Nature Curriculum: Spring Pond Study

It’s the second week in March and spring pond season has begun! Following our nature curriculum, this week’s theme is spring pond study and in particular the study of frogspawn.

Since we didn’t have any frogspawn of our own, we had made plans to go visit a local pond in our nearby woods. All this changed when a wonderful friend (and resident frog expert) turned up on my doorstep with a jar full of frogspawn! Neiva was absolutely delighted and so was I. We had never actually seen frogspawn up this close before and I was just as excited as Neiva. Thank you John, you really made spring pond study come to life for Neiva…. and me (more on this later).

Our reading book of the week was another book recommendation from our nature curriculum, Frog and Toad Are Friends. From writing letters to going swimming, telling stories to finding lost buttons, Frog and Toad are always there for each other – just as best friends should be. It is beautiful tale of life and friendship and the perfect accompaniment to our spring pond theme. I have a video of Neiva reading this book to her “babies” the frogspawn. I know its a video I’ll treasure.

For her bedtime read, we are reading Wind In The Willows which was one of my favourite books as a child. She has also requested The Tale of Jeremy Fisher on more than one occasion. To complete our studies, the art of the week was Spring Morning by John Henry Twachtman. To cover our number work, spelling and pencil control, Twinkl has some amazing frog themed worksheets which made the task a little more exciting for Neiva. We also had a visual printout of the lifecycle of a frog on our whiteboard in the school room.

Back to the frogspawn. After we had calmed down from our initial shock and excitement of actually having our very own frogspawn, I quickly ordered a small terrapin box and Duck Weed from Amazon (great for same day and next day delivery). The plan was to grow the frogspawn like this so Neiva could have a perfect view of their development. Once they become froglets we were going to release them back to the pond from which they came. However, we may find a spot in the garden for them to live since Neiva has become quite attached to them.

It is becoming a bit of a tradition to end the week with a sweet treat and this week was no exception. A little bit healthier than our chocolate birds nests from last week, we made Apple Frogs. They were quite a hit, especially with you guys over on Instagram. So just for you, below is a free printable recipe on how we made them.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the frogspawn so do follow us over on Instagram. We do have another very exciting theme next week too. I really hope the weather holds up for it.

Apple Frogs

Prep Time20 mins
Total Time20 mins
Servings: 6
Author: www.nisforneiva.co.uk

Ingredients

  • 6 Green Apples
  • 1 packet Edible Eyes
  • 1 punnet Strawberries sliced
  • 1 punnet Green Grapes halved
  • 1 tbsp Icing Sugar
  • splash Milk

Instructions

  • Using a sharp knife turn the apple on its side and carefully make a slit ending halfway through the apple. Then make an identical slit just above, this time cutting at an angle down towards the first slit. (This should ensure the piece of apple detaches itself and forms the frog's mouth)
  • For the eye holes, again carefully make a small incision with a sharp knife, cutting out a small triangle shape large enough for the edible eye to sit in. Repeat for the other eye
  • Place the sliced strawberry in the frogs mouth for the tongue. 
  • Insert the edible eyes into the eye holes
  • For the legs, firstly make a small sugar paste using icing sugar and milk. Mix together with a fork until smooth. The mixture should have the consistency of thick glue. On the sliced side of grape add the mixture and "glue" the grape to the sides of the apple 

Nature Curriculum: Nesting Birds

The beginning of March was our first official week of home education using the nature curriculum Exploring Nature With Children. This week’s theme was Nesting Birds and a lovely theme to kick start our schooling. Here are some of the things we got up to this week.

Every day, before we start any learning, Neiva, using a mini white board and pen, writes her name, the current day of the week,  what the weather is like today and how she is feeling. We do this because although having hyperlexia makes her an incredible reader, she is a very reluctant writer, so we try and get the writing done and dusted first. She is also left-handed like me. I remember struggling with the tripod pencil grip at her age so a small but important part of our day is to ensure she gets regular writing practice.

The book that we choose for our reading this week was the beautifully illustrated, All Kinds Of Nests. It was one of the book recommendations on the curriculum and it was perfect. The premise of the book is that each type of nest is the best for the bird who made it. For example, a grebe’s nest floats on water and a skylark’s nest is on the ground. This book helped us to find out about different birds by looking at their nests.

Using the Twinkl subscription, I searched for fun and exciting ways to cover the above subjects using our current theme. There were so many really good worksheets that we worked through. Egg and nest addition and subtraction, more and less and pencil control practice. This is also something that is part of our daily routine.

Each week, Neiva learns a piece of poetry related to the weekly theme we are studying. The nature curriculum has an extensive list to choose from. I purchased the book I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree which is a collection of seasonal poems old, new and anonymous, that cover an entire year of the natural world. It has become our go-to book for our weekly poems. The illustrations are very beautiful and enchanting.

We found the perfect poem for nesting birds week:

Two Wrens

Two Wrens there were upon a tree
Whistle and I’ll come to thee

Another came and there were three
Whistle and I’ll come to thee

Another came and there were four
You needn’t whistle any more

And there are none to show to you
For being frightened off they flew

(Anonymous)

Beautiful isnt it? To complement the poem of the week we also looked at a complementary piece of Art. The artwork that we displayed in our school room for the week was Birds Nest by Vincent Van Gogh. For a short period in his life, Van Gogh became fascinated with birds nests. He reportedly wrote  “I am now busy painting still lifes of my birds’ nests, four of which are finished; I think some people who are good observers of nature might like them because of the colours of the moss, the dry leaves and the grasses.”

