Melissa and Doug Abacus Review

I’ve always wanted an abacus. I just like the way they look. I have a habit of buying wooden toys because I like the way they look over plastic flashy ones partly because they just look more attractive (also because of environmental issues, but mostly because flashy musical toys are just really bloody annoying).  When I saw the Melissa and Doug wooden abacus on offer on Amazon for a bargain £6.00 I gave in to temptation. I thought Skylar might be a bit old for it and Tiggy too young, but I thought at least Tiggy would grow into it. I am pleased to be proven wrong however, and as we’ve used it so much I just wanted to give it a quick review.

Not only is it useful for what it’s famous for. A basic calculator, simple addition, subtraction, division, looking at number bonds, skip counting, looking at tens and units, we’ve found a few other ways of playing with it. Firstly here’s Skylar using it for simple counting, when she runs out of fingers when doing maths games like Sum Swamp. Yes she’s wearing pyjamas and swimming goggles.

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She had far more fun than I anticipated making patterns with it. I found some great pattern printables on this Melissa and Doug blog post, via Pinterest here.  She also likes to take it in turns to make a pattern (or a picture or a letter), to take a photo, and then to shake it up and try and copy what the other one did from memory. I’ve done this with her, and she also asked to get it down when a friend came so they could do it too, so it must pass the fun test.

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 We built on the pattern sheets by talking about symmetry.

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The quality is fantastic, it’s solid and robust, my friends toddler tried to climb and stand on the top of it, and even jumped on it with shoes on, and whilst I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough to include it in gymnastics, I wasn’t at all concerned it would be damaged. And even Tiggy loves it too. Like a bead frame, she loves to move the beads along the wires, and she loves to bat at them and spin them with her hand and fingers which makes a great sound. She loves to spin things so it’s a great toy for her. And although it’s too heavy for her, one of us often uses it as musical instrument, by shaking it from side to side whilst she has a rattle or maracas. There are no sharp corners on it, but it is heavy, and she has started to try and pull herself up on it now so she can’t be left with it, but with supervision she plays with it a bit every day.

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Exploring Senses Autonomously

Last week Skylar has an appointment at Alder Hey children’s hospital, to do a ‘smell test’. Skylar is anosmic (she has no sense of smell) and she recently had an MRI scan done and I’d been told on an answer phone message the results were normal. So I thought the (very postponed-should have been before the MRI) appointment would be a bit of a waste of time, given she has no sense of smell and not a weak sense of smell. But we went along anyway. It turns out that her MRI scan was sent off to an anosmia specialist in America, who said that her olfactory nerve endings didn’t develop properly, so it is definite that the anosmia is congenital, she was born with it, she hasn’t lost it at some point through a trauma or a virus. Though that is what I suspected I never thought we would find that out, and I’ve always racked my brains trying to think of what could have happened and if it was my fault. (There is a photo of her as a toddler with a bruised nose, but I couldn’t remember how it happened).  I wish I could take these results to the first doctor I saw at a different hospital, who told me that she was almost definitely lying, (but I should try giving her a months worth of harmful steroids, just in case). The sad news is, there is nothing that can be done about it. She will never smell.  She is very sad about this,but I just keep telling her how lucky she is not to smell public toilets, Tiggy’s nappies, farts on the bus etc

We were put in a separate room to do the smell test (a pile of scratch and sniff booklets). I was told just to get her to choose any answer if she couldn’t smell (which we knew she couldn’t). After getting her to uselessly sniff next to these (bizarre, very american smells-pizza, skunk, gasoline, peanut butter, root beer, dill pickles, candy) panels, I gave up asking her because I could see she was getting increasingly upset that she couldn’t do it. So I did it for her, scratched them, sniffed them, and circled the wrong answer. At first I pretended they were all really disgusting to make her feel better, but by the end they all really did smell disgusting. The cinnamon, the onion, the musk, the ammonia made me retch!

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She also had a hearing test. I have to be honest and admit I was a little disappointed when they told me her hearing was perfect. I guess that just means she’s naturally loud.

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As I explained on the ‘Why I decided to home educate’ page, (I’ve actually had lots of interested messages from people after my first post, asking why I decided to take Skylar out of school-it goes into more detail than anyone needs so I can only assume it’s been missed!) Skylar has in the past been flagged for ADHD. I declined going down the route of diagnosis. She’s certainly mellowed out a bit in the last year, but she tends to easily get over excited and very loud, but I think that is typical of her age. I now strongly suspect that rather than ADHD, it is a sensory processing issue and she isn’t getting enough sensory input due to missing a sense. (Sensory processing issues and ADHD very strongly overlap). My plan at the moment is to make sure she has lots of sensory activities, and lots of trips to the park so she has an opportunity to climb/swing/spin etc as I’ve been told this is extremely effective at calming down children with sensory difficulties.

I’ve posted about this because I think it shows how we are learning autonomously. We did a lot of waiting in the hospital, and took some time to look at the posters.

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Afterwards we went to the library and looked at some books about the senses, and specifically,why she couldn’t smell.

