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The beginning of the month. · Monday March 12, 2007 by Lily

Monday generally starts off with a bit of planning for the evening. Rupert has started a French course in Manchester, 35 miles away, and that involves looking up train times for the 6pm start. Today, he wanted to indulge his passion for buses by taking a detour and stopping off en route to look at the fleet at Warrington; that involved internet research and the acquisition of lots of prior knowledge. It’s not a hobby that would have been very popular in school, but it’s one he indulges in freely within the confines of home education. He has dozens of fleet books and maps of towns to refer to, he subscribes to bus magazines, follows the news and issues relating to environmentally friendly public transport, he produces copious spreadsheets and travels to open days whenever he/we can, sometimes taking advantage of Travelodge stopovers.

Back to French; he had verbs to learn in readiness for starting the past tense. Four weeks ago, when I first came across this language centre and made tentative enquiries, he was asked to go for an interview and assessment to see whether he would be allowed to join an adult class and at what level. I was pleased the director of studies placed him in the group I thought he should join and was even more pleased when, following a trial in the group to see if he integrated, she said she was very happy to take him. This is the first time he has joined an adult group by himself, one or the other of us has always done a class with him, but we are trying to encourage him to be less dependant upon us. French grammar is difficult for him; he needs lots of reinforcement and repetition, although his vocabulary is fairly extensive because he is a strong auditory learner.

Next on the agenda today was some music practice. Rupert started playing the violin in a small group at school when he was 6. The others have long since given up owing to “peer pressure.” We’ve been through some difficult times, with poor short term memory and dyslexia, he found reading music hugely difficult and still does, but he’s preparing to take Grade 5 violin and Grade 3 piano in the summer. For a long time practice involved coaxing but now he fits it in as routine. At the present time he is battling with theory, fortunately one of his teachers is supremely patient, and I’m prepared to try to work things out if all else fails.

Following that we did a little Maths with the wonderful programme Maths2XL on the laptop. We were fortunate to be able to obtain a laptop, scanner and software for him to help with his dyslexia from the now defunct CAP. It’s been so well used and has made an enormous impact upon our son’s life.

The first thing we did when Rupert came out of school was to make him and me computer literate. 7 years ago I didn’t know how to switch one on. At that time we were allowed to take computer lessons at our local adult education centre (sadly not possible now for under 14s.) The turning point was when Rupert learnt to type using “Type to Learn,” and we both passed our timed word processing exam when he was 9 and I was 52. We then did another course followed by CLAIT and then in 2005 he passed GCSE ICT after a year’s course at a different college. The theory was difficult but with excellent coursework he obtained a grade B and much needed confidence.

We then spent the rest of the morning watching the first part of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” in French with English subtitles, staring Gérard Depardieu. A bonus of the French course is the loan of DVDs. books and magazines.

That took us to lunch. Rupert is a vegetarian. He refused meat when he was weaned and we have adapted accordingly, aided by the fact our dd became a vegetarian at age 13. Food has been something of an issue with our son; he has always been extremely reluctant to try new tastes and particularly textures, but as he gets older and goes out and about, more variety is creeping in. Last week’s cooking session in the dark and pouring rain at Explorer Scouts (that you will hear a great deal more about) ended in him apparently eating a billy can of lightly cooked (the fire didn’t light very well!) onions, potato, carrot and sweetcorn. Over the next 16 months, he has to prepare himself to accept a more varied diet as he wants to join an Explorer Scout Expedition to Russia for 3 weeks including a week’s camp in Siberia, where food will be of the freeze-dried packet variety.

Dh and son disappeared off for the rest of the day at about 12.45pm.

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An ordinary day · Tuesday March 13, 2007 by Lily

The morning was spent working on GCSE Maths past papers with dh. Rupert probably finds Maths the most difficult of all subjects and we are trying to get this one out of the way before he starts college next year. We are however, quite prepared for a resit if necessary.

The Maths class took, as ever, a great deal of arranging. Prohibitive costs, lack of numbers, age, etc, etc all went against us when out of the blue, an Adult Education Centre I had tried the previous month phoned and offered us 2 places. It was decided that dh would do the course with ds. Being over 60 his fees were half what mine would have been. They went along and found themselves in an elite class of 4, hmm curious this funding issue. All was fine until the tutor pulled out suddenly before the Feb. half term break; 2 missed classes followed and then another tutor was found so they are back on track.

