, we wrapped everyone up and headed out.

Every time we head to Shipley Park this little robin comes to say hello. We stood watching him for a while as he ate berries from the trees.

The boys climb in the play area, then hunt for rocks (we find 4 today and re-hide some previous finds). They push their wellies through the thin sheets of ice atop the puddles. They enthusiastically attempt the exercise machines dotted around the park.

But mostly, we just enjoy the cold and the grass crunching underfoot.

Illness

We have two poorly boys, which inevitably leads to three poorly boys in this house. They were late to bed last night and early to rise this morning and I knew it was going to be a long day.

We woke to frost; beautiful, delicate patterns of ice weaving across the garden. The boys and I made hot chocolate and we headed out to the park for some fresh air in a bid to blow away the viruses coursing through their bodies.

Trailing around the lake, the boys find some enthusiasm from under their blankets of lethargy and they hunt for hidden rocks painted by other children. They total 10 rocks by the time we tumble back into the car.

We sit in the sunshine with our hot chocolate, hats slipping down over our eyes. My middle boy asks for my phone to take photos of his rocks, and of the ducks keeping their eyes trained on us in the hope we have food to share.

Returning home, the boys are exhausted. Instead of trying to fight it, we drag the blankets and cushions down from upstairs and watch BOTH Charlie and the Chocolate Factory films. We cuddle together under duvet covers, not even noticing the sun setting until we realise the room is in darkness and bedtime is upon us.

I sit listening to their rhythmic breathing, heavy with illness. It’s been a long day, but it’s been a good day – and I know tomorrow will be the same.

Exploring Nature with Children: Home Ed.

I’ve been looking at this nature curriculum for a while now, revisiting the Facebook page over and over, yet never actually committing to it. After another day spent immersed in the outdoors and being astounded at how much my children love being outside, I finally decided to buy it.

Raising Little Shoots Website

Exploring Nature with Children (Facebook)

It’s a year long nature study, separated by season into 48 weeks, each week studying something different and encouraging children to keep a nature journal. It encompasses not just nature, but poetry, science, art, maths, crafts and writing.

(Photo Credit: Raising Little Shoots)

What I like about it is that you can pick and choose what you want to do, dipping in and out of it as you please.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this as the end of the year approaches. The weekly topics for December are Christmas Plants, Birds, The Winter Solstice and The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Flicking through the book, I’m already working out which bits we’d like to do and personalising it for the boys. I’m determined to push through winter getting outdoors every day and soaking up the pale, watery sun.

Benefits of Forest School

Wednesday is our forest school day, which is probably one of the boys’ favourite days of the week.

We love Wednesdays. Because we’ve been going every week, the boys are beginning to feel as if they are part of a team. They know that if they want a campfire then they need to source wood. They know they may need to chop the wood. They’ve learned that if they put up a shelter it needs to be taken down. They’re learning that if there’s a pile of rocks that need moving, it’s better for everyone to take one rock than it is to let one person take twenty.

It’s been really lovely watching them integrate into the team over the last few months and gaining self assurance in what roles they can play within the group.

What other benefits are there to forest school sessions?

Forest School builds a child’s confidence and esteem by allowing them to be responsible for many things they might not otherwise have the opportunity to take responsibility for. Watching the children take charge of building and lighting fires, cooking food and making hot drinks is brilliant. Their confidence in their abilities is growing with each session and it’s wonderful to see.

The nature of forest school allows children to engage in an element of risk – learning how to use tools correctly, start fires and whittle with a knife, for example. Allowing risky play enhances decision making skills, boosts confidence and provides real-world experiences.

Outdoor play can also:

  • Improve sleep
  • Improve levels of attentiveness
  • Boost short-term memory
  • Improve our immune systems
  • Improve coordination, balance, gross motor skills and fine motor skills
  • Inspire healthy choices
  • Decrease the chances of a child becoming overweight
  • Increase levels of Vitamin D – important for fighting infections as well as building strong bones and teeth.
  • Lower the risk of mental health issues
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Increase social interaction
  • Improve levels of cooperation and sharing

Our forest school sessions are inspiring the boys to get outside even more than they usually are, and as an added bonus, there’s nothing better than coming home to a warm house with the smell of bonfire woven into your clothes.

Wednesday’s are a good day.