Thursday, July 30, 2009

British Curriculum

If you like me are in Italy, had no intention of home educating when you left the UK and no access to the local networks "back home" then searching out curriculum is just one more thing you have to add to your "things on the to-do list that is squashing me and making me too tired to clean the house".

so here is one I made earlier...possibly not definitive, will update as I discover more.

curriculum with tutor component.

curriculum with tutor component.+ "how to teach" for parents

curriculum (this is the one I use, v. happy with it see review)

curriculum, been told it is very similar in quality to Educan

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Controversially Challenged

On a list stating who home education is right for I noticed a paragraph that said I was wrong for it.

Cos I am a "conformist".

Well I am not in the usual interpretation of the word, but when you read lots and lots and lots of homeschooling forums and blogs you pretty quickly work out what linguistic tendencies are broadly adopted. "Conformist" is used again and again in contexts where "conventional" is what is actually being described.

It's fairly standard in communities that feel embattled or misrepresented, individual terms get over-egged to match the rest of the souped up lexis.

Which would also explain why my eyes have been so regularly assailed by profile tags, blog badges and usernames proclaiming

"XXX homeschooler !!!!!"

The XXX standing for a range of the most floridly extreme adjectives.

If I were to take those self -descriptions as accurate and a good representation of the norm then I'd almost be scared to meet a real live homeschooler in the flesh.

I'd be expecting the love child of Lara Croft, all of the Greenham Common women and Joan of Arc.

Probably armed with a hot glue gun and singing "onward Christian/unschooling/pagan/classical/healing crystal soldiers" (delete as applicable) in a rather menacing soprano.

Set against that image, yes I am a "conformist" in comparison. I'm as radical as a wet weekend in Wolverhampton. My idea of a vigorous protest against social constraints on my freedom of expression is to not warm the pot before I make the tea.

I am the only home educator in Lomellina and probably the only one in the entire region (that's about 1/2 a million people).

But the act of home educating doesn't define me as a non-conformist. Quite the opposite. It makes me as conventional as they come. An English woman tightly gripped with the national obsession of getting the best possible education they can for their kid.

House price bubbles in the catchment area of a particularly well performing school.
How to hedge your bets when making your choices.
Tips and tricks for getting a place in your top pick,
Which headmasters are currently cowering under their desk cos they rescinded the "automatic entry for siblings" rule.
Advice for dealing with depression and anguish if you child doesn't get into the school you wanted.
How not to transmit your stress over a getting place in a good school to your child.
10 reasons not to kill yourself if you only get offered your third choice.

That lot above is bread and butter for a quality British newspaper. We lap it up.

Since the options in the UK are not the ones I have here I just transferred the convention into my geographical reality and HomeEd was the single realistic choice.

I didn't "think outside of the box", I ordered one. Full of books.

I didn't "shake up the system" or "mix it up" or anything as exciting as that. I did my usual, conventional, boring "sucking it up" and "getting on with it" (thought I'll admit to a few domestic hissy fits and bouts of imaginary banging fist on desk) and it was a road that led me to the same destination as the trailblazers when dealing with officious bureaucrats and relatives suffering from a fit of the vapors.

I didn't stick two fingers up to the "herd mentality" at mainstream school, I merely upped the number of times a week the mini representatives of the "herd mentality" came over to play. Just like they have always done, but a bit more often.

If the Homeschooling community promotes an image where non-conformism and being "alternative" is seen as an essential quality my biggest concern is there will never be the popular critical mass in HE that is needed to remove its secondary status.

Maybe that's the point. How can you keep calling yourself a rebel if the act that defines your rebellion has become as conventional and controversial as putting a child into mainstream education ?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Undiluted Irony

I have a sign on my gate, been there a couple of weeks. A rough translation says-
“The Magic Water is not at this house, for all information please go to the Sanctuary”

No, I don't live near Harry Potter.

I live in a very old farmhouse, all my (few) neighbours and I have wells that most of us use for the garden, you really wouldn't want to drink it. We all get the water from the same underground source.

A few years ago a rumour started that the very same water drawn from a shack down the track was magically healing, first somebody's corn miraculously got better, then shingles and now it makes the deaf hear, the blind see and by next Friday the dead will be rising and demanding a cappuccino.

