Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nursery school

I have a difficult attitude to school, it seems. Recently we visited the local Montessori nursery
and it was so gorgeous that I decided to let Linnea go for her free place, one afternoon a week. We sorted out all the paperwork and after the half-term break, she had her first day.

That was Monday - it's Wednesday now.

First, I was afraid we were going to be late, so I chivvied her along. Then I was afraid we were too early, until I saw some other mothers. Then I was worried I'd done something wrong, like hung her coat on the wrong hook, and then I didn't know how to say goodbye appropriately.

Luckily, none of this fazed her in the least.

Then when it was time to pick her up I had to phone ahead to make sure I had the right time, and when I did pick her up I was anxious about going to fetch her from wherever she was.

She enjoyed herself enormously, I think, and everything is fine. But I need to work on my issues. I called my mother, and she says she felt the same when we were in school.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Not yet, we need a 3 first!

We were adding up - I must get workbooks soon, I am running out of ideas - and suddenly Linnea decided to stop using the little Cuisenaire blocks and skip straight to writing the numbers in, filling the blocks in afterwards.

She finds it frustrating that she can't write her numbers accurately enough.

I think I need to design or obtain worksheets with dot-to-dot numbers and letters, and do something about worksheets for doing sums. As I was drawing little boxes for her to fill in I vaguely remembered having something similar for school but I'm not sure where to get it; none of what I've seen in high street stores hereabouts is appropriate.

Twenty-five minutes of solid sums is as much as she wanted to do today. That seemed like a lot to me - I was getting tired of facilitating her.

Monday, September 03, 2007


It's easy to see from the three-year-old's behaviour that she's happy with firm, reliable rules, clear boundaries, and regular mealtimes.

And now the one-year-old is getting in on the act; she visibly tests boundaries, is confused when they're not enforced, and depends on their being there for her physical safety (stairgates, for one).

The kids need reliability, it seems. And freedom. And boundaries. And open spaces.

And sometimes, a mother who will just close her eyes, wait, and quietly go grey while they learn something new, like how to climb the swing-set without dropping the teddy or the carton of juice, or how to get down an 18-inch precipice hands-first.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Make me another number game!

So, real live schooly learning is happening, but we haven't called it that yet. It's playing numbers. Me and my new laminator are making worksheets with number games; I'm going to rope Daddy in for the shapes one. Counting, writing numbers, reading numbers, linking counted items to written numbers, place value...

I can't work out how to do place value without some tools. Rods, bricks, that sort of thing. I must find a source.

Oh - and the name of the number 0 is "Zero-nothing." I find this almost as cute as "The dark is brilliant, isn't it, Mammy?"

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Teaching moments

Without my meaning to, O and I seem to have picked up the habit of teacher/learner-style interactions. I'm not entirely certain where the impetus comes from, but my feeling is that it's from him. I'm running with it (though trying to avoid being too teachery - rereading How Children Learn at the moment).

O is really into facts. He loves geographical stuff, placenames, where people live, looking at maps, his globe, and so on. His obsession with farms and animals has given way to an equally intense interest in trains (thanks, Thomas and Friends). He asks questions constantly when we're reading, and just randomly when things occur to him. I think he's realised (a) that there's an awful lot of interesting information out there, and (b) that one of the most efficient means of accessing it is to ask us. "Look it up on the Internet!" he's taken to saying.

So, in the past couple of days, I've looked up beavers (carefully!), planets, "do pigs have chins?" and "what do mice eat?" (he wasn't at all interested in the results of the first two searches, I think because too much time elapsed between his request and the first opportunity to get to a computer). At bedtime tonight I agreed that we'd look up hot air balloons tomorrow, and possibly Mount Rushmore as well. (We were being the stone faces of George Washington (him) and Thomas Jefferson (me) at the time. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this.)

It's not all one-way information. Yesterday we had a discussion at dinner about the distinction between pasta and noodles, during which we found Italy and east Asia on the globe. Regarding Asia, and how far away it is from Ireland, he remarked, "Aeroplanes can fly anywhere, so you could use an aeroplane to go there."

I think I'm recording this because it seems to be a new phase, and one that's closer to what the mainstream might think of as "learning" than most of what's gone before. I can see the shape of an unschooling life more clearly from here.

It looks good to me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

All the big kids go to school

This morning, Linnea informed Rob that Ernest and Buttercup go to school. No, they don't. But she's sure that all Big Kids do, and they are both bigger'n she is, so...

Thing is, they're our main contact with the Home Education community! Also an excellent source of childcare and isopropanol.

