Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sex Education (Because it's quite separate)

First, I'm not even THINKING about how they worked out that the Khyra case says something - anything - about home ed, rather than about the failure of social services to continue to monitor and protect known at-risk children. But I'm not surprised; I read the Badman review, after all, and it was very difficult to read through the disconnected illogic of it all, even if I had been able to assume that the research referred to existed or was accurately represented.

What I am thinking of is the way sexual and reproductive education is separated out from the rest of health and anatomy education, which I think is a Bad Idea(tm). A while ago my children specifically wanted to find out more about Where Babies Come From, so I had a look - we already had Grey's Anatomy and some written specifically for very young children, but that wasn't what they had in mind. So I looked in all the local shops and failed miserably. I also failed at the library. I found lots of books about the body but they all just glossed over the whole Dirty In Yer Pants Bit.

In the end, a friend sent us a copy of a text used in Irish primary schools, funded not by the Irish education system but by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency; in general, school texts aren't state-funded in that system anyway. The PDF is here. We really likde it - the drawings were clear, the text was unambiguous and not in the least coy, it was very matter of fact and normal.

Then recently they wanted some books about the body in general. Those were easier to find, and I asked for recommendations, and bought two Usborne books in the end - See Inside Your Body and First Encyclopaedia of the Human Body. The first book is aimed at younger children and has no reference to reproduction at all. The second book shows the female internal reproductive organs and a really nice ultrasound of a uterus with a fetus in it. Neither book has even a hint of a smidge of a genital - you know, the bit children can actually see on their own bodies and wonder which bits are what about.

My own children went through phases - we have diagrams of eyeballs on the wall by the stairs, had huge drawings of poo and teeth with wiggly tubes between them, etc. All that is normal. But it's still unusual (not, I would say, abnormal!) that they spend twenty minutes or more contemplating the diagram of their genitals in the Busy Bodies book and some visitors are embarrassed to read it to them when asked -- for the elderly embarrassed I've started asking the children not to ask them.

I can't help wondering what damage it does as a whole society, this othering of a huge part of our bodies and our lives. Though perhaps something's working, since the UK's teenage pregnancy rate is apparently down almost 4%.

School Start Dates

My eldest child became of Compulsory School Age when she was 5 years and 4 months old. So the forms arrived to apply for her school place recommending she start aged 4 years and 4 months, in reception, which was when almost all her friends did. My next child is therefore due to start school, according to the recommendations, when she is 4 years and 2 weeks old.

She's not legally obliged to until 5 years 2 weeks, of course.

I've been avoiding reading a lot of the politics and recent revelations about how badly the current system is failing very young children, because it doesn't affect me, but today I happened to see a few articles about it (while my children were busy being first Real Mammoths, then Kittens, and at one point Mothers, which involved a lot of dancing and singing) and I realised that among other things, I am comparing my success as a home educating parent against my academic achievements at [a given child's age]. This is totally unreasonable, because neither of my children are me. Though uncannily like in short-tempered moments, perhaps. But definitely not me, nonetheless.

And so in real life, it's quite likely that they are no better and no worse at whatever it is that gets measured than the children who have been in school all this time. Certainly when their school-friends meet up and they compare abilities I haven't noticed my children losing any My Talent's Bigger Than Your Talent competitions. And they are world-class Real Furry Mammoths.

Perhaps I can, now that the house is tidier again, take some deep breaths, write up a report or two for my own comfort and convenience ("For your own comfort and convenience please do not sit on the grass," etc) and maybe get a couple of folders to store their work or copies thereof. And then I can go back to normal again and do the stuff we want to do. We have a lot of cash register roll to colour in, when I find somewhere selling it one roll at a time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cowardy custard

Well, I've decided - I'm going to do as much as I can to make sure my children do stuff I can recognise as school-type learning (literacy, numeracy) without actually coercing them. I had a look at the local government website Education section recently and it's nothing like as friendly as it used to be; in places it is outright hostile to home ed and I just don't have the courage to keep going as we were.

