Monday, 22 January 2018

Success for me is ABC - Ability, Believe in yourself and Creativity

If there is one thing that I always try and install into the boys, its that effort is everything. I like to think that I do a great job of letting my family and close friends know exactly how much they mean to me and this has always been something I have taught the boys, especially when it comes to Mrs M. Back at the end of November I asked the boys to think of a thoughtful gift that they could create for Mrs M, I didn't specify what but said if they wanted any advice or help all they had to do was ask.

A few days later Opeie came to me with his idea. He has always loved the book I made for Mrs M when I asked her to marry me and he reads it a lot. I think it is because it is about how we met and with each page an insight into how we got to that magical moment in Orlando. His idea was to create his own book all about his beautiful mom which I was super excited about (part of me was worrying about the amount of time we had to complete though).

The thoughtfulness of this gift really touched me as he knew it was going to take a lot of time and effort but he wanted to show Mrs M just how much he appreciates being home-schooled. This was another huge bonus for me as from an educational view it was the perfect way to wind down our year of home-ed, combining literacy and huge amounts of creativity. 

We got to work quickly. Opeie wanted to make a 'Mommy ABC' in the style of one of his favourite Dr. Seuss books. An A-Z of everything to do with Mrs M with rhyming couplets on every page. Firstly he wrote all the words down that made him think of her, for the letters he struggled with we looked online for lists of words for that letter and combed them looking for relevant words. Trying to combine the words in rhyme was going to be tricky but luckily the first page was a breeze and it was all the motivation Opeie needed "Big A, little a, what begins with A? Auntie Lottie's Autumn Aeroplane A A A". As soon as the words were down that creative flair kicked in and he was drawing an aeroplane with a beautiful autumn print.

This was pretty much how the following few days of daddy school went, we would sit down and try and work out a rhyme for the page and then Opeie would grab his crayons and start creating. Then a couple of days before we had reached December I received an email from the company that I was going to use to create the book with a discount code for 40% off, perfect I thought, until I saw that the off was only valid for 8 days!!! Feeling a little deflated I mentioned it to Opeie in passing and he said "we can finish it by then dad", I loved his enthusiasm but I genuinely thought it would be pushing it for a 6-year-old. This is when I realised that when it comes to an amazing mom that you want to make smile at Christmas, anything is possible.

As soon as breakfast was out of the way on the mornings, Opeie pushed himself to complete his 26 drawings that he knew he needed to create, along with the 26 pages of writing to cover each of the letters of the alphabet. This had gone from an amazing creative and literacy based activity to an awesome lesson in working to a deadline and time management, not something that I would have ever purposely added into our homeschooling schedule but it all happened so organically.

One afternoon Opeie had written 9 pages for the book and drawn some of the pictures an he said his hand was really hurting. I had been telling him for about an hour to stop and we would do something else but he was so focused on getting the book finished, it was adorable to watch. With all the pages written and all the drawing complete Opeie started looking for backgrounds to mount all of his drawings on around the house to make his creations more colourful. He then used his pictures to create a cover and we sat together uploading it all online, he was so excited when he saw it all coming together.

On the day it arrived the excitement was too much for him, we still had 2 weeks until Christmas and he was desperate to give it to Mrs M. I couldn't get enough of that look of pride on his face when he took it out of the box. I saw that same look again as he handed it to his special lady on Christmas day.

It's lovely to buy nice gifts at Christmas but for me (and hopefully the boys now too) its all about the effort that we go to for the people we care about the most.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

"Human life is beyond comprehension."

If there is one thing that I have learnt from the first few years of home education, it's that child lead learning really does work. Being able to design your own timetable around the things that they are interested in is not only effective in their development but the things that they are learning really stick. When I was at school I hated reading and writing comprehension at school. The information I was given was generally dull which meant that I answered the questions based solely on what I had read. I know that's the whole point, but being able to make the reading part an interesting piece full of facts that are of a genuine interest makes all the difference.

As we sat at home today shying away from the cold weather for a change, I printed out a sheet about beetles (Opeie's current interest aside from Teen Titans and being chained up only to escape like harry Houdini). I then set out some questions for him to answer in full sentences and left him to it while I made lunch and cleaned the house. Opeie shouted through the house telling me that his activity was fun (a sentence you would have never heard me using when taking about written comprehension).

It was a great activity for putting in to practice all the writing skills that he has learnt over the last couple of years while also giving him fun facts about one of the things that he enjoys learning about most. A win/win for home education. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

"For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward."

Its been a fun build up to Christmas this year mainly because we have decided not to go mad, buying things for the sake of it. When writing their letters to Santa this year, like every other year, we told the boys to just write 3 things that they wanted. You would think that this would be easy for any 6 and 11-year-old, the only difficult part being narrowing the list down to 3. For Seth and Opeie though it was a bit of a struggle. 