In the afternoon, after music practice, I had a look at last night’s French work and we did the homework together. This work is really easy to help with. The tutor gives out a stapled booklet at the start of each lesson, with a list of what they will do, everything is explained simply, there are worksheets to do during the lesson, and there on the front page is the homework written down with a space to do it in and references to pages in the text book. It is such a pleasure and I am so envious of the course I am going to do one myself next session.

Rupert hurried off into the study after we’d finished. It is a friend’s birthday and they talked using the webcam and she showed him her presents. The birthday party had already been held, he joined a small group on Sunday for ice skating and a meal. This was only the second time he’d been ice skating (the first being on artificial ice at Chamboree-our local 4 yearly International Scout Camp,) and I was a little worried, but he managed fine and only fell over twice.

After dinner, the men departed for the evening. Rupert has a 6pm violin lesson and then the Maths class follows on; home, music lesson and Maths class are all in different towns. I don’t drive so I often get the longer straw.

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Back on track? · Wednesday March 14, 2007 by Lily

Did I really say that? Rupert and dad raced to their Maths class last night and waited and waited…..the receptionist telephoned the tutor, eventually getting through to her to find she’d fallen asleep on the sofa. She came to the college and they started an hour late, so that’s 5 hours of missing lessons including the 2 lessons when there was no tutor.

We have had so many problems with courses and tutors that we’ve decided Rupert will try a full-time college course to gain the 4 or 5 GCSE passes he needs for entry to our local college in 2008. Unfortunately the local college, whilst requiring these passes, doesn’t actually run any GCSE courses other than Maths and English resits and Human Biology, so we are having to go further afield.

This morning began with dh going to look after our 2 granddaughters. He does this alternate Wednesday mornings although we’ve looked after them a little more over the past three weeks as both have had chicken pox. He takes them on to their nursery at 1.00pm. The little girls are being brought up bilingual as their mum is French. They help us in our studies with their knowledge of nursery French such as how to ask for a bib/drink of milk etc!

Rupert and I started some English. He has been doing work from “The Least You Should Know about English.” I really like this book.

When we first started HE I was given a copy of “Toe by Toe,” that we worked through. We are also still using “The Word Wasp,” and “Stride Ahead,” to help with his dyslexia difficulties, although a lot of ds’s spelling problems have worked themselves out with general life, reading bus and train magazines, websites and books; and of course talking on MSN and being part of forums. His chief problem remains to be comprehension that “Stride Ahead” addresses to some extent. A wonderful tool we use is Texthelp Read and Write that is installed on his laptop.

When ds was reaching secondary age, I visited The Education Show and selected appropriate text books, ones not too visually busy and not too wordy. We’ve never sat and worked all the way through text books though, but they are there to dip into as necessary.

This afternoon, dh has gone to see his mum, Rupert’s one remaining grandparent who is housebound and managing on her own. She will be 90 this year. He visits once a fortnight to help her and it’s a round trip of about 450 miles.

Rupert and I made a start on the second assignment in his IGCSE English course that we bought from Little Arthur Independent School. This is a very tricky assignment for him, it’s about analysing the writer’s use of language. He read the text, then I read it to him, we drew a mind-map to set the scene and then went through the text underlining the relevant parts for the first question. I then left him to have a go, went back and looked and tomorrow we’ll discuss it and work it through.

Ds made a home made pizza for his dinner, and then MSN beckoned. Wednesday is actually his only night in.

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Market day · Thursday March 15, 2007 by Lily

This morning Rupert had his piano lesson. He walks to his teacher’s house and then I sometimes meet him in town. I did that today and we went to the charity shops where I bought a set of Michael Palin books and we continued on to WHSmith to collect his magazines. We went to the market to buy cheeses and free range eggs and then went to a table top sale where ds bought some Lego.

Lego has been Rupert’s passion for many years and he has a huge city layout in his room. Over the years he has spent many hours building and rebuilding his Legoland whilst listening to audio tapes from Calibre and Listening Books.

lego layout

Back at home after lunch, he worked on some Adult Literacy papers that arrived this morning from CGP. We have an interview at our local college next week to discuss courses for 2008 with 2 people from Learner Services and 1 from IT. They have asked him to take a literacy test as he has, “No SATS scores!”

He then continued with the IGCSE English assignment, but it needs much more work.

In the evening Rupert went to Explorer Scouts. Tomorrow we are setting off very early for London to go to the Science Museum for an IMAX film about volcanoes and the Natural History Museum to see a photography exhibition.