There's a lot out there about school.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lately, I 'ave mostly been...

Learning, obv.

Mainly, learning stuff I didn't know my kid could do. Like rearranging the jumbled letters of words to get the right spellings. She did "apple" for a friend recently.

And she counts. And plays complicated role-play games with numbers. And draws eyes with pupils, irises, and lashes. She repeats words accurately when asking strangers to explain themselves (today's word was "concentrating" as in "Look! Look at my am concentrating!") and likes to help women dress and undress their (usually sleeping) babies.

The baby kid - minnaun, máis é do thoil é - is learning to signal aye and nay, and said "Hello" to me today. It's a word she hears often enough, I suppose.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I'm thoroughly committed to unschooling, but my own upbringing (academic household, interaction with children very focussed on teaching and testing - though I doubt they'd put it in precisely that way) and rampant perfectionism (working on that) occasionally undermine my practice. Over the past few weeks I've been finding it hard to ignore the Oyster's latest phase in pronunciation, whereby he speaks much less clearly than he was doing a couple of months ago. He swallows syllables, drops consonants and homogenises vowels. We still understand him (most of the time), and so I don't consider it defensible to try to persuade him to speak more distinctly.

Defensible or not, however, I've cracked a few times. For instance, "tell a story about..." is currently pronounced (approximately) dalladawbow, and I've once or twice found myself trying to pretend I don't understand, or stalling over starting the story until he says it "properly".

Doesn't work. It doesn't achieve its (ostensible) primary aim, which is to make him realise that he's speaking indistinctly and correct himself; it also doesn't achieve its (ostensible) secondary aim, which is to make me feel better. Instead, he gets frustrated, and I concede that I know what he's saying. Oh well.

(I'm reminded of an incident from my mother's childhood, when at the age of six or so she suddenly developed a lisp. My grandmother - not the world's most laid-back parent - was terribly worried by this, and had my mother Seen At Once by the finest speech specialist in the land. Whereupon it turned out that a girl in her class had a lisp, and she thought it was really cool.)

Anyway. At dinner this evening, we had a genuine misunderstanding. We'd been talking about a book, and the Oyster, at a pause in the conversation, said, "Mama help O. with vweeding."

"Yes, I'll help you with reading when you're going to bed," I said.

A few minutes later, he repeated, "Mama help O. with vweeding."

This time, I wasn't so sure that I knew what he meant. I asked him if he meant "reading", and he said, "No, vweeding."

Then I got it. "Oh, feeding! Sorry, love, I thought you meant reading."

"Feeding," he said - perfectly enunciated. It was the first time I'd heard him do a successful initial "f".

So I fed him a few forkfuls of not very cohesive quiche.

Then at bedtime, we were settling down to read The Snail and the Whale, and the Oyster remarked, "O. says ’nail."

"Yes, that's right," I said. "You find it easier to say ’nail than snail."

"Snail," he said. "Snail." He grinned, clearly very pleased. We congratulated him.

I'll be interested to see how this one unfolds.


We've joined the Irish Home Education Network, and I was sitting on the sofa today reading an article in the newsletter that was making me unexpectedly rageous about the idiocies of mainstream schooling.1 I came to the end of the article, and N. caught my eye and raised an eyebrow, and I said, "So, school, yeah? It's all bad."

Whereupon the Oyster, who is two and seven months, exclaimed, "School is not all bad!"

Radzer: OK, no, it's not all bad, all the time, but I don't like school.
Oyster: Mama doesn't like school. N. likes school.
Radzer: No, N. doesn't like school either.
Oyster: He does.
Radzer: N., do you like school?
N. (who happens to be the most equivocal person in the history of humankind; expecting him to make a definitive statement - much less a condemnation - is a non-starter): Hmmm. Well, I'd have to say that, on the whole, I find myself unable to enjoy a positive relationship with it in all its aspects.
Radzer: That means he doesn't like school.
Oyster: Tell a story about O. was on the school bus with all the other children, and Eddie was driving it!

So I did.

I wouldn't mind,2 only this is a boy who watches next to no TV, and whose pro-school book collection is (as far as I know - there have been a few grandmother imports recently) limited to I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (featuring Charlie and Lola), which makes me gnash somewhat because it's about the older male teaching the younger female that she's All Wrong, so I don't read it much.

And yet somehow, the propaganda has found a way in. Already. Sigh.