Luckily this coincides with a newfound willingness on the part of the school-age child to do work which is recognisably work. And a sudden interest in tick-lists and sticker charts.

But I don't want to get into the fight. I am very conscious that if we are inspected and found wanting, I have very little formal education of my own to wave at people - just a (readily accessible to the relevant authorities) history of mental illness and dysfunctional family. The website actually claims that there are studies and research showing that children not in school are at greater risk of abuse, so presumably they are working from the Badman recommendations, which is where that information lurks (unless there ARE such studies? anyone?) and advises people on what signs to look for and how to anonymously report someone for not having their children in school.

I wish I had the kind of background that made me confident I could just speak my piece about my motivations and abilities and my children's well-being and best interests clearly and be actually heard, but I don't. I'm not in a very low position here, but I'm not in as strong a position as a lot of people I know, and I'm conscious of that.

So I'm record-keeping, instead. Which isn't something I wanted to feel obliged to do.

Yay, fear.

Still, so far I don't think the children are wise to me...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Home School Table

It's a named table. "Mummy, I want a sandwich to eat at homeschool," said Emer. I thought it was part of a game. But no, she wanted to eat while looking out the front window.

However, it's also where they like to do maths worksheets and dot-to-dots and puzzles and drawing. The light is much better than in the dining room. So I have a little basket of stuff nearby, to make it all easier. The current Peter and Jane books, some folders of worksheets of various kinds, some exercise books, workbooks. If they sit down to do it at all, Linnea does it for between one and two hours, which seems like rather a lot to me. I may be biased.

Linnea has been reading far fewer pages-with-new-words and putting a lot more into reading with inflection and expression. Today for the first time she managed to read three pages (um, something like 15 words a page, at a guess) without needing to repeat herself at all; she was happy that she'd got the sense right first go.

I, speaking as the one who listened to many many repeats of every-bloody-thing the other day, was delighted.

Also, she's going back to the parts of old maths worksheets she found "boring" and doing them, for whatever reason. That's good too. I like whole pages to be filled before I throw them away. In fact, I'm running low on good websites for worksheets and dot-to-dots and mazes and things. I may have to buy books of them instead.

Other recent highlights include "Mummy, let's play Banks!" wherein I had an account at a bank which would only accept deposits in square numbers and only allow withdrawals of funds already in my account, in bank-determined numbers, and Emer illustrating things from the Book of a Thousand Poems (oddly, although I have a ton of poetry and a ton of children's books, I have limited books of excellent children's poetry, and the excellent one I DO have has no illustrations at all, which may be an advantage).

I need to persuade the children that inside the house is both bad and boring, so that I can go to a big shop and buy stuff. We have a good pencil-sharpener now, but I still need a sellotape dispenser and some nice tape for it (for some reason we only have awful stickytape in the house at the moment, all yellow and inclined to shred) and big sheets of card to mount pictures on and things. I'd like a good look at some Usborne books too, body books and astronomy mainly.

Today's most difficult question was "Why does big shops opening mean little ones close? Tesco is the biggest supermarket we know," rapidly followed by "Can't the little shop owners all work in Tesco?" I'm open to further ideas on how I should have answered that.

Oh, and there's always "Why doesn't that word have E for Emer?" but the answer to that is "Because it's a pointless and inferior word, my dear, and you must disregard it."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Reeling and writhing and fainting in coils

We got a new table. Before it was in place, Linnea started opening the leaves and shouting "Let's play Home School!" Emer has decided Home School is the name of the table, like Dining Table for the other one. Linnea likes to sit at the table and do things which she thinks are schooly, often including telling Emer what to do. It's all most bizarre.

And Peter and Jane are lovely, but it doesn't matter how much inflection you use or where, they are not a fun read after the twentieth repeat. Unless you're five.

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