The Catholic sanctuary down the road apparently came to bless said water and by some unknown circumstances the press came along too. (ETA - the blessing of the water turned out to be misinformation, but strangely enough Ivo doesn't seem to be overly bothered about correcting factual errors. The Madonnina a lady gave to Ivo for his hut was blessed, in the same way any house's Madonnina gets blessed. Heck even my house got blessed by this priest, doesn't mean my toilet flushes with holy magic water)

Hence the sign, I live in the middle of nowhere for a reason, that reason was not to be the traffic policewoman and information desk of the Lomellina equivalent of Piccadilly bleeding Circus.

Damned if I am going to send the potentially immune suppressed to drink untreated water either.

My radical chic “friend” saw my sign and went off on one.

She ranted and raved about stupid sheep
Blasted money grubbing priests who exploited the desperate and the worried well for cash.
Ignorance was mentioned, as was uneducated, gullible and superstitious.
Much attention was drawn to the fallibility of unsubstantiated anecdote.

This went on for half an hour.
I just couldn't resist.

Me - “How is little M's constant ear infection issue coming along ?”

Radical Chic
Without missing a beat

- “Ohh not so good right now, the herbalist in town says its probably a healing crisis cos that starts at the top of your body. Although it did get a lot better before that. Anyway, I'm taking him back to our homoeopath for his quarterly appointment in a few days so it should be sorted out soon. Although I might also try the Bach flower remedies our nutritionist was telling me about......”


As requested, a "no magic water here" sign all of your very own, in slightly imperfect Italian.

Cut, paste, print, hang with rat proof wire. Don't count on it working. Magic Water hunting increases the probability of sudden, temporary illiteracy or legal blindness. But of course it will all clear up at the first "glug".

L'acqua Magica

non è in questa casa.

Per qualsiasi tipo di informazioni
si prega di rivolgersi al
Santuario alle (name).

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Candle Lighting Atheist.

Religion features strongly in home education/homeschooling and many people prioritise identifying their faith in the most brief of profiles.

I can't fit my description in a 255 character limit. “Candle lighting atheist” makes most people go “huh ?”.

I'm an atheist. I didn't chose to be one on purpose to annoy anybody. It's just that I am about as spiritual as your average teapot.

I am also human. With need of something to cling to when it all goes horribly wrong.

When my first marriage (to a Thai, living in Bangkok) was in its final death throes I would pootle up to the family spirit house and leave tiny, jasmine wreaths.

Two years ago when my friend was dying of colon cancer I couldn't go past the local church without going in and lighting a candle, and then more candles, because I am one of those people who get stuck in the “if a little is good, then lots must be even better” mindset. Plus having a mass or seven said for her.

I needed something tangible to do, something more physical and “doing something” than sitting and worrying and hurting. I also needed my shot in the dark, to take a chance on a rank outsider in the face of insurmountable odds. To feel like I had done everything I possible could, so I hadn't let anybody down by not trying hard enough.

I get why people are religious. For all the spiteful or downright evil things that are done “in the name of...XXX”, having lived in two countries where the vast majority practised a single faith, in the minutiae of ordinary lives I have seen it comfort, support and soothe far more than it limited, belittled and hampered.

My bottom line is this, I won't reject somebody and all of their ideas and opinions, across the whole spectrum, out of hand, because they have a faith I can't share.

If somebody has an issue with faith to the point where they can't see me beyond my lack of religion then that is all I need to know. I won't exactly weep tears of despair over the rejection.

So, there you are, candle lighting atheist, not as contradictory as it might originally seem.
Well not to me anyway, but then it lives in my head so I am the only one guaranteed not to be sitting there muttering “oxy-flaming-moron-ish with knobs on”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hug a Homeschooler

I read about Homeschooling/Home educating for three whole years before I started myself. I have read reams on the positive outcomes and the improved achievements.

However I have discovered an upside I hadn't expected.

I have a nearly nine year old boy. This past year things have started to change. Not for the better in my, not so very humble and distinctly grumpy, opinion.

This is the child that spent the majority of his first year firmly attached to my nipple, 24/7. Think very large, pink leech.

This is the child who howled so loudly on one visit home that British shoppers were forced to flee their national hobby for the sake of their eardrums, all because I just couldn't carry him all the time any more by the time he was 5. Yes FIVE. He thought his legs were decoration and wanted to be in my arms.

This is the child who automatically held out his hand within seconds of getting out of the car, even when going to school.

But when he got to 8 he got all "Gerroff me, I'm big". It didn't happen overnight, sort of grew by degrees, a delay in offering a hand for holding, a tugging of it away when spotting a mate, a persistent shrugging of a shoulder with a loving maternal arm on it. And finished with a refrain of “GEROOFOVME” at even a sniff of an imminent cuddle.


