Saturday, 26 July 2014


On Sunday, we took Charlie to Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury group.

We had to wait 40 minutes before it was our turn to enter the house, but we made good use of the time by exploring the colourful garden. Designed by Roger Fry, it was created by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who also decorated the interior of the house.

In addition to the colourful flowers, it featured all kinds of sculptures.

Vanessa Bell once wrote that the garden was: 'simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples'. 

a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples. - See more at:
a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples. - See more at:

Charlie was especially taken with the enormous pond, which was filled with hundreds of fish.

As we entered the house, Charlie was handed a children's quiz by an enthusiastic guide. He didn't want it, so I took it instead and filled it in as we wandered from room to room, wih Charlie helping me out occasionally. He much preferred browsing in each room at his leisure. He told me afterwards that he had enjoyed looking at all the paintings and decorated furniture.

During the last week, we have temporarily turned into autonomous home educators, thanks to my immersion in finding a suitable school placement for Tom. There was no way I could educate Charlie daily whilst also working on the wording for the statement and researching and visiting possible schools. However, Charlie has remained busy. He has continued to work on ConquerMaths most days, enjoying earning his certificates as he makes progress. He has also been writing and illustrating a children's book.

First page from Charlie's book

He had an art lesson from a friendly neighbour, who is an artist by profession, and was very encouraging about Charlie's art. He has promised to come back again, bringing his own art materials next time.

Charlie is still reading the 'Harry Potter' series and is now on the fifth volume, 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'.

There have been daily visits to local parks and playgrounds, with Charlie trying to outdo his personal best time at scooting. 

There have been surprise science lessons. We found this striking creature whilst we were walking to the playground one day...

A little online research showed us that it was the caterpillar of the sycamore moth, which feeds on horse chestnut, sycamore and field maple. Sadly, the dull brown moth does not live up to the spectacular promise of its juvenile self.

We have continued to have at least one evening a week when Charlie cooks for the family. This week he made salmon nuggets with sweet potato chips and mixed vegetables. 

Charlie has enjoyed having friends round to play several times this week. With his school friends on their summer holidays, he can look forward to seeing more of them.

Co-operative play

Working it out together

With the fabulous, Mediterranean weather, there have been lots of opportunities to get outside.

A comma butterfly

We are not going to attempt to get away again this summer, as it is too difficult for Tom, but Charlie has lots of fun stuff ahead of him: swimming in the local pools; free art classes at local art galleries; meet ups with friends; visits to nearby beaches; days out to museums; gardening; and, of course, lots and lots of free time for reading and art.

And, when the summer is over, there is the promise of autumn, with blackberries ripe for picking, Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night and Autumn birthdays. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014


Learning about gardening
Whilst Granny is staying with us, we have been tackling our poor, neglected garden. She is a keen gardener and was enthusiastic about helping us. So, we had a trip to the local garden centre to stock up on new plants, then the work began.

Charlie was Granny's assistant. He has already shown an interest in gardening, keeping pot plants in his room and enjoying growing his own carrots. He is much better than me at remembering to water them. He is convinced plants have feelings and gets very upset when we walk on daisies, believing that it hurts them. This has been an opportunity to teach him about the physiology of plants, but his opinion that they have emotions remains unchanged.

With Granny's help, he learnt how to transplant the flowers from their pots into the soil, adding compost where needed and watering them. He planted geraniums, nemesia and lithodora amongst others.

I have appointed him Head Gardener and entrusted him with the responsibility of watering the plants every day.

Apparently, gardening is soon to be introduced onto the National Curriculum , a move that the Royal Horticultural Society has been proposing for some time. It will be taught as part of the Design and Technology curriculum, although it is cross-curricula in its breadth of teaching: all sorts of subjects can be taught through gardening.

But Charlie doesn't care about any of that. He just enjoys making things beautiful again, nurturing his plants and spending time with his Granny.

Monday, 14 July 2014

PIrates ahoy!

We returned earlier than planned from our trip to the seaside, but we still managed a week there. Most of the time we had sunshine and I was able to take Charlie down to the beach daily. He spent a lot of his time building a 'pier' across a large rockpool which, miraculously, survived the tides, so that he was able to improve on it each day. 

Charlie's pier (those shoes didn't survive the holiday)
We stuck to our daily routine of a little Maths, English and handwriting daily. Charlie struggled with an exercise about giving change on the ConquerMaths website, so we practised using real money and then he had a go at this BBC game.  

