Saturday, September 05, 2015

Planning for FrogAcademy 2015

This year sees the dawn of a year when I have my eldest son, who has completely finished his education and is job-hunting, whilst at the same time my youngest just begins the journey of his 'education' years. If I am being totally honest here, I'm 13 years in, with another 12 years looming ahead of me, and the thought is very daunting! I cannot even begin to drum up the mad-enthusiasm I had in those beginning years. In those early days (after we walked away from ACE) I would spend hours downloading - on significantly slower internet, printing and planning. And then I would try to muster up the same enthusiasm in my children ~ and often it fell flat, but I persisted anyway. Gradually, over the years, I began to hear my children better and started to model their education around them more as individuals, and life improved. If you read back over the years of my blog though, you will observe that we began very structured and timetabled; loosened up somewhat, but still had very much a formal style of learning. Up until now that has worked for almost all my children. I don't think it ever fitted Jake that well, but I was unable to make the shift in my head (or heart) back then and ultimately he has done very well, finishing college with Btec Level 3 Photography with great grades (D*DD), plus a GCSE in both English and Maths. For Joel, the girls and DD the scheduled approach has worked fine. Even Lilo, who might have struggled most, has been OK with the way things have been. Even if the content has been a stretch at times - and not that enjoyable for her, the structure hasn't bothered her. But then Stitch came along, and after him Chip. Stitch began home-ed with gusto and enthusiasm, but that has quite rapidly worn off because, as more has been 'required' of him, he has increasingly switched off to the idea of table-work. He is definitely not a child to sit still and learn to a timetable and the way we have done things has been a bad fit for him this last year - leading to tension in him and stress in me - giving me a sense of deja-vue that took me back to Jacob's early days, and I have no desire to go hang around there again! Adding Chip into the mix this year, and I am thinking it's going to be a nightmare to carry on doing things with the same structure this academic year. 

After a bit of a think I have come up with this:-

This is DD's sheet, but they each have one with slightly different headings - except Abbie, who has chosen to write her own timetable (without times). Phoebe is also unsure how she'll get on with this system, but she's giving it a trial run for a month and then she'll decide. In reality, it's a trial run for all of us, but I think it'll work so long as all the children are honest ;-)

The idea is that they are each entirely in control of what learning they do, how much time they spend and when they do it. It's centred around 10 minute slots and the only requirement is that there is SOMETHING written in every coloured box by Saturday bedtime. Although there is still a requirement for them to do a certain amount of learning each week I am chilling out about what that learning looks like. Math could be done in a workbook, on Conquer Maths, on a app, or on a learning website (e.g. Skoolbo, or Sumdog). They do however much they choose to do and record how much they did, and what they did by writing in the boxes. If they did 20 minutes of Skoolbo they'd just write Skoolbo in the 10 min box and a ditto in the 20 min box. 

General Interest will be filled in with things we do in groups together ~ like cookery and art. 

'English' I have split up a bit, so they can record what kind of learning they have done. This is because some of the workbooks they have contain various types of tasks and it's often difficult for me to make sure they are getting a balance. This way I will be able to see at a glance where any gaps are forming and address them ~ although not necessarily with workbooks ;-). I am also hoping to do a lot more literature based work with the younger ones this year ~ bouncing off the back of poetry and prose. We begun using FIAR a little last year, and it was enjoyed by all three younger boys, so I am hoping to inject more of that into our learning this year.

Also, I am hoping to make plenty of use of our Spielgaben set ~ especially with the youngest two boys.

All this could add up to very busy days for me - jumping from one activity to another as and when the children need my attention. I know am not too great at that in reality, which is how we ended up with a structure in the first place I guess. I do better knowing what's coming next and working with low-energy activities. I was a workbooks kind of child myself. I simply loved doing pages of little exercises. But imho home-education is about an education that fits the child (and as much as possible the family), and so this year I am going to have to make a big effort to make learning work more relaxed, happy and stimulating for my younger boys, whilst releasing my older children to take more charge of their own learning. I would really like to gradually phase out even this much structure and fall into a much more chilled educational style. I think it might be good for us all - because don't have the energy for so much nagging any more! I know my younger boys are bright, and intelligent. I am not concerned at all about their ability to learn, but I am a tad concerned about their desire to do so. Trusting the process is definitely not my strong point!! Maybe I will get there - I hope so. 

So, today the stop watches arrived (so they can know how long they've been at work on each activity, and help keep things honest) and Monday will be our first day of this new way ~ I'll let you all know how it goes at the end of the week!

I'm not quite sure what happened to Summer...

... but it's managed to come - happen - and be on the brink of leaving, and in all that time I've not managed to blog at all. Even now I'm just snatching a little time before I go out this morning, having woken at ridiculous O'clock, and I don't think I'll get this finished (or nearly finished).

It not been the most sunny of summers ~ weather wise, or other wise really. If I look at it broadly, it feels like we have hopped from one struggle to another ~ and we aren't out of the woods yet. I'm not really complaining (much), because I know life gets like that at times, and then it has a habit of sorting itself out again ~ thankfully!

I haven't blogged seems Stitch's birthday, which seems a distant memory now and there's no way I can cover every even from the of May onwards, so I'll link to Flickr albums here and there through this post, so you can see the pictures if you want to.

Early June was DD's birthday ~ the big 10!! I can't believe he hit double figures ~ a significant milestone in this house ~ and I didn't even do him a blog post :(
But he had a lovely day: he received the lego set he really wanted (Police Station) plus a few other Lego bits, and he got to go to Costa with Daddy for the, what has become traditional, drink and cake.

