Monday, 22 October 2012

Minecraft Board Game

So after noticing that it said here that this Lego board game had been made with Boardmaker, I thought, ooooh, possibilities... downloaded the free trial, and spent an afternoon with Sprout designing ... *drumroll*... a Minecraft boardgame!

We played today as Sprout's current skin, ChimneySwift, AntVenom and CaptainSparklez.

I've put what we made in Googledocs so you can download the board, health and hunger tokens, pickaxe and sword cards, and rules here, and if you go to this site and put your Minecraft username in you can print off a tiny little Minecraft you (just remember to add little tabs round the edge when you're cutting out or it will be difficult to put together), plus go to this page for other skin models to print. (If you want to make your own rules or introduce blocks etc, that site has loads of 3D ones to print and build.) We put the little people's feet into blocks of air drying clay so they stand up. Also we printed off a diamond block and added spots for a dice, but you could print off any block you liked. 

Have fun Minecrafters!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Roadrunner Driving and Scooby Snacks

After watching a Roadrunner cartoon last week, Sprout asked why they were called roadrunners, how fast real roadrunners can go, and whether they really say, "Meep meep!" Turns out they kind of coo, and they can run about fifteen miles an hour, quite a lot for a bird that only gets up to 56cm tall. Abstract speed measurements don't mean anything to Sprout yet, so we went for a drive down our quiet road at 15 miles an hour so he could get a feeling of it. Then he had an idea! A drive at lots of different animal speeds. So we went back home and found out some maximum speeds of different animals, and hopped back in the car...

Starting to move down the drive... 1mph... as fast as a spider... turning onto the street... 8mph... as fast as a mouse... accelerating slightly... 11mph... as fast as a pig... now 15mph... roadrunner speed... 30mph... kangarooooooo... we kangarood for a while, then onto the dual carriageway... 40mph... ostrich speed!... moving up to 50mph like a lion... then 60 mph... anteloooope... we anteloped until we reached the motorway then......... 70mph... we were cheetahs! Both boys absolutely loved it and have asked to go for a cheetah drive a couple of times since, so lucky for us we live pretty near the motorway! The one animal on the list we found that we couldn't replicate was a peregrine falcon that dives at over 200mph, so I suggested we go and see one instead as there's a raptor rescue centre fairly close by.

Sprout and a peregrine falcon
A hawk (I think!)

They have other rescue animals at Gentleshaw too, like this coati who both Sprout and Squidge loved...

We spent most of the day there, the boys went on a little camel ride...

...we all had some lunch in the cafe (that also had lovely lovely staff who were sympathetic and helpful when I was feeding Moppet and what seemed like a huge amount of coke got spilt on the floor)...

...and the boys played some crazy golf (which, by their rules, is all about the speed!)...

...and finished off with an ice cream, despite it being, you know, October and cold :) I loved listening to Sprout postulating how he thought the fountains and water cascades in the garden centre there worked. He was spot on! I've found he's very interested at the moment about what things do and how, from these fountains through to the purpose of skin on a fruit. He tells me how he thinks it works, or what it's for, and then asks me if it's right and how we can find out.

We also saw a gorgeous rainbow on the way home!

Sprout played on the food page of this game one night, and then decided to do a list of lots of things he'd like to eat over the next few days, including fresh fish and carrot juice (he'd had fresh fish a long time ago but never carrot juice). So after an unsuccessful attempt to get some bream delivered with the shopping, Sprout and I popped along to the fish counter and he chose some whole bream, which he watched Gruff gut and fillet at home and then they baked it with some rosemary and roasted garlic. He ate all of his along with some chips and a glass of carrot juice :)

Over at their grandparents' house, there's a kitchen being installed, which means lots of polystyrene for building ice cities with...

...lots of stray cabinets in which to play hide and seek...

...and the opportunity to build some cabinets themselves. They also found an old strategy game there called Push (so old I can't even find any reference to it online!) that I used to love as a kid, where two people start off with balls in a certain pattern and had to move theirs first into another pattern. Lots of the balls are missing now but I found Sprout making different symmetrical patterns out of the balls which was really interesting to watch.

Online this week they've both been playing a lot of the Monkey Go Happy puzzles, and Sprout brought me this note that he'd written to tell me which one he wanted me to find him a link for next... 

While playing the physics game Dust, Sprout asked what C4 was. I found it online for him, but far better was this episode of Mythbusters we came across today where they cooked some in a microwave. 
They've also both rediscovered Animal Jam, and have been meeting online to play the games together, and Squidge has been enjoying the nature videos. Sprout has been enjoying playing Cut the Rope too, while Squidge asked me to find Animal Mechanicals on YouTube which has now become a fast favourite. Musically, Sprout's been having a Moves Like Jagger and Gangnam Style week :)

Moppet, meanwhile, has been mostly putting things in her mouth...