Unless he was hurt, sick or tired I was well out of luck on the kiss/snuggle front.


OK I know what you are thinking, "bloody, suffocating, cotton-wooling mother".

And you may have a point, The Italian Mama syndrome has crept up on me and taken me over by osmosis, resistance is useless, it's worse than the body snatchers.

This is Nemesis you know, that first year, I kept saying "all I want is a whole hour with nobody TOUCHING ME". Usually to an amorous husband who was a bit miffed that his sex-bomb now regarded nooky as yet another thing she had to do in a day, on a par with extra laundry or bleaching the sink.

As they say, “careful what you wish for”.
The Italian Sock Dropper still makes constant, optimistic grabs for any part of my anatomy within reach as some kind of masculine reflex, which just goes to prove that pain doesn't actually work in behaviour modification. Either that or the nerve endings in the back of his hands have been desensitized over the years.
However Son of Thor went all "Hands To Yourself Please Mother" as a default position.

Then we started home schooling. Much of our work is done on the sofa, and slowly, slowly in the guise of getting a comfortable position where we can both see the book he has slipped right back where he used to be, willingly cuddled up in my arms for at least some of the time..

He still doesn't want to know in public, but at least with so much more relaxed time together at home and him no longer feeling such a strong need to stand on his dignity and prove his "big boyness" all day to a herd of his peers, we are getting back to a point where physical affection is not taboo.

Am dead chuffed.

My shameful secret....

I feel inadequate a lot of the time, so many of the parents educating their children are really, really creative.

And I am not.


This despite the fact that my mother was an arts and crafts teacher for some of my childhood and never missed an opportunity to do fun, sticky, messy, pretty stuff with us. Although I think the one with the wire coat hangers was a bit of a mistake.

"Look, look I'm Captain Hook....oops". ......."but I didn't MEAN to poke him in the eye".........

I was worried that Son of Thor would be getting the short end of the stick in that respect cos I can read all the instruction you like, but it is guaranteed that I will still bugger everything up and he'll walk away with a sorry, soggy mess to show for his efforts and it'll be all my fault.

So I was well pleased to see a tweet from Homeschool on Twitter about this site

Step by step instructions with nice clear pictures, of projects that have got me all excited rather than dejected in a puddle of inadequacy.

I am going to be up all night checking this out and getting excited. The bags under my eyes are groaning in anticipation of tomorrow morning as we speak.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Try not to drown.....

I was asked about the opportunities for full immersion for children who want to add Italian as an L2. Bearing in mind how many homeschoolers prefer a non-formal approach and considering the elevated cost of language school programmes I'd like to propose an alternative.

If you aren't Catholic and can't bear the idea of exposure to any religion other than your own, or are religion-adverse to the point of a getting a rash...this is not for you. You need to scroll down to the end for the religion-free alternative.

I'm an Atheist, but have no issues with exposure to religion, (within limits, am not sending him off to spend time with the Scientologists anytime soon) and the following option has proved to be well within my comfort zone.

GREST is an organization that sets up non-residential summer camps through the local churches. The camps usually last about 4 weeks and take place between June and July. Most of the local children around my town go to one. Last year we tried the one up the road, but the area set aside was concrete and the religious aspect was overdone. It cost about 200 Euros per month if I remember correctly.

This year we sent him to the GREST camp attached to the main church in town. FAB. They went swimming at the big, fancy, outdoor pool next door once a week. They went on high quality day trips once a week (additional cost of 13 Euros each) which were so attractive to children that I almost considered tranquilizing Son of Thor the night before the Brescia one, because over-excited bouncing and yakking tends to preclude sleep. And my ears hurt. Not to mention that is hard to indulge your internet addiction with somebody whiffling on about water slides in your ear and insisting you take them back to the site again so they can plan their "which slide do I wish to try and kill myself on first/second/third" itinerary.

The grounds were huge, grassed and sandy with shaded areas. There were team games, free play, creative activities, sports and a whole host of other stuff that guaranteed me a child so knackered he could barely stand up at the end of the day. He had an absolute whale of a time and will be returning next year. The praying was just once a day before lunch although I don't doubt the G word littered the aims and themes of individual activities and got mentioned often. However compared to last year this really was Jesus-lite. And it only cost 15 Euros a week.

So why am I telling you all this ?

Well these camps do not depend on you being resident in the area, you don't have to be going to the local school and I reckon most would welcome an English speaking child with open arms, your child would get the chance to experience full immersion in Italian whereas the camp counselors and the other kids would get to try out their English.

