Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Boundlessness And The Model Rabbit

This afternoon, some time between moulding a green Peter Rabbit out of Play-Doh and, colluding in his eventual demise by means of a poison carrot, Speckly Woo and I shared our thoughts on the world, as we see it, respectively.

For the most part, when we spend time together, I listen intently while she arrows me with sharp observations, such as the fact that I have black bits on some of my teeth (fillings) because I didn't brush well when I was little.

Currently, the home education support group has taken on the theme of daily life in Britain during WW2. Last Friday, she picked up on the plight of evacuees and was intrigued to learn that children were packed off to the safety of the countryside, to live with people they didn't know.

Just after Peter Rabbit had been despatched, having eaten my ill-proportioned, poisoned red carrot, Speckly Woo was deep in thought. She was rolling a tiny piece of Play-Doh between her fingers - a miracle pill, designed to bring Peter back to the land of brightly coloured misfits - when she suddenly made reference to the gas masks that evacuated children had to carry at all times. "They were to protect the little children from 'naughty smoke', Grandad," she said.

This prompted me to remember a question I had asked in childhood. Nothing unique, in that almost every child must wonder, if they don't actually ask, 'where does the sky end?' It was explained to me, that there was no end, which seemed a bit of a lame answer to a boy with a headful of Dan Dare. I was hoping there was an outer limit that my heroes headed for. Some place where they could tie up their space ships, get a couple of shots of cosmic 'red-eye' and catch forty winks before embarking on the next adventure.

For years, I wrestled with the concept of infinity. Okay, I could see space rolling out to way beyond the point where I could no longer see. But, the more I tried to imagine 'no end', my mind kept providing me with brick walls, fences and huge sheets of white. And beyond every one of these barriers was, of course, more space, until the next partition.

Whilst preoccupied with the conundrum of time and space, I had been - under instruction from Speckly Woo - almost unconsciously creating a crazy rabbit, with large eyes and an evil grin. "Where does this fit into the story?" I asked, handing the long-eared specimen over.

"You'll see, Grandad," came the sweet reply, "but first, I must cut his head off, to make sure he's safe."

Back to Earth, then.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

NOT Back To School

Yesterday, Mags and I attended a special event on Southampton Common. It was the 'NOT Back To School Picnic'.

The annual get together is held by the local home schooling support group. They're a friendly bunch, very welcoming and enthusiastic about teaching children at home.

Before we sat down to sandwiches and soft drinks, our daughter and Speckly Woo (three year old granddaughter) joined parents and children for a nature walk, in the company of a local expert. Not only did Speckly Woo return with her pockets stuffed with various leaves and berries, she also had a head full of information that was keen to share with us.

Southampton Common

After the picnic, the children played games and the grown ups chatted. Speckly Woo was very much at home with her new friends, ranging in age, from four to twelve. She was quickly taken under the wing of a ten year old girl and played happily until it was time for us all to leave.

The decision to try this route with our granddaughter's education has not been taken lightly. Their parents want the girls to grow and learn in a less formal way that allows them to develop as individuals and, we support them totally in that.

Another view of the Common

We are all prepared for those inevitable questions. On the back of the picnic flyer, three of the more likely ones have been addressed:

Is it legal?

Yes it is - in English law, parents are responsible for providing their children with an education 'in school or otherwise'.

What about socialisation?

Many children who leave school for home education find that their social life and social skills develop better and more naturally than when they spent a large part of each day sitting in a room with 29 other people of the same age. Home educated children mix with a wider variety of ages wherever they go. Many areas have groups where children meet and play, as well as getting together at each other's houses and going on trips together. Home educated children can also join such groups as Scouts, Guides, Brownies, sports clubs, drama clubs, etc.

Dont you have to be a teacher?

No you don't. Teachers need training to educate a large group of children in a particular way. If a child at home asks a question and the parent doesn't know the answer, the parent can show the child not just what the answer is but how to develop the skills need to find it him/herself - using reference material or the internet, for example.

From conversations I've had with some educationalists, there is a private consensus that home schooling is a fine way for children to learn. We'll see how it goes. These are early days but, the signs are very positive. For more information, Education Otherwise, a registered charity, is a good place to start.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: Working With Hazel

My maternal grandfather, Asher Gregory, was skilled in a range of woodland and country crafts. Hedge-layering, thatching, and coppicing. Inextricably linked to the latter, was hurdle-making.