...and eating and sleeping. I think a growth spurt is in progress!

 Sprout is still doing lots of investigations into balancing...

...and they've both been having a bit of a spin-fest since we got Gruff a new computer chair :D 

Sprout really sweetly made this heart for Squidge to cheer him up one evening when he was sad, which just about made my heart burst :)

Squidge has been cloud-spotting with the cloud viewer we made... 

...and playing football...

...while Sprout helped Gruff fix Grandpa's car. 

They both found litter pickers that were hanging round the house, and have been playing games seeing what they can pick up and pass between them using only the grabbers.

I saw this printable Lego game idea on Pinterest a while ago, but couldn't find the original. Yesterday, however, I came across this one, and no sooner had I printed it than the boys had rallied round a spaceman, a ninja, a sharkman, and a Queen's guard with a wooden leg. It was a fun game, with lots of ups and downs - at one point my spaceman was standing on ten blocks while Sprout's ninja had been reduced to just a head, but he beat me in the end!

Watching Scooby Doo one day, the subject of Scooby Snacks came up, so Sprout asked if we could make one. Ooh, fun, I thought...

...and voila! One turkey, cucumber, peanut butter, banana, chocolate spread, cream cheese, grape, ham, nutella, marshmallow fluff, cheddar, crisp and beef Scooby Snack :D

We also had a trip to see Brave for National Schools Film Week, but left after half an hour or so as the boys both found the bear scary. Think I'm going to have to get the DVD as I loved it and want to know what happens! We had a day at Come Into Play for one of their friend's birthday too, they do love it there so they've already asked if we can go back soon.

And finally, this. Just because I love it and how much the photo is absolutely Squidge :)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Pastatists

Across the galaxies, on a planet called C'nchiglly, in a civilisation not unlike our own, a meeting is taking place. 

Some background: In this civilisation, the Ahbohreo, after the larval forms have been nurtured by their parents for a couple of years, the Senate usually takes over and feeds them only pasta for the next fifteen years. (Yes, they have pasta there. It's one of those inexplicable space-time coincidences.) Once the larvae mature into adults, they revert to the natural diet they had when they were tiny, although many of them struggle with this, their bodies accustomed as they are to a pasta-only diet. Some larvae are kept out of the Pasta Plan and eat a natural diet throughout their lives. Some larvae who start on the Pasta Plan pull out when it makes them ill, unhappy or undernourished. It's this group of larvae and their parents that are being discussed at this meeting, between three Pastatists and some Ahbohreo Senate members.

Senate member: What is it in the Larvae Nutrition Guidance that you think requires clarity, bearing in mind that all Antipasta who responded to the inquiry have no problem interpreting it?
Pastatist: One of the things families say is, "I don't know what to do." Sometimes they say, "I don't know what to do, but I don't want it to look like Pasta." I was quite interested to see that what families have to go on is what they don't have to do, they don't have to feed their larvae pasta. We try to see Antipasta families once a year. There's nothing in the law that says you can see an Antipasta family once a year, erm, if families don't wish to see me, then I have to say, okay. When I visit Antipasta families, I do write a report and I try to make a report that reflects the conversation we have, not something that is judgemental, I try very hard not to judge. There comes a time, I think, where a judgement is sometimes called for. Authorities should compile a register of larvae not in the Pasta Plan, and should make contact with the Antipasta families to check nutritional provision.  

Now, looking in from our planet, it may seem crazy that, if the Ahbohreo start off their larvae's lives feeding them normally, and they themselves eat normally, that these larvae have parents who don't think the pasta is doing them any good, but just don't have a clue what else to feed them. But it's not that simple. The Senate think Pasta is good for larvae. In fact, they think it's essential, and that without it the larvae would be malnourished. When the larvae are a couple of years old, they write to all the parents and arrange for the larvae to join the Pasta Plan, with no mention of other dietary options. Ahbohreo are encouraged, often under the pretence of it bring compulsory, and always suggesting that it's in their larvae's best interests, to start preparing them for Pasta right from hatching. Over the past hundred years or so, since the Senate started pushing the Pasta Plan in earnest, most adult Ahbohreo don't even question whether it's the best thing for their larvae; They're utterly, unquestioningly convinced. If they're being honest, most of them think parents who don't Pastarise their larvae are pretty weird, and are putting their larvae at risk. So it's no wonder, really, that when some of these parents realise that their partially-Pastarised larvae aren't thriving on the Pasta Plan, it doesn't occur to them to just give them normal food again. Luckily many of them find other Antipastas, and after chatting for a while the penny drops, and they go and happily feed their larvae normal food again, and they thrive. 

