Friday, 25 October 2013

Sitting, Minions, Sitting, Adventure Drive, and Sitting

I do believe we've had an actual quiet week!

We went to see Despicable Me 2 with the National Youth Film Festival. The atmosphere was lovely!

We had our habitual game of air hockey on the way out :)

Afte taking a construction set to a home ed group at the start of the week, Sprout played with it lots more, and made shapes in 2D and 3D versions and showed me the difference.

Squidge played with a monster construction kit, as did Moppet a little bit.

Aside from that it's been mostly chilling out at home, chatting, sitting, watching films, sitting, drawing pictures, sitting, and just being together. It's been nice :)

Today Squidge wanted to go on a driving adventure, so he looked out for brown tourist signs, then navigated following signs that he noticed for somewhere called 'Pugin's Gem', that showed a silhouette of a church. They took us to Cheadle, and we parked and followed the church spire.

On the way Sprout liked these pigeon artworks embedded in the pavement by Ian Naylor, and we chatted about other things he noticed, like why petrol on the floor of the car park looks all different colours, and why peppermint makes your mouth feel cool.

After a couple of minutes we turned down this street to see we'd found Pugin's Gem, which turned out to be a Roman Catholic Church built in the late 1800s.

Both the boys found the doorway to be a bit too dark and foreboding so decided not to go in, but we wandered round the churchyard. A lot of the graves were for little children, and we chatted briefly about why more children died in those days, and how lucky we are to live now.

After that we popped into a visitor centre we noticed, but the myths and legends display that had tempted Sprout in was a bit wordy and dry. The lady told us the library had a good children's section, so we trundled round the town, looked at the market (making good use of the sweets stall) and eventually found the library. They had a book sale on, so I once again broke my book embargo for a couple of 'That's Not My...' books (at 30p each it'd be rude not to, no?)

After walking twice again up and down the high street while Squidge established that the cafe he was absolutely sure ten minutes ago wasn't the one he meant, actually was, we sat down for a drink, and Sprout took some pictures of the sky which was looking quite striking.

There's been a lot of Hallowe'en talk today, so I think that's going to be the overriding theme of the week to come! I see minions, devils and dragons in my future :)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Archery, Swords, Axes and Not So Sharp Stuff

A somewhat chilled out week last week... Moppet's done lots of smiling and wearing different hats...

...we all took a trip to Dimmingsdale for some gorgeous cake...

... and a play together on their new favourite game, Stickman Downhill...

...oh and a walk in the forest because that's why we drove there in the first place!

They all liked looking over the lake at the birds...

...and Moppet thought it was hilarious to walk back and forth under the gate. Love the toddler sense of humour :D

We had a day at Come into Play for a friend's birthday...

...and played lots of board games. Whatever Next is their current favourite, they laugh so much while doing the things on the cards :)

More of Moppet finding delight in the everyday :)

One night Squidge and Moppet snuggled up in bed and watched the old Peter Pan cartoon, it was so sweet to see :)

We had another trip with friends to Gladstone Pottery. Squidge liked seeing his distorted reflection in these giant pots, and wanted to know why...

...they played Skylanders Giants on this raises bit of pavement, pretending it was a portal...

... and they really loved completing the treasure trail.

Sprout bought this pottery skull which he's decorating for Halloween. We looked a bit at Day of the Dead painted skulls, and he liked the symmetry so he's incorporating some of that into his design.

They've been incredibly eagerly waiting for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 to be released, so we went along to a preview screening, and they played with this Walking With Dinosaurs advert too :)

At the weekend we went to the Robin Hood Country Show in Nottinghamshire...

... where Squidge was surrounded by dogs, watched dog agility, wanted to stroke dogs, talked to dogs, was excited by dogs, and loved every minute of it! Dogs I tell you! I couldn't even have imagined that eighteen months ago when the pair of us were terrified of anything canine. 

As well as dog related activities, the boys shot some cork guns...

... and tried their hand at archery (Squidge got a bullseye!)

We tried some cakes made with recipes from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The verdict wasn't good, and we wondered whether palates unused to refined foods would have perceived them differently.

Sprout went on the bungee trampolines, and had such fun that we're trying to find where there's a more permanent one close by.

They both did some laps on quad bikes too, and have now tasked Gruff with fixing the clutch on theirs so they can use it again.