1 It was about a trip by a group of home-educated children to an exhibition called "Planet Aqua", where the staff spiel was clearly designed to disguise the educational material so that the children would learn something in spite of themselves, and about how this view - that you need to trick children if you want them to learn - is endemic and unquestioned in our society. Full of anecdotes about people saying "X is great - they don't even realise it's educational". Nothing startling or new, but it pushed my buttons in a big way.
2 Lie.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What did you learn on the Beeb today, dear little child of mine?

"There was food in the kitchen of our rocket, and there was plates, and a table, and a bathroom, and a other room, and a dining room. Oh no! You agotten your space boots! There! Now, Emer's space boots. There! There. That's a only thing for a frog."

Dressed in saggy, soggy nappy, and a sleeveless vest (undershirt for Americans): "You watcha me do my ballet?" Then she held her arms out in fourth position and her legs were - well, sort of like a plie from second position but with the left foot raised, very Indian Dance looking. Then she did roly-poly arms, then a drumming move. "My have two - three moves!" she declared.

We cruelly made her have a new nappy anyway.

In The Night Garden is a new CBeebies TV show, made by Ragdoll, who also made the Teletubbies. It is entirely incomprehensible, impenetrable, and dreamlike, and Linnea adores it so much that I have managed to find time to have her watch it four times in a day. Twice.

It contains the phrase "Isn't that a pip?" which is apparently good, though in my lexicon to give someone the pip is bad.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Growing Girls

We are teaching Linnea femininity. Not quite the submissive, learn-to-be-a-devoted-wife-and-helpmeet kind of femininity, but she's definitely keen on being a girl and on all things girlish.

It's all about hair. She doesn't have a great deal of hair - she has almost none, in fact, three years old at the end of April and never a haircut needed - but what she has she wants girlified. Her cousins have blonde curls in bunches, wispy fringes held out of their eyes with clips, cute and feminine and utterly impossible for Linnea.

I got her some little snappy clips, but they slid out of her fringe. I got her some smaller ones which worked a little better. I figured out how to achieve bunches that last long enough for her to admire them in the mirror - twizzle the hair into a bunch over her ear by swirling my finger in it, then use toothed, bulldog-style clips (with little flowers on) to hold them in place. Cute.

Today she had a birthday party to go to, so I tried one last thing. I got her a narrow little hairband, the horseshoe-shaped kind covered in fabric.

Frankly, it looks dreadful. But she feels so girly!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Home education as distinct from home-schooling

I don't like the phrase "home-schooling" because I don't like the verb school unless it's applied to fish. I don't much like "training" either, applied to children.

I home-educate. That is, I offer my children opportunities for learning, and sure enough they learn. Linnea finds opportunities to learn that I hadn't seen coming; that's what being two is all about! I provide a safe environment, up to a point, and plenty of interactions with people who are not exactly the same as us. We have books, a kitchen, a garden, and pets. We have television and radio and art materials.

When my two-years-ten-months-old daughter, just the other day, walked into the room with a sippy cup of water, with the lid on, I asked my guest "Did you fill that for her?"

No, he hadn't.

Later she walked in with some bread and butter. The butter was not exactly spread, more daubed; we discovered that that was because there were no knives readily available and she used the handle of a teaspoon.

I am so proud I might die.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I learned to play elastics at school. We had two games: infants played "England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, inside, outside, off the rails" and older children played "Frenchies," which had no rhyme but a series of jumps up to ten. Both were played on two parallel elastics, usually made by having a child stand legs-apart at each end of a loop.

One: Straddle the nearest elastic. Do not jump off. This is the only number where you don't jump off afterwards.
Two: Jump in place (one) then straddle the other elastic (two).
Three: Both feet in the middle, both feet on an elastic, both feet outside.

Four: One foot on the nearest one, one foot on the other one, both in the middle, both outside.

Five: First jump onto the nearest elastic so that your right foot is underneath and your left foot is standing on the elastic. Then jump forwards to the other elastic, left foot underneath and right foot standing on the elastic. That's one and two. Jump back (three), forwards (four), and back again (five).

Six: Straddle the near elastic. Jump up and cross your legs and land. Turn without raising your feet. Repeat on the other elastic. This one has a mini-rhyme; it's "hot cross buns."

Seven: Stand with your back to the elastics. Put your right leg back, hooking the near elastic with your ankle so that as you step back it slides up to your knee. Put your right foot behind the other elastic, so one is behind your knee and the other is in front of your ankle. That's one. Now jump and swap legs repeatedly for two 'til seven.

Eight: As for three, it's centre, on top, outside - each jump to the centre is counted. NO pausing allowed.

