Thursday, 28 July 2016


It's holiday time here and we're enjoying family, river bathing, sunshine and barbecues down in St Etienne. We're going to be away or entertaining guests on and off from now until September so I'll be taking a rest from the homeschooling files and mainly posting photos of our adventures for the next few weeks. But first here are some pictures of a quilt I made for Maya's birthday back in April that I've been meaning to share for ages.

The quilt is made of strips of fabric alternating patterned strips and plain strips. The plain strips are white with small blue dots and the patterned strips are made up of squares sewn together. Making the patterned strips was a lot of fun, I had a colour scheme of pinks and purples and a hint of blue in mind and had bought some fabrics specially a few years ago and used other fabrics from my stash. Quite a few our from this lovely shop in Paris. There's also an African fabric in there with beautiful zebras and a few organic cottons ordered online.

The quilt is backed with half of an old duvet cover from Ikea. Originally it was cream but that's not the most hard wearing colour and so a few years ago I dyed it pink. The nice thing about using old sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers is that they're really nice and soft from all that washing, perfect for snuggling up under. Maya loves her quilt and put it straight on her bed, what more can a sewing mama want?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Homeschool Files : Art and Artists - Matisse


As you may have gathered from many of my posts, we spend a lot of time crafting and drawing. This probably began because it's something I enjoy doing and the kids do too. It's also because I believe it's really important for people to have different ways of expressing themselves and art is one valuable form alongside, dance, music, talking about our feelings, writing and many others.

Recently we have been working on Matisse. It began when we decided to spend some time drawing bodies using our wooden artist's doll. After we'd done sketching over several days and sessions, I wanted to offer the children another way of representing bodies and I immediately thought of Matisse. Both his paintings and his later collages represent bodies beautifully in ways that reveal their underlying shapes and fill them with movement.

We began by looking at some Matisse pictures online. We talked a bit about the pictures and I shared a bit with the kids about Matisse particularly how he turned to collage when he got older and he couldn't paint anymore because of rheumatism. This led to a discussion about frustration and how you can deal with it before we got stuck into collaging.

Dancing man

I placed all our collage materials in the middle of the table. These include old magazines, newspaper, wrapping paper, speciality papers such as origami, tissue paper etc and painted paper, snippets of paper the children have stamped on, kraft paper etc. Basically anything that I think could possibly be interesting goes in the box (ok boxes now- shh). I also put out a pair of scissor each and a couple of glue sticks, everyone having their own tools makes for much less squabbling in our house.

I put the artist's doll back in the middle of the table and let one of the kids arrange his body the way they wanted. Maya decided to begin with a cat rather than a person, I worked on a man mirroring the artist doll's position. The youngest two decided they would just use the papers to do a collage and spent a lot of time with the magazines cutting out anything that interested them.

Man and his cat
For me the important thing about this sort of activity is that we're doing it together and that it is a proposition that the children can take up and run with as they wish. Quite often I find myself alone or just with one child at the beginning, but the fact that mum's doing it often means that by the time I've finished everyone has joined in and carries on long after I've moved on to getting the tea or running the hoover around. 

Pink Flamingo
I was really pleased with how my artwork turned out and the children's too. It's been a really fun project and one we're continuing with as you can see from the photos, using it to explore our experiences at Branféré Animal park. For the younger children collaging is a great activity for their fine motor skills and the littlest one also had fun hunting through magazines for specific colours or objects we named.


If you want to do this kind of art activity at home you'll need:
  • collage materials 
  • glue sticks
  • A4 or bigger sheets of paper
  • scissors
Remember anything can be collage material, you could even do the same as Matisse and make your own materials first by painting paper. You could also work on another artist. Copying great artists has always been a part of artistic training and is a great way to think about how art represents the world and to learn knew skill sets.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The homeschool files : Passionate about Ponies

As I've said before, one of the principles of our approach is following the children's interests. Home educated children have a lot of time to explore their passions if we let them. Both at home and out in the world, all the time they are not spending in school can be used to pursue their interests. In the case of our oldest Maya this means a lot of time is spent on horses and horse riding. 

Watching Maya's passion grow has been a joy. From her first tentative steps at age 4, she has grown to be very disciplined about this activity. She's also so enthusiastic it sometimes verges on being annoying, like when she asks you for the fiftieth time in how many minutes you'll be leaving for pony club! This is really her world, as none of the rest of us have any experience with our equine friends. Of course we've all learnt a lot from reading books and watching films and documentaries about horses but she is still our resident expert.

When your homeschool child finds something they love and pursues it outside of the home, as for parents who send their kids to school, it can sometimes be complicated to know how involved you should be. Maya's pony club is her world and as she's grown up a lot this last year she's needed us in it less and less. And although it's delighted us to see her have the confidence and responsibility to do this all by herself (well except for lifts - agh), it was sometimes hard not to know much about what was going on. 

So, it was with great curiosity and delight that we attended her club's annual party and barbecue last weekend and were admitted, if only for a day into her world. The opportunity to meet and speak with her teachers was great and we were happy to hear that she's a useful and much appreciated member of their community as well as a good rider. We were also able to put names to the faces of all her friends who share her passion for riding. 

As our children get older I expect we will be less and less involved with their learning process, but I hope and believe they'll always be these windows into their lives which let us share with them the progress they're making and the joy their finding in pursuing their passions. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Homeschool Files : Branféré Wildlife Park

As home educators we do like field trips. Last Wednesday we headed South to La Guerno and the Branféré wildlife park (site in French for info in English try here or here). Unlike at a zoo, none of the animals at Branféré are behind bars. They roam around large green spaces and we the visitors must keep to our paths while we roam around and enjoy the show.

Like these lovely Alpacas who'll sometimes even let you get up close and personal...
Baby Alpaca nursing

Or these Dromodaries who seemed very chilled out but kept their distance...

Dromodaires resting

The plentiful Wallabies look very friendly but remained quite shy during our visit. The kids spent a lot of time trying to see if there was anybody in the pouches...

A thoughtful Wallaby

This layout means that sometimes you have to stop to let birds like this cross the path... 
This Peacock is magnificent and knows it!

But Lotta, our youngest's all time favourite animals at Branféré were these guys. Seeing them up close really gives you an idea of just how long those necks are.


I know there are probably some of you who have the same kind of concerns as we do about visiting animals in captivity. Without a doubt the best place for all wild animals is as their name implies, in the wild.  We do not take our children to zoos anymore. We've visited some of the best in our time and even from those we took away an overwhelming sense of sadness to see such magnificent animals as tigers and lions confined in such small spaces.

Branféré's concept is however a far cry from more traditional zoos and is supported by their strong commitment to educating people about biodiversity and helping the environment. For many of the animals this is a lovely setting. You can see the animals are in great condition and clearly well cared for. However, it isn't perfect. For the giraffes and wolves and some of the marine wildlife like otters, I couldn't help but feel they must suffer from such reduced circumstances so to speak. 

For our family, Branféré worked. We had a wonderful day out with good friends and learnt more about animals we've enjoyed studying at home. We didn't shy away from our concerns for the animals but discussed them openly. We also talked about the environmental problems and the human behaviour which means that so many animals are under threat in their natural habitat. Our enjoyment was undoubtedly helped by the sites educational stance and the bird show one of the best I've ever seen - pictures coming soon!