Grandfather (on the left) is seen here, in conversation with fellow hurdle-maker, Reg Cole. I think this photograph was taken in Deeps Copse, near Owslebury, Hampshire. Asher would have been approaching 70 around this time. He had a little pick-up he drove to work although, for many years beforehand, he rode a motorcycle, with a rickety wooden box attached to where the sidecar should have been.

Here, you can see a hazel hurdle 'in progress'. The uprights, held firm in a heavy wooden mould on the copse floor. The split lengths that would eventually be woven around the uprights, are laying against the rail to the right of the picture. In the foreground and, in the clearing to the left, the hazel stumps are clearly visible. The wood is ready for cutting every seven years.

Very little was left to waste. By-products included bundles of pea sticks and bean sticks/poles. There was always a considerable market for these, in the days when most country-dwellers grew their own vegetables. I remember how I was fascinated with the way grandfather tied up his bundles with lengths of twisted, green hazel. His hands were so calloused, there was no need for protective gloves.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: Learning Curve

Some readers will remember this post from last November. However, with some added visual fare, I thought it worth re-posting for Sepia Saturday.

When I attended my first school, I wasn't summoned by bells, but by a series of sharp hand-claps that echoed about the yard like mousetraps being sprung in quick succession.

My first school - Bishops Waltham Infants.

Each morning, the same ritual, we all sloped off, to our learning, reluctant to give up the magic qualities of the outdoors.

In spite of its tall windows, the interior of the school was dark and shadowy. So it was in relatively poor visibility that Mrs Woods and Miss Windebanks pooled their efforts to teach us. Theirs was a world of basic arithmetic, heavily crayoned artwork and good manners.

Singing songs always provided a welcome interlude and carols rang around the classrooms at Christmas with great zest and little harmony. But it was the nursery rhymes that I liked. You know, those with the lifetime guarantee. Often, we would sing of things we could do on a cold and frosty morning. In turns, we all got to nominate an activity before singing a solo about it. Being a country boy, I once offered up the way I took 'pot shots' at wood pigeons on a cold and frosty morning. It was the truth, but I was punished for not choosing something more wholesome, like shoe cleaning.

First school photograph (even I can't believe this is me)

At playtime, what joy it was to get into the fresh air once more. Away from the after smell of school meals, chalk-dust and a classmate whose terror of the learning process drove him to incontinence.

Suddenly the world regained its colour. We were a squadron of fighter planes under the command of Graham Wyatt, the policeman's son. Taking off from beneath the heavy limbs of a great yew tree, our arms outstretched and ready for combat. We weaved and dodged, looped the loop with blood curdling cries and crashed with alarming regularity, only to rebuild seconds later for another sortie. Our cannon fire was inexhaustible and deafening.

We watched, intently, from the playground, when the doors to this undertaker's workshop were open. What were those men making, in amongst the clouds of flying saw dust? Big boxes, but for what?

I like to think that I was a reasonably brave lad then. I shrugged off cuts and grazes, and never even withered under the glare of Mrs Woods. But I did fear a visit to the outside lavatories; those wooden seated conveniences housed in ancient, creaking cubicles. In summer the fuming disinfectant was totally overpowering and cracking open the latched doors resulted in partial asphyxiation as the evil odours wafted up and smothered your face. Calls of nature were inevitably postponed.

In winter the story was equally harrowing. Crossing the yard through the elements, we endured the damp and icy winds that rattled the roofs of the outhouses. Those who had been brave enough to make the journey returned with blue legs and chattering teeth that only the glow of the coke stove could cure.

Gradually I gained valuable knowledge. I learned the art of cutting out. Indeed, I managed to cut every other square of an intricately patterned pullover my mother had knitted for me. I learned that the school dentist was a faceless gentleman, who sat with a blinding sun behind him while he probed about inside my mouth with painful metallic instruments. I learned that it was not prudent to put plasticine up my nose and that to ask a teacher to extract it was more painful than the dental examination. And I learned that to become infected with ringworm by a favourite puppy resulted in an instant loss of friends. So began my formal education.