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London · Friday March 16, 2007 by Lily

We had a very early start at 5.45 am with the dawn chorus accompanying us. It was a really good day. R did a fair amount of bus spotting in London with dh whilst I did a bit of window shopping and had a coffee sitting outside a French café, lovely. We went to the “Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibition at the Natural History Museum then raced to the Science Museum to see the IMAX film “Forces of Nature.”

I love going to galleries and art exhibitions, but R had a bad experience with art at school and it still remains with him. Inexplicably really, looking back, we didn’t realise he is colour-blind. He’d compensated with his own version of what shades of whatever he saw were, and applied our name to them. It was when he was hauled over the coals at school in year 2 for having purple sea in his picture that I took him to an optician. At first he was diagnosed as being so severely colour blind that he could only see shades of black, white and grey. This was later modified to red/green colour blindness, but he also can’t distinguish between dark and light shades, so dark brown, red, purple etc. are all very similar as are light pink, grey, turquoise etc. the only colours he can see clearly are blue and yellow. He loves yellow with a passion, says it sparkles. So he has a yellow lava lamp and so on.

Of course the implications of this are far wider than finding art appreciation tricky; he can’t easily follow his passions of Physics and Electronics, and working for the Railway (he’d be the third generation of railway employees.) What really rubs salt into the wound is that we can trace our family history back and over the last 150 years, no-one has been colour-blind, in fact we have ancestors who very definitely loved working with colour.

Anyway, although he wants nothing to do with art, I try to add a bit in here and there and do it with diversity, with sculpture, modern art, etc. One of our golden moments with HE was to stumble quite unexpectedly across Antony Gormley’s Field We were able to take the idea and reproduce it at our local HE group.

Those moments of unexpected discovery will stay with us forever.

We are off on our travels again tomorrow. We are going to see the Oxford Gang Show.

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Oxford · Saturday March 17, 2007 by Lily

Dh and R set off early to Oxford so they could fit in some bus spotting for R in the morning. I joined them later in the day and we saw the Gang Show. It’s intriguing to see how each group puts their show together and this leads to some interesting discussions. R is really enjoying going to see the shows around the country; we meet lots of new people and chat to folks of all ages who are involved in Scouting and stage productions.

When R first started home ed, the last thing on my mind was the socialisation “problem.” He’d become deeply unhappy at school and home. He’d changed from the “happy-go-lucky” boy he was described as at nursery to feeling depressed and worthless. We were working with him in the evenings and at weekends to catch up and prepare for the annual SATS tests the school did, to lift him out of the bottom set that private tutors (yes we did that!) said he didn’t belong in.

I arranged a private assessment at the Dyslexia Institute and having been told by the school that ds was slightly below average and not dyslexic, the Educational Psychologist greeted us after the assessment with the fact that R was indeed dyslexic and his scores were very high for nonverbal reasoning and average for verbal reasoning and that gave him an overall high average IQ.

We needed to act quickly to regain our son, raise his self esteem and most importantly give him a worthwhile learning experience whilst freeing up time for him to be a child and play. He didn’t go back to school after that assessment and we started home ed in Sept when he would have gone into year 5.

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Mothering Sunday · Sunday March 18, 2007 by Lily

Rupert spent most of today socialising as he usually does on a Sunday.

About 2 years ago, I expressed concern that ds didn’t have many friends. He’d always had a young neighbour to play with, but we felt he might like to branch out a bit. I was greeted with, “I’ll make my own friends.” I worried and ruminated.

We had done many things on our own when he first came out of school and before I found there was a fledgling localish HE group. We then joined them for monthly meetings and gym classes. It was always a bit difficult as we depended on lifts to get to the meetings in a village 3/4 hrs drive away, and we started going occasionally to events organised by other groups. My dh was at that time commuting 3 hrs a day to work. It has been easier for us to travel to events in cities and towns with rail links as we have a small town station with 10 minute access to a major junction.

Ds was also doing after school type activities: swimming lessons and music lessons, activities such as gymnastics, canoeing, snorkling and trampolining. On going were Beavers, Cubs and then Scouts, where I helped as Unit Assistant. There were times when I don’t think R would have carried on with Scouting if I hadn’t been helping.

I made a good HE friend unexpectedly through Cubs along with the other friends both of us made. Eventually in 2002 ds tried the Gang Show but it was too much like school for him. In 2004 he tried again and enjoyed it and in 2006 things came to fruition when he auditioned again, was given a place, and through 5 months of rehearsals twice a week he met the lovely small group of friends he now has and they agreed to join the same Explorer Scout Unit.

So, on Sunday he met one friend for a few hours and then at 3ish we fetched another one who stayed for tea until we took him home at 9pm.