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Skylar doesn’t often show any interest in factual books, but she has since been choosing books about the human body,and asking for them instead of a bedtime story. This afternoon she was keen to have a go at a senses themed lapbook.

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This article briefly explains what lapbooking entails:   http://www.examiner.com/article/homeschool-101-what-is-lapbooking-1

And here’s a few other things we’ve been doing since I last posted. It’s been the perfect weather for several beach trips and walks. Image

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Planting wildflower and cress seeds. Pressing and classifying wild flowers.

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A home-ed group at the museum of Liverpool on the history of toys.

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Various maths and word games. Image

As well as swimming, cinema, home-ed drama, and various other trips I didn’t photograph. It’s spring break for the schools at the moment so we’ve been catching up with friends and family, and the weather has been amazing! So excited to spend even more time outdoors over the next few months.

7 days of deschooling…

So I’ve explained why we’re home educating, but the main reason for this blog is to keep a loose track of what we’ve been out seeing and exploring, an informal journal.

When a child has been in a formal education setting, and they are not planning on immediately returning, it is often advised that they go through a process referred to as deschooling. Deschooling is recommended for about a month for every year the child has been in school. You treat it like a school holiday, do not attempt to implement any formal work, and be as lax as possible about how your child spends their time. Let them get television and computer games out of their system if that is what they choose. (I struggle with that one, and have insisted she turn the computer off plenty of times). Don’t follow a timetable, a curriculum, live like it’s the weekend. The idea is that recreating a school setting at home is not considered to be the most successful method of homeschooling, that the parents as educators need a chance to see what their child can learn without forced teaching. Often children that leave school have been bullied or have very low self-esteem so they really need a time to recover, but if this is not the case it is still really beneficial. I think after this period, most parents choose to follow an unschooling type of living, rather than lots of formal structure. What I’ve learned, (after lots and lots of reading on all the different ‘methods’) is that I’m not prepared to label what we do or adhere to any rules to match a particular style. I’m learning on the job, and I may change my mind often. It’s just probably not going to look much like school.

So in our three months of not schooling, and mostly unplanned learning, I think we’ve covered enough ground to keep going how we are for now. Some days it feels like we haven’t achieved anything, but then I remember that we are deschooling, so it doesn’t matter, and when I have started to jot down what we’ve actually covered in this period I completely get it. She has learned a lot. We’ve had opportunities for days out she never would have had otherwise. We’ve been to Center Parcs, forest school, museum groups, a ballet, various home-ed meet ups, parks, beaches, picnics, drama lessons, we’ve done science experiments, an ocean project, learned about electricity, myths and fairy tales, maths games, crafts. There has been a lot of time she’s been obsessed with the computer but she has taught herself a lot of skills such as saving and editing images, using different google search options, and getting really proficient on the keyboard. (pretty impressive considering nearly all the key labels have worn away). She’s keeping a journal. I constantly remind myself that she is only six. Some countries don’t start formal schooling until they are seven, and she already has the basics. She’s wasted a lot of play time in school and I want her to get that back. We’ve met a wide range of really interesting home-ed families I’m really excited to get to know more over the next few years. I love that there are all sorts of different reasons that people are home educating, with different belief systems and ways of doing things, yet everyone gets on  well, perhaps because they are a minority, but mostly because they have the same end goal in mind.

So here is a week in pictures. Last Friday we went to a key stage 1 home-ed session on the Titanic, at the Maritime museum. We got into town really early and walked around St Georges hall, and spent half an hour in Central library, then we headed to the museum session on the Albert Docks. After we had lunch with some other families, walked round the titanic exhibition and had a quick play on the very windy pier. After Skylar and I went to the Tate for a walk round, and to see the new exhibition in the family room. It was a lot of cardboard boxes and plastic tubes. What kid doesn’t love cardboard boxes and plastic tubes?

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On Monday, we went to an unschool meet in Hoylake, the first half in a community hall, the second half on the beach outside. Tiggy had her first taste of sand. Quite literally of course.

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On Tuesday we went to the park to feed the ducks, and to see the Girl Guiding exhibition in the parks visitors centre, which was an interesting history lesson for Skylar who had her second time at Rainbows on Monday. It was raining and we watched a bird pulling worms out of the soil for a good 20 minutes, Skylar thought it was hilarious and along with buying duck food from the visitors center instead of giving them bread that makes them ill, and discussing what they usually eat, and what the squirrels eat, and the mice and foxes and even the park rangers, I thought it was a much more interesting lesson than colouring in a life cycles worksheet.

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On Wednesday we went to the local community shop, a few of Skylar’s old classmates were in there because of the school strikes so she caught up with them. We were out for the evening till late on a family visit. On Thursday we had the library and then Woodcraft in the evening, and today she has done some arts and crafts and worked on her journal before heading off to her dad’s for the weekend.

So we are coming to the end of deschooling, but as you can see we have covered many traditional topics in our day to day lives in one week. Literacy, art, biology, history, physics, PE… and not a single moment was wasted taking registration or standing in single file.