There was a small Viking village set up, and Sprout took the opportunity to hold some swords, spears and axes, and try on some armour, which he loves doing at the moment. I'm keeping an eye out for more opportunities to do this!

Squidge was happy with a cap gun, and played in the field as we left...

... while Moppet had a boot picnic :)

Back at home Moppet is really enjoying playing out front with the boys and their friends.

We've all been enjoying watching Naked and Afraid, about people put into remote places with nothing and trying to survive for twenty one days. It's led to conversations about snakes, monkeys, hunting, poison arrow frogs, and television realism, among other things.
Other really interesting conversations I've had with Sprout this week include one about long necks, including The Corrupt Man, giraffes, and Kayan Lahwi women. While waiting for a takeaway pizza we also had a conversation about gravity, quantum physics, the names of quantum particles, dark matter, the LHC, the Higgs boson, evolution, lava, the Big Bang, and myths where giants rise from the ground. I love our chats so much!

We've started off this week pretty quietly with lots of games and some crazy dancing at a home ed group, followed by a visit to the children's grandparents' house where Sprout played a make believe game with his grandpa with a Simpsons chess set, some Lego, and some very old Mask toys (there were battles, force fields, crystals, blood, levels, unlockables, XP... it was all very intricate!), and we briefly chatted about animals such as lobsters, squid, raptors and some amphibians that have blood that isn't red.

Looks like a rainy week to come, and the boys are definitely feeling kind of like hibernating, so I think it's going to be a really quiet one :)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Learning to read without being taught?? What does that even look like?

So, as I've mentioned a couple of times, something has recently clicked for Sprout when it comes to reading. He's not quite yet a fluent reader, but from the perspective of someone outside the family he's made a jump from 'not reading' to 'reading'.

Sometimes I forget, surrounded by supportive people and other unschoolers as we are, that so many people just don't understand the concept of a child learning to read without being taught. I shouldn't forget, really, as even with all my confidence in my children learning best in their own ways at their own paces, 'reading' was the little gremlin that would most often pop it's troublesome little head up in the back of my mind and say, "But what if they don't learn??" And it's no surprise really, living as we do in a society where we're lead to believe from a very young age that reading is a Hard Thing To Do, and must be Focussed On, and Millions of Pounds Must Be Dedicated To Literacy, and We Must Start Reading Preparation Early...

So I thought I'd share a bit about Sprout's journey to reading, what it looked like, and what it didn't.

Kind of in order, but with a lot of the things ongoing and/or repeated, for a long time...
•It's looked like playing lots of video games (too numerous to catalogue, but special mentions to Minecraft and all it's modded incarnations, Portal 2, Lego Universe (may it rest in peace!), the lego website, Left 4 Dead 2, and Scribblenauts).
•It's looked like writing his name.
•It's looked, very briefly, like playing Reading Eggs. 
•It's looked like watching lots (and lots) of YouTube videos on the toys and games that interest him, and people that make him laugh (raucously, unabashedly, ear splittingly, wonderfully).
•It's looked like asking me what things say.
•It's looked like recognising logos.
•It's looked like recognising favourite YouTube channel names.
•It's looked like asking me to type things, and me doing it.
•It's looked like asking me to spell things, and me doing it.
•It's looked like building huge words out of blocks on Minecraft. 
•It's looked like asking me to copy and paste words and send them to him.
•It's looked like recognising words out of context.
•It's looked like mis-recognising words out of context, and having no qualms about asking me what they actually say.
•It's looked like typing signs on Minecraft with my help.

Then more recently...
•It's looked like typing messages to me.
•It's looked like reading 'That's Not My Puppy' to Moppet as a bedtime story.
•It's looked like picking up a book of nursery rhymes and reading it to us
•It's looked like reading plaques at a museum.
•It's looked like designing and writing a birthday card for a friend, and then dictating part for me to write.
•It's looked like choosing a book in the library and sitting down to read it, then choosing some more to take home. 
•But mostly, it's looked like playing video games, and watching YouTube videos :)