I’m so glad the friendship problems I perceived were resolved with a little help from us in encouragement towards taking part in an activity that now is a major part of his life. It was a matter of trying a lot of avenues and finding the one ds was most comfortable with.

Ds found his niche outside the HE community as it happened and he’s hoping to go to college with one or two of his friends in 18 months.

I might add that he joined the GS forum, often becoming the most frequent poster, and he was able to respond to adult members of the forum on line during the day whilst other teens were in school, he started using MSN a great deal which improved his literacy skills and confidence enormously.

Oh and dd came with her family and new baby so I had a baby moment. It’s lovely to see him, he was very premature, but doing so well now.

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Language Day · Monday March 19, 2007 by Lily

This morning, we continued with the Adult Literacy papers I bought from CGP. I hope the actual exam he’ll do on Thursday will be similar as he’s doing OK with these. His main problems are judging the tone of a piece of writing and, not surprisingly, spotting spelling mistakes. He’s not too thrilled to have to do this exam as he’ll be taking GCSE English next year so can’t see the point. I expect it is probably to throw up learning difficulties as much as anything.

Ds then looked over his French for his lesson without being prompted to do so, so far so good.

We had lunch and the men set off again for Manchester via Bolton to see some buses and on to French for 6.00pm start.

I snatched some time this afternoon to send some outstanding emails and book a ferry crossing to France for the summer. We are going to stay in the house of a relative by marriage for a few days.

August is looking fully booked and will take some careful planning to get from A to B with the requisite bag of appropriate clean clothes. Ds is going to spend 4 days on Brownsea Island for the Centenary of Scouting, with a friend, then we go immediately to France and immediately after he’s been invited to go to Ireland with his friend’s family.

I also fitted in a couple of phone calls.

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Well.... · Tuesday March 20, 2007 by Lily

R did Maths for most of the day today, interspersed with music theory and practical and some more adult literacy papers.

He found the Maths very difficult. It was something to do with fractions and that always seems to induce a mental block. We have done them every way we can think of over the years. Today I got some stock cubes out of the cupboard for improvised hands on help.

R finished by reading some of “Anne Frank.” At the beginning of March, we went to see “Freedom Writers,” with Film Education It was an excellent film, with a talk from someone from the Anne Frank Trust afterwards, and we were very kindly sent the latest edition of the book. We were fortunate to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, a very moving experience.

Then came the well…..bit. I mentioned the first Maths tutor pulled out of the GCSE class unexpectedly, the second started after 2 missed lessons and then fell asleep when she was supposed to be taking them for her second class, ds and dh had just set off tonight for R’s violin lesson before the Maths, when the phone rang, the tutor was most apologetic but she’d had her car keys stolen and so couldn’t get to the class…..

To say I’m exasperated is an understatement.

We have all come down with colds again. One thing about HE was missing out on school germs. That was before our grandchildren went to nursery, now we have them passed on to us again.

I must find time to fit in some Science this week and finish the English assignment as well as help with French homework. Ds told me last night they will be set a test in the 9th lesson.

The college interview looms on Thursday. I’d like to feel more prepared; I sent in R’s DI report and 2 LA reports for 2005 and 2006 (I accept visits,) and I’ve prepared a list of activities he’s done, courses, visits we make, etc, but I could do with a crystal ball.

During the evening, we all watched “Are We There Yet,” on BBC2 about the Manchester buses. Ds and dh knew all about them and made corrections and comments as the programme progressed!

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First day of Spring · Wednesday March 21, 2007 by Lily

Today was spent doing Maths in the morning and carrying on doing the Adult Literacy papers in the afternoon, with music practice fitted in between. Music lessons are going well now and we listened to a recording of the first violin exam piece that is played far faster than R can manage at the moment. I am hoping his piano teacher will be the accompanist for his violin exam but we don’t know yet. I feel confident with her.

Sometime, I’ll dust off my ‘cello to play with ds although he’s now better than I am. I restarted lessons after a 30 year break when I received a small legacy that enabled me to buy my own ‘cello. That was just before ds started home ed and then we had grandchildren and granny to help care for so that meant time for practice disappeared and I stopped taking lessons. I have a copy of John Holt’s “Never too Late” to read when I have time, in which he talks about learning to play the ‘cello in his 40s and 50s.

The evening was spent with ds on the phone to his friend for a long while. What do teens who are monosyllabic most of the time with parents find to talk about for an hour? It’s the most natural way in the world of increasing language skills though. Apparently she has done her grade 2 theory and is in top set maths at school so she’s offered to help him, that’s good news!

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