What of the larvae whose parents are accosted by one of the Senate-appointed Pastatists? They do better than on the Pasta Plan, for sure. But, sadly, the Pastatist can't envision a larval stage with a pasta-free diet, so they visit these larvae every three months, checking their pasta consumption and never giving the larvae's parents the opportunity to make the paradigm shift away from the Pasta. 

What wisdom can we send across the light years to the Ahbohreo? 

Well, to the Antipasta: Keep talking. Keep the conversations going so that other Ahbohreo know that Pasta is not the only way. Don't expect the Pastatists to disseminate information that they just can't understand. The Antipasta movement is growing all the time, so keep the ideas out there and gradually fewer and fewer Ahbohreo will be unable to realise that if they don't want only Pasta for their larvae, then the normal diet that young larvae and adults eat would be a good way to go. It's likely that the controlling Senate and the dogmatic and blinkered Pastatists will be around for a long time to come, so it's essential that the Antipasta and any other understanding Ahbohreo fight to limit their power, and make sure that they never allow compulsory Pastatist oversight of the Antipasta, nor compulsory Pastarisation of larvae.

And to the Ahbohreo Senate, if you will listen: Be open about the truth. If you believe the Pastatists' way is the best then Ahbohreo will see that. But be truthful about their real options for larvae, right from the start, and stop pretending Pasta is the only way. And stop trying to control the Antipasta, it's really not your place.

And then maybe that same wisdom can come back here and be applied to education, so that there aren't parents who, after helping their babies and toddlers learn naturally, and themselves learning naturally as adults, are telling Helen Sadler of Leicester City Council, and others of her ilk, that they know they don't want school for their children, but they don't know what to do.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Cloud Viewer

Yesterday I put together a cloud viewer picture (as Squidge liked the one on Pinterest but it's not affordable), so I thought I'd share it for anyone else that would like it :) Just save this, print off, stick to a piece of card, cut out the hole in the middle, add a stick for holding, then spend the day peeking through the hole at clouds and seeing if you can match them up with their type!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Limiting Childhood

"The statement that I cling to through all my home visits is, "Will the education limit future life chances?"" So stated (at 9:52) Melissa Young yesterday while describing how she monitors, without any backing in law, private families going about their private business.

And right here is one of the problems we face. These people just don't realise that children are already people. They're not people-in-waiting. Little blobs of protoplasm waiting to take their place in the world in fifteen years time. They're people, with actual thoughts, and actual feelings, and actual wants and needs, actually living in the world from the day they're born.

So my question to you, Melissa, would be this: What about their current life chances?

School: limits trees climbed, limits ideas mulled over in their own time, limits curiosities followed, limits passions seen through to the very end, limits cuddles with mum and dad, limits running full pelt through the park with their coats on their heads like superhero capes, limits topics learnt about, limits splashing in puddles, limits getting mucky in the dirt, limits cavorting in the sunshine, limits throwing autumn leaves in the air, limits rolling in the snow, limits pictures painted just how and when they want, limits visits to the toilet taken as needed, limits meals enjoyed without state oversight on content, limits visits to the museum when no-one but your friends is around and staying as long as you want, limits afternoons sitting up a tree, limits mornings sprawled in the grass, limits cakes baked on a whim, limits potions concocted from spices and mystery ingredients, limits explosive experiments carried out, limits giant bubbles blown, limits books read at leisure, limits stories written for fun, limits photos taken, limits things learnt that just aren't covered by any restrictive curriculum, LIMITS CHILDHOOD.

So, Melissa, this is my definition of a suitable childhood: It doesn't reduce your chances to be a child. Your system fails, and our lives win.

The Wolves and the Frugal Spender: A Play in Two Acts

First off, let me lay out the absolute ideal way, in my mind, that this morning's Select Committee oral evidence hearing could have gone...

Graham Stuart: Welcome to this session, which was due to look at support for home education. However, as we parliamentarians discussed this over an expenses-covered hot chocolate last night (we have the receipts!), we realised what a complete nonsense the concept of compulsory education is, and abolished it. So all you taxpayer-funded state-approved home-ed hangers on, thanks for coming this morning, but bye! Ok, moving on from that... as we chatted away into last night, we went on to realise the illegitimacy of forced government, and abolished that too; Everyone's born free and we're going to stop trying to control them. So, huzzah!
*Fry's chocolate creams then began to rain from the sky across the country in a sudden climate change that the pro/anti global warming theory groups had never anticipated. *

So, that didn't happen.