What it hasn't looked like.
•Until very recently, it hasn't looked like books. Not even a tiny bit. And even now, just a tiny bit.
•There's been no teaching. And I'm not being word weasely: we really have not, at any point, tried to teach him to read, or to get him to read. None of the things above were coerced; "Building huge words out of blocks on Minecraft" isn't another way of saying, "We asked him to practice his literacy on Minecraft and he built huge words out of blocks", it's just an idea he had while he was playing, and he did it.
•It hasn't looked like sounding out words.
•It hasn't looked like, "Well what do you think it says?"
•It hasn't looked stressful. 
•It hasn't been on someone else's timetable. Because of how we live our lives and learn here, there's been no rush to try and make him to read so that a teacher can hand out work. The motivation has been entirely intrinsic. 
•It's not looked like 'a thing', a separate-from-life, learning-to-read entity. It's been pretty hard to write the list above really, as almost everything that's happened in his journey to reading has been completely invisible to me, in his head, woven through his life tapestry imperceptibly. All I can pick out are the flashes of visible thread, the moments when I'm privileged to be shown a glimpse of a result or a part of the process.
•Most of all, it hasn't looked like anyone else's journey to reading. Every connection he's made at each very specific-to-him time, in each specific-to-him way, has been unique. 

I'm excited about and proud of so many things he does, but I think this stands out for me so much because its something that people are just incredulous of. Children can't just learn to read without being taught! The thought!

Well they can. And he has. And I'm so lucky to have been a spectator (and fulfiller of game and video requests).

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Chocolate Truffle White Blood Cells DIY

Sprout is really interested in human and animal bodies at the moment, and, this past couple of weeks, blood in particular. He found out about blood cells a while ago, and is now interested in the different sorts of white blood cells and what they look like and do. He learns primarily kinaesthetically and visually, and search as I might I couldn't find the detail he wanted in an appropriate form or activity idea for his age or level of understanding. So I decided on blood cell chocolate truffles :)

What you'll need:
Large bar of dark chocolate
Tub of soft cheese
Large bar of whatever chocolate you want to coat them in
Sprinkles - red, blue, pink
Chocolate vermicelli
Other vermicelli 
Writing icing in various colours

First, we made chocolate truffles by melting one large bar of dark chocolate (cheapy supermarket stuff was fine), and stirring in a tub of soft cheese (Asda smart price). We rolled it into five slightly different sizes of balls. I then tried to melt some white chocolate to coat them in, but went wrong somewhere along the way, and tried again with milk chocolate which worked much better, and the colour didn't really matter (the cells aren't really white after all!)
As we rolled the truffles in the melted chocolate, we rolled the smallest ones (basophils) in blue sprinkles, the next ones up (neutrophils) in pink sprinkles (or in this case yellow and pink, enthusiastic as I am I wasn't going to spend half an hour picking the yellow ones out!), and some of the middling ones (eosinophils) in red sprinkles (which I didn't have so I popped some on with red writing icing). We left some of the middle sized ones (lymphocytes) and the largest ones (monocytes) with no sprinkles, and I briefly explained the difference between granulocytes and agranulocytes. 
We then added nuclei using white writing icing: lobed for the basophils, more lobes for the neutrophils, lobes again for the eosinophils, round-ish ones on most of the lymphocytes, a long one on some of the lymphocytes to be young band lymphocytes (and talked about band granulocytes and what their appearance means), and on the monocytes the characteristic large kidney-shaped nucleus. 

Then we played! We used two different colours of writing icing to be heparin and histamine coming out of the basophil, and talked about how they acted to bring helpful stuff to the area. 
We used chocolate vermicelli to be bacteria entering a wound, and the neutrophil bacterial slayer (he thought that was a very cool term!) phagocytised them. 
A parasitic worm (piece of cooked spaghetti) invaded, and, using a different colour writing icing as the eosinophil's toxin, it was conquered. 
We divided the lymphocytes into B, T and Natural Killer cells (which he thought was even better than bacterial slayer!). The T cells went round helping the other cells, the B cells produced (light vermicelli) antibodies to bind with more (chocolate vermicelli) bacterial invaders. We used black writing icing to be the Natural Killer cells' defence when it recognises non-self. 
The monocyte dramatically squished.. erm, phagocytised, the neutrophil once it had died.

We had loads of truffles left over, so Sprout and Squidge both designed some cells. Squidge's were all muscle cells from various parts of the body, and he told me what they moved (his favourite were the toe muscles)...

...while Sprout's were hair follicle cells, brain cells, blood cells, muscle cells and heart cells. He drew a classification tale underneath of various body parts, and then explained to me which cells would be found in which parts of the body, it was brilliant! He then surrounded the blood cells with plasma (yellow writing icing). 

We've got another blood activity planned for later on, but for now I'm off to have a coffee and a couple of neutrophils :)