The rest of June was spent finishing off as much of the school-year's work as we could before we went on hols in July. As a family we tend to holiday in early July because we can, and because it's much cheaper ~ and often the weather is good then too. This year we had planned well ahead and booked a cottage in North Devon. We considered that this might be the last year that we are able to holiday with all 10 of us together, as Jake might be working next year (and/or want to take his holiday in other ways), so we had treated ourselves with a cottage rather than camping and I can only say I am SOOO glad we did. 

The week before we set off for Devon the car was due an MOT (why we get it done just before hols each year makes no sense ~ need to change that), but for the first time since we had it it failed. There were a couple of things that were not that big a deal, but then it needed some welding work doing too ~ and that was a major deal!  We drew breath and paid the bill and contemplated a holiday on a tighter budget than we had hoped. Kindly my nan offered the children some spending money ~ so that would help a little. BUT THEN, two days later, Paul ran over the hugest nail and got a flat! Knowing we had a long journey ahead the spare was not an option, but then it turned out the spare had perished and needed replacing anyway - so two new tyres later and we were truly skint!! If we had been going camping at that point we might have had to cancel the holiday because although the accommodation is cheaper when we camp, we end up spending a lot of money on 'easy' food. It's very hard to cook for 10 on a camping stove, and we certainly wouldn't want to try every night for a week! Not only that, but camping also means we 'go out' every day - come rain or shine - because there's not enough to do in a tent, or space! The cottage meant we could have a more home-from-home arrangement. We could cook 'budget' meals and if we ran out of money there were things to do in and around the farm that would keep us occupied. We also took toys, games, laptops, films and even the Playstation with us, just in case of skint, rainy, stuck-in days!!
As it turned out, although we had the odd shower here and there, and enough over-night rain to make us all very grateful not to have be worrying about leaks in canvas, it was an overall lovely week, and we got to spend a significant amount of time on the beach :D.
All the pictures can be found here; The titles that start 'Devon'  are from our holidays, but here's some mix and match highlights...

After our holidays the children were here, there and everywhere. DD had gym training right throughout the holidays, but missed some being away on other holidays! Once we came back from Devon it was a couple of weeks until the schools broke up round here, but as soon as they did DD and his cousin were whisked off for a most of week, down to Weymouth (yes, all the way back down South) with their Nan & Grandad. Later in the summer Stitch went with a different cousin and spent a week down there too.

Other than holidays the kids have had a holiday club at church one week and the older ones have spent time with friends. We have tried to take a few trips out as a family, but this always seems to be quite challenging to make happen. We managed a quick jaunt around Dearnford Lake one Sunday afternoon and a day out in Delamere Forest one Saturday. But somehow our lives seemed to be pretty crammed despite not formally 'schooling'.

One of my main occupations this summer has been helping the girls to clear out many of the toys from their room. On the whole they have very little that they 'play' with these days and all three are desperate to have a 'grown-up' room. Lilo does still play with her Barbies (and my old Sindy) quite a bit, so she's kept a smaller selection of favourites and the rest went. Some of the Littlest Pet Shop proved too hard to say goodbye to and ended up in a smaller box, back under a  bed. The sizable collection of Sylvanian Families houses, furniture and dolls has been relegated to large plastic storage boxes to await offspring to inherit! Almost all their Playmobil was handed down to younger brothers and dressing up clothes went to charity shops or our church toddler group. That said, the Disney princess dresses (which cost a fortune) found their way into storage and we tried to save enough to share between all their daughters-to-be! That left a gigantic collection of Polly Pocket, a small collection of My Little Pony(s), some more Littlest Petshop and all things 'baby-doll' to still get rid of. Knowing that all those things carry Ebay value I have spent my summer photographing and listing everything on Ebay and have made them a not-to-disagreeable amount of money from so doing. The money will go towards the room refurbishments, which they have asked for as a joint Christmas gift this year and seems like a great idea to Paul and I. Now just to find the time to actually do it..!

Other significant time-consumers this summer have been computers! Both of our main PC's bit the dust. Mine (a little over 18 months old, and just outside warranty) hit a graphics error, which doesn't sound like much, but is a bigger deal than it could be if it wasn't an all-in-one touchscreen PC. Because of what it is it needs to be sent back to the manufacturer and quite frankly, probably isn't worth the repair cost. Then Jake's died too, refusing to power on. His was a PC I had repeatedly repaired, and it kept blowing out various components (including the power unit once before). In the end I concluded that the motherboard is probably shorting, so I removed the hard-drive and declared it defunct. Being that money was extremely tight already, I had to figure a way to make the best of a bad situation ~ being left with three vintage, but working laptops and one relic laptop that also worked, but barely! I decided to investigate & upgrade the RAM status of all of them, and try to make them all a little quicker and functional for as long as we need to use them. I did succeed in speeding up three of the four, but one refused to accept additional RAM (even though there was no real reason why it shouldn't). So now I have two moderately quick, but still vintage laptops, my SLOW vintage laptop and the relic, which is now a teensy bit faster, but still a sloth really. My final investment ended up being a Raspberry Pi-2. I had looked at this as a cheap little 'hook up to a monitor' option to give us internet access for some of the websites we use, but chose against it until I was discussing with the children what they would like to learn about this year. Lilo said that she would like to learn how Minecraft works ~ and so at that moment the RPI became a very real option again :D. She was so happy to receive her little computer in the post and I think it will be very useful to all of us - it's certainly faster than the relic and my laptop. Sadly though, we still can't afford to buy a new PC, but I do have a plan...

OK so I think that might be my summer summed up. I'll do my 'planning' post separately for those who are more interested in the home-ed of our life than the ins-and-outs of all the family stuff ;-)