In the absence of my ideal situation, what I want from these people currently is to leave me and other HEors alone to live our lives, so that's the basis on which I was watching this today.


Three wolves, dressed unconvincingly in shepherds' clothing

Sir Stuart, a seemingly rag tag member of parliament/knight in well-pressed armour, who, while having good intentions and glowing under the warmth of many home educators' esteem, is under a magic spell called 'job' which keeps him forever as a cog in the government machine, with all that entails, including in-crowd snipes to the other cogs.

Ebenezer Truss, a public servant under the impression that she gives the public their freedoms

The First Act, where three people who make their living from pretending they have a duty to monitor home educators, went as expected. I burnt my mouth on my coffee just trying to keep up with their BS on my bingo card. The whole thing can easily be summarised by imagining three wily wolves desperately straightening their shepherd costumes as they discuss how they lovingly care for the wild sheep population. (A far more detailed overview can be found here.) It doesn't take a master of counter-espionage to see through the shepherd costumes, even for those not accustomed to duplicitous council ways. We had wolf number one, from Leicester, whose policy document is eye-opening to say the least (not really surprising considering she said she taught herself how to do her job from going on a Staffordshire forum, at which I'm told people from councils went to learn from other people from councils, i.e. the blind leading the blind). Wolf two, from Croydon, whose policy document I couldn't even be bothered reading because they lie about the law in the first sentence of their webpage. And finally wolf number three, who assured us that, "The home educators we've got, within Warrington, as I said I have a positive relationship with them." What, even once they've seen this document listing them all completely erroneously as pupils vulnerable to poor educational outcomes? Wow, that's a really strange definition of 'positive relationship'.
Tempting as it is to pick apart pretty much everything the three wolves said, it's all been picked apart a million times before, so it seems kind of redundant. Instead, let's move on to the next Act... 

The Second Act, slightly better. Ebenezer Truss, while not having any noble intentions, only financial restrictions, made it clear over and over that she was not willing to look at policy change while no evidence for it existed. And, despite several people clearly having no clue on the law (and Graham Stuart squarely pointing out that HEors have no such difficulty), she was also clear on the fact that councils should not be contacting home ed families without reason to believe an education is not taking place.

What will come of today? I don't know. Long term, it's unrealistic to expect no more attempts to control home ed, sadly. Other governments will have no qualms about spending the money without evidence (they have people to create that, after all). But for this government, in England, for now, I'm hopeful we might have some respite (although we'll see what the final report says). With luck, it will leave all the more energy to continue the fight in Wales.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Real-life Functioning Minecraft Pickaxe

So, in our world this achievement was so awesome it deserved its very own blog post.

We took one of these...

...added one of these...

...and got an existing-in-real-life functioning-in-virtual-life Minecraft pickaxe...

(It's actually wireless too, the wire you can see in the photo is the earth that Sprout is holding onto.)
So, that's our quota of win used up for the day, time for sleep!

Pottering about

We've had a pottering about kind of fortnight since coming back from Wales: A few days in the park with friends, and a lot of chilling out with their own things at home.

Sprout is loving Indiana Jones since we got him this game and took him to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the IMAX in Cardiff. We managed to pick up a second hand boxed set of the films so we've been watching those, which has led to conversations about archaeology, paleontology, CGI, special effects, Mythbusters, Nazis, the Bible, religion, Christianity, types of plane, tribes, spiders, snakes, good and evil and whether they're constants, teachers, learning, universities, schools... I'm sure there was more but that's what I can remember off the top of my head.

Squidge on the other hand is all about Spiderman at the moment, so we picked him up the boxed set of that and a DVD of the old cartoons. These have led to conversations about spiders that live underwater, trapdoor spiders, happy face spiders, spider bites (Gruff had a corker of a spider bite a few weeks ago so Squidge is fascinated with this), superheroes, Young Justice, justice... and again I'm sure there was more.

Sprout has started playing a bit of World of Warcraft, and has played only a little bit of Minecraft in the past few weeks. I keep being amazed at the words he can read on there (in context - he's not yet a spontaneous reader, but it's all part of the process isn't it). He's also asking lots what various words mean when he hears them in conversations; The one that sticks out from last night was the word 'industry', he overheard it in a conversation we were having about chrome plating and the metal finishing industry, and we ended up talking about the word in terms of the automotive and gaming industries.

Squidge has also been watching Fly me to the Moon, and a *lot* of Despicable Me (I completely love this film), which has led to questions from Sprout about how parts of a space shuttle detach, and someone forwarded me this really cool video showing how the fuel tank separates.

Sprout asked how things balance, so we watched some videos, talked about centres of gravity, and I've ordered a couple of little balancing toys that I think he'll enjoy too.