For a long time now I have been the sort of person that gets to Christmas and genuinely doesn't want anything. I am so content with how my life is that there is nothing that could make me any happier. All I ever want is a happy Mrs M and the boys. This has unexpectedly rubbed off on the boys, Seth especially. Opeie had one thing on his Christmas list that he really wanted and Seth simply said "I feel like i have everything that I need" which I thought was a very grown up and humble thing to say.

I like to think of Christmas as a time for making effort rather than it revolving around heavy spending. I like to try and do something special for the boys around the festive period that doesn't cost anything and this year I decided that I was going to make them both an advent calender. I had made them an advent in the past with the help of Mrs M, this year though I wanted to build them something using those lovable bricks.

At first I was kicking myself that I hadn't kept the LEGO advent calender we had bought last year as they would be great for reusing, all I would have had to do was design a cover for the box and I'd have been sorted. We ended up using the tray from our previous one as paint pots when crafting. Good old LEGO and their recyclable packaging. This years LEGO calender became my advent and mind started ticking away with ideas for the boys, I knew exactly what I was going to do.

Opeie has become a HUGE Ninjago fan since the LEGO Ninjago movie was released so it was a no brainer that his advent was going to be Ninjago themed. I decided to build his advent in the style of a Japanese temple with 25 doors to open. For each day a Ninjago character for his collection. Any LEGO enthusiast reading this with probably think 'that would cost a small fortune' but being a member of so many Facebook LEGO trade pages I managed to trade all of the figures for other LEGO items that we have. The advent didn't actually take that long to build and the look on his face on the 1st was amazing. Now on day 18 I get an excited little boy waking me up to tell me who he has got, its awesome.

I struggled at first for Seth's advent as he's not into any themes that come with minifigures. For Seth LEGO has become all about Technics. He loves playing with cogs and motors and working out how to make machines witch from an educational point of view is amazing. I decided to cruise the Facebook pages again and contact friends online looking for interesting Technics elements that he doesn't have in his collection. The problem I had though, was that I didn't know what style to build the advent (and I'm definitely out of my building comfort zone with Technics). That being said though I sat one evening and worked out how to make a remote control box which worked great but it looked boring so instead I decided to build a snowman with motor and receiver on the back so that Seth could open his torso every morning via remote and get to his LEGO Technic surprise.

Its been such a lovely feeling every morning watching them get excited about whats coming next and for me this is what Christmas is all about. A little effort goes a long way.

Monday, 11 December 2017

"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."

When I was woken at 6am on Friday morning by two very excited boys shouting "there's snow!!!", I pulled the duvet back over my head and thought 'all this for a light sprinkling' I need my sleep. 5 whole minutes of excitement passed before I was literally dragged from bed to join in with the prancing about. As I walked over to the window rubbing my eyes I wasn't expecting the magic that was going on outside. Despite my lack of motivation for getting out of bed that morning, I should probably point out that...

I can probably go as far as saying that when it gets to this time of year I crave it. If you don't mind the cold (Mrs M hates it) then snow can be the best fun. Ive never seen the boys get dressed so quick, we were outside just after 7am throwing snowballs (quietly of course). Gridlock traffic 5 minutes up the road on the school run soon changed to me u-turning my way back home so that we could have some serious fun. 9am and we already had a snowman built and that just kick started what has been an amazing 4 days so far. after the snowman was built we started building a snow base because lets be honest, a huge snowball fight was inevitable.

 It wouldn't have been fair, the kids having a base and not me, so we used a really useful box to make lots of snow bricks and built three walls for me to hide behind, it was the perfect way to protect myself from heavy fire.

Although Mrs M stayed in the cold for a lot of the time she popped out regularly with hot drinks and snacks for her three favourite snow brawlers and while I was out entertaining the kids in the street she baked and cooked our meals, it was a win win as far I'm concerned.

 With no sign of the snow leaving anytime soon and with Seth's school closed, today's snow fun was a morning of snowball fights, followed by sledging down the hills of a local farmers field, snow bliss.

To make things even more exciting, when we finally came in this evening Mrs M let us know that the school will be closed again tomorrow. So we can continue the snow fun for another day.

...and we finally got Mrs M out in the snow too! We'll make a snow bunny of her yet.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

"Dad! don't you think it would be cool if batman had an AT-AT? He could call it the BAT-AT!"

"Dad! don't you think it would be cool if batman had an AT-AT? He could call it the BAT-AT!" was pretty much all the motivation I needed for a couple of nights building while the boys were in bed. I don't like Star Wars at all... but I do like Batman and if I can have some fun giving those boring Star Wars kits a DC twist to put a smile on the boys faces I'm all over it.