I'd recommend choosing one that isn't in a big city. Their premises tend to be smaller, more concreted and more indoors than out, with limited access to local facilities like pools etc. Go for a small town outside of a big city where the kids can enjoy the greater and greener spaces available to the centre, with a gentler atmosphere and improved access to entertainment/sports facilities. You can then hop on a bus or train to the bright lights (well they won't be on in the day...but still the sunshine will make it seem like they are) and have plenty to do if you are either a culture vulture or, like me, a shop addicted philistine. Accommodation in small towns that do not have a tourist market is far cheaper than in the city. Or you might be able to organize an in-home stay with a local family via the GREST that you contact.

I'm going to talk to the priest who ran our summer camp ASAP to see what he and I can do to make it easier for those who don't mind settling for "outside Milan" over more exotic locations.

For those who feel faint at the thought of their child maybe having the occasional Madonna waggled at them, the local schools offer a similar kind of summer camp. However I want to go and talk to them to see how they feel about it before I say go for it, don't know if the kids have to be a member of the school or not. I am confident they will be enthusiastic, there is a big European culture exchange programme going on this year so I think it might fit in with the current ethos. I'll let you know when I have more info.


In my defense I am not the sort of HEing mother who, when her child sneezes on her and yells "Look Mummy ! The sneeze blew LOADS of my snot all over your (really nice, new, not cheap, from NEXT) dress !", proclaims it to be a learning opportunity that is the equivalent of an hour long science lesson based on forces and motion.

However, that doesn't mean I can't see the value in non-formal opportunities to give him as many chances as possible to learn independently in our daily life, full stop.

From the perspective of an educator I took a step back and let Son of Thor put his new paddling pool, with integrated gazebo, together by himself to see what he could gain from the exercise .

Apart from lifting the canopy over the tall bits and the heavy lifting of the liner he did the whole thing himself. I watched him learn from his mistakes regarding instructions (and the lack of reading of), relate 2D to 3D and notice the difference in angles to name but three items that I am storing up for use as tangible examples when we hit the relevant units of study in the future. It really helps to cement theory in personally experienced practice, especially when the practice was done for its own sake.

At last I can sleep at night by calming the panicked voice in my head (screeching that maybe the gloomy commentators are right, I am dooming him to a life of brussel sprout picking as a single career option) with the pleasant though that he has a bright future ahead as a flying doctor for IKEA if nothing else.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time Lord meets Master Chef

I thought there was an unexpected vampire attack or something.

"Garlic ! Garlic !! GARLLLLIC !!!!!"

Then heard the familiar theme music.

That is one of the beauties of bringing up a bilingual child, the monsters from your childhood, Dr. Who's sworn enemy, gets turned into a vegetable.

I always knew they were stinkers.

The issue of teaching Italian

The exams your child must submit to annually are unlikely to be in English. It is also possible that a complete lack of an Italian language component might create a greater level of concern from the school than you really want to be adding to the mix. Plus, even if your child isn't an Italian national and you don't intend to stay long-term in Italy it would be a lost opportunity not to give them some extra opportunities to learn the language.

What puts most people off is cost. I have found a workaround. Ye olde barter system.

My son will have two teachers for Italian, one is the "official" teacher who will present the programme to the school annually. They cannot be a teacher at the school where he will take his exams. The other one is a teacher at his old school so is strictly unofficial.

With both the teachers I will teach their children English for an hour while they teach Son of Thor Italian (4th grade/year). We are aiming to set it up so that each exchange occurs at the same time, in the same place to cut down on time constraints. I'll be looking to set up a post lesson play session to extend his social network and interaction opportunities. Plus I'll get to gossip about the latest educational scandals, what's not to like ? LOL.

It doesn't have to be confined to teachers with children, you can offer a lesson/conversation to the teacher themselves. English specialization provides a teacher with extra points which aids their career progression so most are keen to get some extra input from a mother tongue speaker that costs nothing more than time.

My new year resolution of the summer is to try and not be too controlling and get all micro-management about how they teach him. I am going to try and introduce less staid methodologies via the backdoor, i.e. by example as I teach their kids.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Legal Process in Detail

The legal process

OK, I have now been given the legal go ahead to home educate in Italy so am happy to share what I did, what I used and who I gave it to. I'll include links to documents at the end of the post.

I sent the Director the following.