They've both enjoyed watching a bit of Wheeler Dealers with Gruff, and Squidge is enjoying watching I Can Cook and playing the games online, and has plans to make tomato spirals today.

We picked up some old Magnetix for a couple of quid, which Squidge has spent lots of time engrossed in...

Sprout came across some strips of plinth seal at my parents' house that is waiting to be used in their new kitchen, and realised it was perfectly shaped to make big marble runs with...

Squidge has been setting up lots of assault courses through the house with just about *anything* he can find...

The dressing up box has seen *a lot* of use... has Gruff's uniform...

...and, er, Moppet's wardrobe haha :D

And I'm really chuffed that they've both enjoyed my book, the first copies of which were delivered this week. They've asked for me to read it over and over again, so happy Mummy :D

Saturday, 13 October 2012

LA BS Bingo

Several years as a manager for a large leisure chain gave me two things:

1. The ability to model an awful lot of things out of balloons.
2. A game, which for the sake of keeping this blog PG, we'll call Bovine Stool Bingo.

I'm sure most of you know the game, especially if you've ever had to sit through protracted meetings where your boss spouts same old same old, or your boss's boss chunters forth with an impenetrable stream of buzzwords. You have a (well hidden) bingo card on which you cross off each word or phrase as it comes up, and the first one to clear their card wins. Or you have a graded list, and for each allocated word or phrase that is uttered, you take one or two sips of your drink, or down the lot.

The reason this sprang back to mind today, was that this Wednesday we have councils giving oral evidence to the Select Committee regarding support for Home Education. Now, call me a cynic but I'm fairly sure of the things they're going to say (Despite the statement "The Committee’s inquiry will not be examining wider issues of home education, such as safeguarding and curriculum issues, or the impact of home education"), and I'm anticipating it to be an aggravating watch. So I'm lightening it up with a little game of BS Bingo! Won't you join me?

One sip (Coffee, tea, juice, vodka, whatever gets you through the live stream)

Two sips
Broad and balanced
Duty to monitor
Statutory Guidance
Section 7
Unable to access the child

Three sips
Two tier system
Dependent upon
Balancing the right of the parents to home educate with the rights of the child
Child's voice
Service resistant

Down it!
Definition of suitability
Engaging with local authorities
We have a duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education
We do not know exactly how many children are being home educated
Vociferous minority

Bonus choccy biccy if...
Someone questions why Elaine Grant's job title is 'Monitoring and Support Teacher for Elective Home Education' when THERE IS NO BLOODY DUTY TO MONITOR!!!

If I've missed any give me a shout and I'll add them in :)

Good luck, and don't burn your mouth on your coffee!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Let those poor children rest

This. This is the reason (or a big one) we want absolutely zero to do with the school system or the council.

I don't think they've noticed, but they have a problem. (Or actually, to be fair, I think they've noticed, but they're like that annoying guy in the office who keeps f***ing up and trying to scoot the blame onto everyone else.) Children keep dying. It's horrible, and tragic, and heartbreaking. Mostly children in school or children too young to be at school. But also very occasionally children who aren't at school. "Thank f***!" cry the council workers, "Someone to blame that isn't us!" Except, they are to blame. Khyra Ishaq? Very much known to the authorities. Victoria Climbie? Same. "Never mind!" shriek the slightly unhinged 'authorities', "Let's stick two fingers up at the idea that we should learn from these awful, awful deaths and try and stop it happening to any more poor kids by actually properly using the powers that we already have. Instead of that, let's keep saying over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again that it was because they were home educated. We know it's not true, but it'll take the heat off us and keep the pitchforks being raised where they belong, over at those weirdo home educators!" (I'm paraphrasing here, you understand.)

"Let's start off with registration! We know it wouldn't have helped a single one of these poor kids - the ones already known to social services, the ones we failed, the ones too young, the ones in school, the ones already seen by nurseries where no signs of abuse are seen, the ones who were just really unlucky to have a mentally unstable mother who could have taken them away school or no school. We know not one of them would have been helped. But let's keep on pointing the finger of blame at a group of people who aren't understood, who are already viewed with suspicion, and that way the focus stays off us and our system."

"But how?" questions a momentary sliver of moral in the long forgotten recesses of their brains (Ha yes okay you're right, these people have no such thing, but bear with me.) "How will we do that when the facts of all these horribly tragic cases speak for themselves?"

"We'll just lie! LIEEEEEE! Mooha..moohahahah...moohahahahahahahaha!"