Turns out that having a quick flick through the instructions, I had pretty much every part in our LEGO collection, it was just a case of rummaging and finding every single piece (in black of course).

In great Opeie style, Not being completely satisfied that I made his crazy BAT-AT comment a reality, his usual critical self explained that it was far too black and needed a little something extra. I was informed that there needed to be a disco in the back with Batman DJing (that kid always needs a bit of glam). So being the LEGO lovin' Dad that I am, always aiming to please, I added a disco in the back and a mixing desk into to the front (My dad points have gone through the roof).

I'm not sure that Snuffy likes his new friend though!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

"Yeah, thats a song for another time"

Music is such an important part of human development, I can't image what life would be like without the music I adore. It has been such an important part of my life since as far back as I can remember. Going to gigs and watching the musicians I loved was how I spent a lot of my evenings gas a teenager and I've been lucky enough to see some amazing bands over the years. With Opeie being so into music too, it was only a matter of time before we moved from listening to music at home and in the car, to being in the stalls seeing the amazing bands live.

Last night marked that awesome milestone of Opeie's first gig and WOW! what a great gig. Thanks to the wonders of Spotify Mrs M had noticed that one of Opeie's favourite country bands were playing 4 dates in the UK so we quickly booked tickets. It seemed like such a long wait but well worth it. 

As Old Dominion took to the stage last night Opeie's little face beamed, this was clearly where he needed to be more often. He was in his element, dancing and singing along to all the words. He must have been the youngest person there (we did have to lie and say he was 8 after all! shhhhh.....). What was truly amazing to see was that he had a lot of Mrs M in him, lost in the music and going for it like no one was watching... and people were watching. I could see groups of people looking at Opeie singing along to every song, telling their friends and smiling. I was so proud of him.

All the excitement was clearly exhausting and when the headliner, Thomas Rhett came on (another of Opeie's favourites), he was clearly shattered so we didn't stay till the end. He did manage to muster up some energy for a little dance off with Mrs M at the end though which really made her night too. The excitement in his voice as we walked back to the car was awesome to listen to. I knew being a dad was going to be amazing but this little guy blows my mind, I'm so smitten!

Of course, Old Dominion had to be Immortalised in LEGO too!

“It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort”

I often day dream about selling everything we own and just adventuring for the rest of our lives. It's always been one of those life choices that I think would really suit me and I know Mrs M feels the same. I've found myself becoming less and less attached to my possessions as the years go by and I just want to be out there visiting new places and exchanging all that stuff for experiences. It is this way of thinking that has been the driving force for the last 2 years of home schooling, learning outdoors is so much more fun and learning though a series of experiences is what life is all about. 

Camping has always been one of Opeie's and my favourite homeschooling things to do as it means we can travel to various places we've not been before, research the area before hand and then spend time adventuring for a couple of days. After a camping trip a few weeks back though it was clear that, due to the cold wet weather it was time to hang up our guide rope hooks for the season until next year, sad times.

Mrs M had been saying for quite sometime that we should book hotels in random places so that we can continue the fun, but being in a hotel really doesn't have the same appeal to a couple of hardcore adventurers like us. Last week though Mrs M sent me a link to a hobbit house on Airbnb which really peaked my attention. A small, simple little hut, built into a hill in Brecon, absolutely perfect for us. Mrs M booked us a night there as she was working abroad and a couple of days back we packed a few things and hit the road.

I didn't tell Opeie anything about where we were going and as we climbed the stairs up the hill to where the Hobbit hole was located he said 'I don't think its up here dad'. As we got to the top and he saw where we were staying for the night, his eyes lit up. With a fold out Sofa bed, small fridge and wood burner/oven, we had everything we needed for a night of adventure. The weather was awful, so our plans for spending a late afternoon stomping through the hills went right out the window so we got out our sketchbooks for a spot of drawing. I had my reservations about whether we were going to last the night there, as it was so cold, but once the doors were closed, curtains were pulled and wood burner was lit the hobbit house became very cosy. 

Our evening was spent playing games and watching movies, tucked up with the fire burning, it was a really lovely way to spend an evening. The Hobbit hole was so toasty in the night that Opeie woke up and said it was too hot. Waking up with no fire burning though was definitely a shock to the system and we quickly got up and got dressed. The cold crisp air was beautiful though and the frost across the hillside really added to the adventure. Opeie wrapped himself in a blanket and we sat with the doors open and watched the sun come up, it was a magical end to a fun evening in the hobbit house.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

"Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed."