A letter declaring our intent to home school.
The British National Curriculum KS2Y3 with a photocopy of our daily curriculum from Educan+.
A copy of the curriculum for Italian (language plus history and geography specific to Italy) that I found on an Italian language website for home educators. (join the group to download the files)
Copies of the relevant laws as clarified by the Italian Ministry of Education and the specific clause in the Italian constitution upon which they are based.

I waited

More waiting, heard nothing, not a dicky bird. Except the maths teacher let slip that she knew about my request when we commiserated about how awful the history/geography teacher was.

Waiting makes me stroppy. Got very dressed up and strode into the school office at drop off time. Asked if they knew what, if anything, was going on. They made me write a written request for info (sans Mario, interesting use of grammar in that letter LOL). Bonded with secretary by asking for help with my personal pronouns cos I had a nagging suspicion that the Director had gone from singular male to gaggle of females in a single paragraph. Left letter, teetered off to repent wearing high heels for the "I am taller than you" power grab when I had to go to the market immediately afterwards.


Got dressed up again and went back to the office. Different (and very frosty) secretary informed me that my request had been forwarded to the regional headquarters of the educational ...something or other...and I would received notification of any decisions via the school within thirty days of my original request. So that will be next week then, I thought. Goody.

Got a letter form the school. Saying that as the thirty days were passed and I was entitled to a response, their response was that they had not received a response and they would respond once they had a response, upon which they would base their response.

Slight snarl escapes from lips as this letter was registered and I had spent an HOUR queuing in the post office to collect it.


Holidays approach, get twitchy.

Holidays arrive, twitch more, start thinking up plans of how to home educate AND socialize the child whilst living on the run to escape truancy charges.

Explode all over Mario and threaten to move to the UK with or without him and generally melt down all over the floor. The words "your bloody country.." may have lightly peppered the exchange of views.

Summer camp finished, have perfected camouflage makeup for life on the run with workbooks. Ignore Mario's "let's just wait and see" suggestion and march into the school to get an appointment to see the director so I can shout at him a bit. Director not there, secretary in charge of making appointments not there, told to ring back another (undefined) day. Politely stomp off trying to smile.

Ring for appointment, get told they will call me back when appointment procured, told in no uncertain terms "don't call us, we'll call you"

wait for a week on simmer with occasional boil

Call comes, appointment TOMORROW !!! Plan power dressing as form of hysterical displacement activity. Spend all night coming up with pithy comments and ways of dramatically banging fist on desk. Do not sleep much. Work self up into a right state. Dream of being arrested.

Go to meeting.
Director says, "yes you can do it and I don't blame you one bit" in the first fifteen seconds.
Wind leaves sails.
Adrenaline has hissy fit at not being allowed to work itself out of system.
Am impossible to live with the the rest of the day (allegedly) until unused adrenaline works itself out in form of a big fat sobs which dry up when I realize it is time for Grey's Anatomy (please don't kill George and Izzy !! Please !!)

As requested send final letter of request to director cos it looks like the first one never got sent back to him so he needs it again. Programmes of study to follow in September (I think they lost the ones I sent right at the start).

The End.. well of that bit. The beginning of all the rest of the journey.

Original Letter
Copies of relevant laws to attach to document ONE and TWO

More posts about living the legal process HERE
I HATED poetry at school.


Especially when I was supposed to write a poem.

So I had kittens at the thought of having to teach it.

However after doing a little research on teacher's sites I worked out that I had just been chucked in at the deep end and left to feel like I had failed because I had no idea how to start.

I got inspired and the following worksheets are the result of one night when something went click in my head and I started looking forward to teaching it instead of dreading it. They focus on the poem itself, the language used, spotting which words "sound similar" and patterns. Later I will add extension activites for production of students own poem based on what they read.

I'm using them as a low pressure intro to the genre since Son-of-Thor is a bit allergic to doing much writing due to hours upon hours of dictation at school (and I do mean hours, often three a day, he started to worry that his hand would fall off)

Please let me know if you spot errors !!!

Aliens have Landed
Grandma Was Eaten
Egyptian shape poem
Everyone Can Be a Writer
Five Senses

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A webquestish worksheet.

Right, have boshed up a quick worksheet based on the Bournemouth Oceanarium.

I wrote it for KS1y3/KS2y4 but more or less guidance can easily change the range it can be used with.

Includes the language we use to describe the navigational aspects of a web site.

The production work is focused on extended writing.

Can be used with individual children, small groups/pairs or whole class

It is in PDF format

Please let me know if you spot glaring errors that my tired brain didn't notice.

The Worksheet


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