For who needs cartoon villains, when you have people such as Julia Swan, ready to fabricate statistics and drag up the names of these poor poor dead children, in order to demonise a law-abiding section of the community to cover their own colossal failings and further their own agendas. Because they know that in general, when people read something in the papers, they won't go and check the facts for themselves. They'll just happily swallow whatever they've just been told.

It sickens me to the pit of my stomach every time I see these poor children's names being dragged out again in articles such as this, about things that do *not* relate to their deaths, being used in such a completely inhuman way to further these people's agendas.

Shame on you, Julia Swan. And shame on you TES for yet again publishing such an unbalanced, poisonous, unethical piece riddled with untruths.

Let those children rest.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A reminder for me to chill...

Driving home from a lovely afternoon with friends today, Sprout turned to me and said, "I wish there were lots more children home educated."

Now, me being me, in the time it took me to say, "Why's that dude?" I had already thought the following:


What he actually answered was, "Because I think it would be nice for more people to have the choice of whether they wanted to go to school or not, and get the chance to do all the cool stuff they enjoy. You know, like we do."

And breathe :D

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

More bad anti-'screen' science, it's an epidemic!

Ah, old Aric Sigman, foreteller of doom, go-to guy for numerous bandwagon-pleasing Daily Fail-type 'Children have too many screeeens!" articles, and seasoned ignorer of any research that doesn't support his position. I thought for a minute when I clicked the link to the BBC article this morning that someone had reposted an old link, but nope, here he is bleating out the same things again a couple of months later.

Anyone who's looked at Dr Sigman's opinions before will probably know his MO: Cite any research that concludes (or can be represented to conclude) screens (of any sort) are somehow bad; Ignore any research that shows differently. Luckily though there are people around like this brilliant guy who will rip bad science like this to pieces.

I've written before about the illogicality of 'screen time', and I continue to find it incredible that a scientist, of all people, will doggedly try to drag it down. I've also linked before to several sites (here, here, here, here and here just for starters) showing the benefits of video games, and that's just one facet of what people like Sigman count as 'screen time'. Anyone can do a search here for research on video games, and it will show you publicly available research on both sides of the argument, so it's certainly far from the 'unequivocal' consensus that he states.

As for today's alarmist press release, I'm going to have to go on what the papers printed of it, as to access what he actually wrote and look in detail at the research he cited (who funded it, what the potential for financial gain from it was, what the actual findings were, whether groups of unschooled kids were studied (er, no)) would cost a very-much-not-worth-it twenty four quid. And we already know that what is actually researched is often not what finds its way into the papers. So...

There was the obligatory 'dire effects of being sedentary in front of these awful awful screens *wrings hands*' bit, accompanied by the obligatory glaring omission that all these children are being made to sit in school all day.

There was the obligatory 'Here comes the science!' bit, helpfully illuminating that 'screen novelty' (ie fun stuff) causes release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the 'brain's reward system' (ie is fun). To recap, 'fun stuff is fun'. Excellent sciencing Dr Sigman! He follows this up nicely with the disingenuous mention of addictive behaviour and inability to pay attention, as though the very existence of fun stuff being fun (and hence the brain behaving as though it's, erm, fun), is directly related to disorders involving this neurotransmitter.

This bit interested me: '"Screen 'addiction' is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner," Dr Sigman says.' The research talked about here found that rats in a confined, socially isolated, unstimulating cages became easily addicted to drugs including heroin, morphine, amphetamine and cocaine. Rats in a stimulating and more species appropriate environment? Not so much, by a huge margin. One of the researchers drew parallels with the high levels of addictions seen in indigenous communities following colonisation, when they too experienced social and cultural isolation.

So my only question to Dr Sigman would be, if schoolchildren (for that is who is researched every time) are showing what is being termed 'screen addiction', what is the socially and culturally isolating little box they're being put in that is leading to it?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Parents ignoring you? Mete out a swift penalty!

"Your 6-year-old. Sometimes kids are so intensely focused on what they're doing that they do miss out on what's being said around them. But deliberate ignoring is another matter."  This is what my email told me authoritatively this evening. I apparently subscribed to Babycentre when I was pregnant for the first time and seven years later I *still* haven't got round to clicking that unsubscribe link. 

I was curious (I know, a dangerous thing) as to what this other matter could be, so I clicked the link. And I sighed, and reflected, and decided that it was a little unfair that these parents should have this magical advice sheet to bend children to their will, without providing said children with a corresponding advice sheet of their own. So, voila!

Often parents ignore you so they can avoid getting off Facebook, or fighting over something they really can't be bothered doing, like cleaning up glitter, or reading your favourite story for the eighty fourth time. Or they do so because they know you'll scream, and they must like that because they keep making you do it.