Nine: As five, start by jumping to the near elastic with right foot under, left foot over. Jump to the far elastic while turning 180 degrees, but you'll be glad to know that you don't also have to swap feet. Always jumping in the same direction, do nine of 'em! Pausing is frowned upon.

Ten: Looks very simple. Straddle the near elastic, then jump 180 degrees to straddle it again. Count ten jumps, either always jumping in the same direction or changing direction after 3, 6, and 9.

We used to play these alone, too, using chairlegs to hold the elastics. And there were degres of difficulty; the elastics moved up from ankles to knees to thighs - even waists for some people - and then started again at ankles on a narrower guage.

If anyone over 12 can do them all, please let me know.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


She's been watching "A Bug's Life" over and over and over - sometimes twice a day. She talks about it, in little snatches. She refuses to let me skip the scary parts. We discuss them as best we can later on, never in the middle of the night when she wakes homesick and ill, but often in the daytime when we're out walking or indoors playing or reading or doing boring household stuff.

It's got some pretty big themes; it's fairly obviously about The Oppressed Majority, which is nice because I've been reading various books about South Africa lately, and my aunt has just come back from Zimbabwe. There's also a little bit about small weak children growing up into big strong adults; she's not sure she wants Emer to get big but she's intermittently keen on the idea that she will herself. And she likes it when the grasshoppers (oppressive minority) get their come-uppance but doesn't like the grasshopper-on-grasshopper violence one leetle bit. She'd prefer honour among thieves.

The biggest thing, of course, is violent death - squishing and being eaten by birds. I'm never sure how I feel about her watching things with or about explicit death.

It's strange that something I feel so guilty about - parking her in front of a screen for hours so that I can cope with the rest of life - is so obviously interesting and stretching for her.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Small narcoleptic

I heard a sad story recently. Some friends of ours - part of my husband's old college gang - have a five-year-old daughter, who went to school last September. At a party, I asked her mother how it was going, and got a long and worried response.

I don't know this child well at all, but I gather she's always been extremely shy. Indeed, her parents decided, for this reason, to wait until she turned five to send her to school. She has a more outgoing younger brother, and in situations like playgroup she's been able to rely on him, to some extent, to get by socially.

Now she's at a standard-model school. Academically, she's fine. But a few months into the term, the teacher came to her parents, worried. Every time the class is asked to do less structured group activities, such as art or PE, she falls asleep. Her parents had noticed that she seemed more than usually tired, all right, and prone to sleeping during the day. But they'd put it down to the big change, and they hadn't realised that it had become so frequent at school.

And what are they to do? It's genuine sleep, not put on. Her mother, telling me about it, used language like "it took us a while to figure out what she was up to" - apparently thinking of it as a trick, more or less. She didn't have a solution.

I said vague things about being sure that it would sort itself out eventually, and how actually, when you think about it, it's a perfectly natural reaction to an overwhelming situation, and how she obviously isn't comfortable with full-on peer-group interaction, and really what you'd need would be a very small class, where she might be better able to get used to it at her own pace, but sure, where would you find something like that, and so forth.

It seems obvious to me that a mainstream, age-segregated, thirty-strong class is the wrong place for this child - and equally obvious that it would take a lot more than strategic sleepiness to make her parents consider any alternative. All I can think is that she's come up with a strikingly intelligent short-term response to her problem. Falling asleep is such a total, personal withdrawal - and such an (essentially) unobjectionable thing for a small child to do. But of course it will do her no good at all in the long term, because of the situation in which she has been placed. She will just have to learn to cope, somehow. I'm sure she will. But I wish she didn't have to.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Secret Skills: Games

One of the things that really makes me believe in child-led education is how much stuff she knows that I haven't taught her and was unaware she knew. The reading is one thing (she's never let me catch her at it again but has occasionally known things I only knew because I read, eg, a sign) and another is playing Jenga.

Yup, my 2-years-9-months-old plays Jenga, removing bricks from low down on the stack and putting them carefully on top in order. She's quite good at it. She also plays Snap, but doesn't believe that the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds are a pair. She thought the Ace and Two of Hearts might be, but wasn't happy about it. Perhaps we'll stick to her TV character cards in future.

Jigsaws are, of course, old hat, but we haven't allowed her to try Rob's World's Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle (Clownfish) yet. She lost interest in Snakes and Ladders quite quickly, so a really tough jigsaw mightn't be her style. She's keen on Mousetrap. I often find traces of complicated games set up - she makes gardens of her Lego and builds animals and people to live in them, for example, or buildings.

And then there are the voices. She has several, enough for a whole host of characters, and she doesn't do any of them if she knows I'm listening.


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