During the week, Charlie enjoyed doing some cooking with me, helping Granny with crosswords, meeting up with family and friends, and enjoying the benefits of a large and beautiful garden and a beach nearby. He is hooked on the 'Harry Potter' books now and was on the fourth volume by the end of the holiday.

He also spent a lot of time on creative pursuits. We did another project from the Usborne 'Art Treasury', this time based on Picasso's collages. 

Charlie did some sewing, fashioning a cushion in the shape of a fish.

And he had time to have a go at pottery, using Das modelling clay, which dries to a hard finish when it's left out in the air.

Of course, the beach turned out to provide an education all of its own. Charlie loved building castles and finding out which sand would build the strongest castles. 

He noticed how the sand was swept clean daily by the tides coming in and out. Treasures could be found buried in the sand: pieces of opaque sea glass, polished by the waves; driftwood; seaweed; stones and sea shells. And, of course, there were the sea creatures: tiny fish darting around the rock pools and crabs hurriedly burying themselves in the sand.

This one paused and posed for me as I took a photo
A crab's claw - a source of morbid fascination
We saw lots of evidence of lugworms. Once, when Charlie was digging, he found the real thing.

We also enjoyed using a beach hut for one day (lent to us by a friend) and Charlie was very good at clearing up before we locked up.

Education aside, the beach was simply fun.

But what about the pirates? (This post is labelled 'Pirates Ahoy!' after all). This idea for a theme struck me because the chapter we were reading in the Galore Park 'Junior English' textbook every day had a theme of pirates, which seemed a fitting theme for our week by the seaside also. I had ordered some books on pirates in preparation, but they didn't come in time, which was frustrating. However, we have continued the theme back home this week, where the books were waiting, so it doesn't matter too much.

Whilst we were away, Charlie made his own pirate treasure map by first wiping the paper with a wet teabag, allowing it to dry and then drawing the outline of an island. He added a key to stand for different things on the island and added the image of a compass. Then he coloured it in.

Inspired by the idea of buried treasure, he made another treasure map and put together a bagful of treasure for me to find on the beach.

I did have a nasty few minutes when I realised that he couldn't remember clearly whereabouts in the sand he'd buried it, but, fortunately, we found it. It contained ribbon and scraps of paper decorated with Spanish words from Granny's Spanish phrase book.

It was sad to leave, but we came home with lots of ideas about what to study next, such as crustaceans. We have lots of beaches near us where we can do more practical research.

Today, we started in earnest on our pirate topic. We watched two videos produced by National Geographic, both about Barry Clifford, an underwater explorer who discovered the only verified pirate shipwreck ever found in US waters. The first, ''Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah'  is a short introduction to the story of the pirate shipwreck. The second, 'Barry Clifford: Pirate Treasure Found', is a half-hour talk by Clifford about how he came to find the wreck and includes photographs of the treasure. This was a bit long for Charlie and we sped forward to the end to see the pictures.

Charlie's handwriting practice today involved writing about pirates. He also did a pirate word search.

The books arrived, so he is now reading one of the 'Horrible Histories' series on pirates...

  ... as well as having an abridged version of the classic, 'Treasure Island' to read later.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A holiday by the seaside

An advantage of not being at school is that we can travel anytime. This week we are staying with my mum, who lives by the seaside. We arrived yesterday, in glorious sunshine, and went straight down to the beach.

Since we arrived, Charlie has been enjoying the following:

Cuddles with Granny

Strolling in the rain

Puzzling over the crossword with Granny

Building sandcastles with Mum

Watching the tide come in and fill the moat round the sandcastles

There is another kind of education that Charlie is experiencing as he grows up: learning to understand his brother's differences. I used to protect Charlie as much as possible from our concerns about Tom but, since Tom's recent diagnosis of Aspergers/HFA, I have been more open with him about why Tom has difficulties. This trip has been a trigger for Tom, as he finds change incredibly difficult to deal with. So, although the photos above may make the holiday look idyllic, they don't tell the whole story. Behind the scenes, we have been dealing with an older sibling who is overwhelmed with anxiety and anger at our change of location.

After a particularly difficult scene with Tom, Charlie came up and put his arms round me. "It'll be ok, Mum, " he said. When I began to explain that Tom was panicking because change was so upsetting to him, Charlie said simply, "I know. He's my brother."

Big brother, little brother: 2007