Some ideas for an ignoring problem:

  • Start by making sure your requests are simple and specific. "You need to make me mint choc chip ice cream for breakfast, with sauce and sprinkles" is better than "I don't want porridge!" That way, your mother can't claim she didn't know what you meant.
  • Find the right motivation. We all respond to positive reinforcement, so offer rewards when your parent does listen and follow through. (Your reward could be something as simple as a pat on the head, or giving them time to drink a cup of tea while it's still hot.)
  • Try to eliminate "No" from your vocabulary. The more they hear it, the more they start looking up articles on Babycentre on how to train you like a dog, and one of these days you might not outwit them. Instead of "No, I don't want to go to school," try "I tire of your primitive Victorian system and your simplistic and off-target pedagogy. Let me be unschooled, and run free with the wind in my hair and the unfettered air in my lungs." Then watch their faces, it's a stunner!
  • Don't let your parent get away with ignoring you on purpose. If she doesn't do as you request, mete out a swift, appropriate penalty, such as making them sit on a step you have decorated especially for the purpose, or making them watch The Duck Song once for every year of their age. It'll be stuck in their head for weeks, the blighters, that'll learn 'em!

Friday, 5 October 2012

TES and Badman: Did I get in a time machine?

I should say, before I go on, that's it's taken a fair bit of restraint to write this post with (relatively) calm and reasoned words, rather than a string of expletives that result in a blog post that pretty much looks like this : @!!!?#*%@@!&!?

Graham Badman, voice-of-ignorant-prejudice for hire, rears his nasty little head again. I'd hoped he was festering permanently in the stinking bog of the damned and discredited, but here he is, raising his claw above the bogslime to try again to drag us down. Helping him on the way, the TES and their sneaky and bigoted inclusions which immediately plant the undeserved seeds of suspicion, yet again, regarding home educators. 

Now, it's worth noting right at the start that there's nothing he says that hasn't already been disproved and rebuffed, his  'raft of unsubstantiated claims based on hearsay and vague generalisation' torn to shreds by thinking people, his (what he thinks passes for) statistics hilariously thrown out, and the whole lot generally shown for what it is: a completely ill-informed, ignorant, un-thought through, prejudiced load of steaming horse manure. But, due to comments like his being like discarded embers in the forest of the public mind, I'm going to thoroughly douse them with the fire extinguisher of truth anyway.

So first of all, "Professor Graham Badman, who chaired the official inquiry into the death of Baby P". Well that's a clumsy bit of attempted head-f***ery isn't it? Might as well flash up a not-quite-quick-enough subliminal message on the screen saying home edders kill children. The tragic case of Baby P was nothing to do with home education, nothing to do with families being monitored, and everything to do with the authorities failing in the duties they already have. Again. 

He said Welsh government proposals to monitor home educators - reported by TES last month - were "absolutely right and proper". The move, which has provoked fierce opposition from the home education lobby, would be a "key step forward" in ensuring child safety, he added. Well, I could get a minah bird to keep repeating the same things over and over again ad nauseum, but it still doesn't make them true, does it. What would be absolutely right and proper would be for Mr Badman to zip his overactive piehole if he can't produce some actual evidence that this would in any way help child safety. He's never managed it yet.The reason? Home educated children are less at risk. That's what the statistics show. And regardless of this, relevant authorities already have the necessary powers, it's just a matter of them actually using them.

Professor Badman, a former director of children's services at Kent County Council, is no stranger to conflict with home educators. Yes, because he is rather insistent on sticking his nose in where he has no knowledge or expertise, and turning this nose up at relevant knowledge when it's offered up to him on a plate. "Look at these statistics that disprove what you say!" say home educators to him. "Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala!" he shouts, ramming his fingers into his ears.

In 2009 he authored a review of the issue in England, which also recommended the mandatory registration of parents who want to teach their children at home. Well yes. The government had decided that's what they wanted, so they found an 'expert' to agree with them. That's just how it works

The review was accepted by then education secretary Ed Balls (Shocker, as that was the outcome that the odious Mr Balls wanted)  but was dropped before the 2010 general election in a deal to push through other legislation. (More perspective on that here).

Professor Badman said local authorities backed his plans for greater scrutiny of home education. Well they would. These are the people that want more control after all. They don't like it when people decline their services, and what's more they don't understand.