I couldn't be more proud of how the boys are growing up. There's not a week that goes by where they don't blow me away in some way. Seth especially over the last few weeks has made me so proud. When I was given the chance a while back to review a pBone I had no idea what it was, so I googled it and when I first saw it, I was desperate to give it a go. The first professional plastic Trombone and it came in a variety of colours... I'm quite sure that I'm not the only person that got excited about that. As much as I hoped they would, I never for one moment thought that either of the boys would take a serious interest in it, but there was a slight chance and I really couldn't pass that up.

When the awesome purple pBone arrived, the following nights fell in to a routine of Seth dropping his school bag and going straight into the lounge to watch Youtube videos and try to learn as many notes as he could. It was lovely to see him trying something new and feeling motivated to learn more. Weeks passed and things then started to slow down and the pBone started to come out less and less. It was a little disheartening and I attempted to get things going again but I was never going to push it, so I just let things be.

Then one afternoon we received an email from pBone inviting us to one of their events at the Birmingham Symphony hall, followed by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing songs from the movies, which even to this day has been one of the most amazing nights that we have had together as a family. We were able to try out the pBuzz at the event as it had just been released and we were also given a trombone lesson which was a lot of fun. The show itself though was truly magical and as we left the Symphony hall, Seth, very excitedly, asked if he could have trombone lessons.

It was music to my ears (haha) and Mrs M had soon arranged for Seth to start having lessons at school which he instantly loved and his trombone teacher loved his pBone so much that she went and brought one for herself! (the magic of the pBone). When a musical show at school was planned and children were asked if they would like to be a part of it, Seth jumped at the chance. I feel so ashamed to say this but at the time I thought to myself 'I'm not sure what he was going to do in the show as he doesn't know how to play anything, just notes', (how wrong was I!). Seth decided on a song that he wanted to play (based I think on the Mighty Ducks hockey movie that he loves) and each night he would disappear to his room (or sometimes the garden) and the quiet in the house was replaced by his loud tooting.

Even then I thought to myself 'I can't tell what that is?' and I worried that maybe he had bitten off more that he could chew by signing up for the show (I know what a terrible dad!). The show came around (which fell on my birthday) and as we sat in the audience I was feeling so anxious. Seth looked very serious and it was clear that he was nervous. when it was his turn to take the stage I began to brace myself unsure of what would happen next. Seth calmly stood up, placed his music on the stand and erupted into 'we will rock you'. There was silence in the room as he started but this soon turned into all the parents clapping and stamping their feet along to the beat. I was in complete awe of this amazing child on stage that had the confidence to get up and play in front of everyone, it made my birthday.

The lessons have continued and Seth now states that 'he has a passion for music' which I love to hear. Which brings us to the last few weeks that have made me so proud as a dad. Seth has been looking around secondary schools to start in September, one of the schools that he has been very interested in going to is out of our catchment area but they offer the chance of earning limited placements for various skills and passions. With 18 music places available, Seth was invited to an interview at the school and was asked to complete a musical aptitude test. On the evening before the test we were chatting and he told me that he wasn't expecting to get a place as he didn't feel like he was good enough and was yet to take his first grading, Seth being Seth though still went into that test confident that he would give it his all. One week later and he has received a place at the school, which we are all so excite about. Clearly his passion for playing really came through and he should never have doubted himself for a second.

It's crazy to think that something as insignificant as an email asking us to review an instrument could have had such an amazing impact on all of our lives and I am forever grateful for pBone and the magic they have brought to our family. It is going to be so exciting for us all to watch Seth's next steps as he continues following his passion for music.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

"The fruit of your own hard work is the sweetest."

Getting through work projects with Opeie can be so rewarding. He gets a real sense of achievement from his work and for me its another gold star on the decision to Home educate. It doesn't go smoothly all of the time though and it can be a struggle sometimes to keep him motivated to write, I remember feeling exactly the same way as him when I was at school. So we come up with all manner of creative ways to write, designing magazines, keeping diaries and more recently writing to pen pals. Sometimes though all you need for that surge of motivation is some fun stationary.

Mrs M is big on pens, glue sticks, fancy pencils and diaries, Seth has followed suit with his 'special pen' for school and it was only a matter of time before Opeie found something fun to write and draw with that filled him with inspiration. Thanks to ScentCo, Opeie's latest pen pal letter will not only be full of things that he's been up to, questions about his friend and a fun fact he's learned at the end... it will also smell like a sweet shop when the envelope is opened.

I remember erasers having a scent when I was younger but these awesome pens and pencils have taken the magic of sweet smelling stationary one step further. Opeie has been having a blast with his Smencils, writing and creating and the room has been filled with a sweet smell (my favourite is definitely the cola). With 'Sniff it's' (scented paper clips), a lollipop sketch and sniff notepad and a watermelon pencil case there is no end to the scented fun we can have while Opeie is being educated.

All that's left now is to let Opeie's pen pal Daisy enjoy the magic of the scented letter at her end. 

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