"There is not a broad public understanding of home education: its strengths, weaknesses..."  No, they don't. And neither does he. Which is why he takes his ignorance, and uses it like a big wooden spoon to stir up other people's.

and, on rare occasions, dangers," he said. I'm sorry, no. This was the point at which my head exploded with rage. Home education does not have dangers. How am I confident making such a statement? Because it's absolutely true. Dropping the allegation that there are somehow 'dangers' to home education, as though this is fact, is the usual lazy, deceitful, inflammatory, completely unforgiveable conflation of education and welfare that we've come to expect from people like this. It's as insightful as saying, for schoolchildren, "Half term has dangers!" Some families have dangers. A big proportion of these families send their kids to school. Some don't. These kids are very visible. People *know* if you don't send your kids to school. Relevant agencies already have all the powers they need to deal with any welfare or educational concerns. I realise I've already said this, but apparently it bears repeating, because apparently Mr Badman, the Welsh Assembly Government, and any number of local authorities who keep banging on about safeguarding and monitoring just have not noticed.

"If the (Westminster) government were to reconsider, of course there are issues around curriculum, resources and attainment." Yes, that home education outstrips school on all of these. 

"But they would, in my view, have to consider safeguarding issues first and foremost." At least he's said it this time, "in my view." It's just his own ill-informed and doggedly-stuck-to bias. He's like the old man at the end of the bar, pint of mild in hand, grumbling on about immigrants (apologies for the analogy to any real-life elderly mild-drinking gentlemen who positively welcome a multi cultural society).

Professor Badman's comments come as the Commons Education Select Committee is again investigating home education... Hmmm, well if that's not deliberately misleading then I'm a snowman named Bert. (I'm not, by the way.) The phrase 'investigating home education' insinuates some wrongdoing, that something sinister is being looked into. Burglaries are investigated. Murders are investigated. What the Select Committee is looking into is the support that is offered to home educators by councils. 

...including the duties of local authorities and whether the Westminster government needs to change its approach to supporting home educators. Ok, now it could just be me being over sensitive, but based on the tone of the rest of the article I think it's warranted: This sounds like it's suggesting that the government is currently supportive of home education, and this Select Committee is looking into whether they need to stop being supportive. So either the journalist isn't very good at using words to say what he means, or he's very good at using them to say what he means but is biased. Either way, #JournoFail

Education Select Committee members in the last Parliament described Professor Badman's 2009 report as "flawed" and "badly handled". But, despite the fallout, he is still keen to see his recommendations enacted. How very Veruca Salt of him. "My report was roundly discredited but I want it, I want it, I WANT IT!!!" *stamps foot*

The Labour government in Cardiff Bay is consulting on a similar set of plans, after recent figures suggested that the number of home-educated children is on the rise in Wales, from 722 in 2009-10 to 986 in 2011-12. You'd think a rise in people declining their services would prompt them to look at *improving* their services, but I guess this is government we're talking about, so best get licencing those pesky people hey.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said current legislation has "shortcomings" because there is no legal duty on a parent to tell their local authority their child is being home educated. Or shop at Next, or eat broccoli, or have blankets instead of duvets, or like Enid Blyton...

Professor Badman said there would probably be "relatively muted responses from local authorities and strong responses from home educators"No really? Strong responses from those people whom you're smearing yet again? Strong reponses from those people whose lives would be affected? Strong responses from those people whose children's lives you want to take control of?

"The government need to balance that against what they are trying to achieve. The rights of all children should be foremost in their minds," he added. Yes. They need to get a big set of balancing scales, set what they're trying to achieve on one end, and drop the weight of response from home educators onto the other, flinging their damn agenda into oblivion once and for all. If the rights of children were really foremost in their minds, they would understand that the majority of parents want the absolute best for their children; they wouldn't seek to make the state the overidingly important part of every child's life; they would use the powers that they already have to help the children that really are at risk, instead of hounding the ones that decline their services.

Home educators in Wales have reacted angrily to the plans and have already gathered more than 900 signatures on a petition. Mike Fortune-Wood, who edits the journal Home Education, has called the Welsh government's plans a "retrograde step" that would change the relationship between parents, children and the state. Indeed. The petition is here for anyone else that wants to support it (every signature helps!).

Professor Badman said he understood the concerns. "I think it's this notion of the state intruding on something they hold to be deeply private," he said. "I don't think registration is about that. It's about safety and receiving a suitable education." Oh for goodness sake. Is he really not getting tired of this? For safety, see here, here, here, here and above, and for education, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here... well, you get the idea, yes?

"I'm not saying home education doesn't work; in many cases it does. There are many examples of home-educated children who have thrived. This is about minimising risk." Rhetoric, blah, ignorance, blah, the cry of the man with no evidence because there is none blah blah blah.

He added that the Welsh government must ensure suitable support for home educators, and understand how home education differs from regular schooling. 

Here's a difference for you. Schooling is something to do with the government, home education really isn't. So like I said the other day: Butt out. (I did say *relatively* calm and reasoned :) )