The middle of the week saw us making our very own birds nest. The Nurture Nature Kids Facebook group I am a member of, had set a playmail challenge. The idea was that we were paired up with someone else in the group. In February we each sent a loose play parts package to our respective partners. Anything that can be used in loose play….. bark, acorns, shells, leaves – was to be included. Once we had received our package the idea was to post an picture of how we played with our loose parts on Instagram and in the group. It was a lot of fun and the package I received all the way from Scotland, was used to make our birds nest. The only additional item we had to add were moss and mud. 

Neiva and I usually finish the week on some kind of edible treat. We made these no bake chocolate birds nests. The recipe could not be easier. This particular recipe makes 8-10 birds nests.

Chocolate Birds Nests

A delicious easy no bake treat that your children will love.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time25 mins
Keyword: chocolate
Author: Leanne Beardsley

Ingredients

  • 200 grams Milk chocolate
  • 85 grams Crumbled shredded wheat
  • 100 grams Mini eggs

Instructions

  • Break the chocolate into pieces and melt gently over a bowl of simmering water. Once melted, remove from heat. 
  • Stir the crushed shredded wheat into the melted chocolate and coat. 
  • Using a dessert spoon, scoop up and place into a cupcake case making a small well in the middle
  • Add the mini eggs and place in the fridge to set for at least one hour.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our first nature schooling week. Next week’s theme will be Spring Pond Study. We are really looking forward to this and cannot wait to share our week with you.

Thank you for taking the time to read. We can usually be found over on Instagram so pop across and say hello! If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.

Preparing To Homeschool

For those of you who read my last post you will know we have made the decision to home educate Neiva following a nature curriculum. In the early stages of planning it felt like a mountainous undertaking, but, with lots of research, an enormous amount of guidance from friends who home educate their children, and the nature led learning community on social media,  we feel confident enough to start this.

Those who know me IRL, know that being organised is not something that comes naturally to me. I do have to work very hard at it. I hope this is encouraging to those of you who are the same and this may be one of the reasons holding you back. I hope I can reassure you that, it hasn’t taken me as long as I thought to get into these new habits which have made home education seem less overwhelming.

As well as the worry of being organised came an overwhelming feeling of self doubt. Teaching would fall solely on my shoulders, not Paul, who is the naturally more academic and more patient of the two of us. Will I be able to give her the same level of learning that she was currently receiving in mainstream school? Neiva isn’t your typical 7 year old. Her hyperlexia means she is already an advanced reader and an overachiever in mathematics. The challenge that would be encouraging her conversational and social skills. Would she be patient enough with me? Would I be patient enough with her? Again, becoming more organised and prepared in advance has alleviated a lot of these fears.

Over the last few weeks, we seem to have gotten into a very consistent organised rhythm, which has only benefited us as a family whilst preparing this exciting time.  What have we found helpful so far?

Have a designated room/space

Firstly, we agreed to have a designated school room, in our case, the summer house in the garden which was previously used as an office for Paul. Since Neiva thrives on routine, having a designated place for schooling means that she will adapt better during learning time. The outdoor environment is perfect for her nature schooling. A lot of home educating parents I have connected with over the last few weeks have similar ethos. I’ve seen really creative ways of curating a learning environment, from a large unused room to a small but clearly defined corner of the house.

Make sure you have “me time” each day

Paul has taken over Neiva’s bedtime routine from start to finish. So the whole brush teeth, toilet, finding the right teddy, read 50 stories, chatty giddy stage that happens right before bed is solely on him. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this help! This has helped massively because I know everyday I have a slice of time in which to catch up and clean up ready for the next day, as well as calving out some very important relaxation time. I am sad to have given this up as reading to her was my favourite part of the day, but we get a lot of opportunity to read during her school day and she is happy with our new arrangement. She’s very much a daddy’s girl and does miss him very much through the day. so having this one to one time with him is really good for her. Although, the down side for me is that we have currently gone from the gentle adventures of Enid Blyton to the chaotic yet fun escapades of Captain Underpants. He does brilliant voices for each of the characters which she absolutely loves, hes a much more exciting reader than me!

Invest in a planner

For probably the first time in my whole adult life, I have a planner. This has been revolutionary. Actually writing tasks down and crossing them off as finished is so cathartic. I finally feel one step ahead. There are a number of planning apps for smartphones, but personally I prefer a physical paper planner, but you can choose whatever works for you. My planner was very inexpensive, designed for teachers, and works really well for what I need it to do. The only downside to it (that I didn’t realise when I bought it) is that it is an American planner and had US holidays bookmarked instead of UK bank holidays, but I’ve manually written those in so it really isn’t the end of the world.

Keeping costs low

It is easy to get carried away when preparing to home school. Pinterest for me was a nightmare. I fell down a rabbit hole of beautifully creatively elaborate recreations of a school classroom when all Neiva really needed was the basics. So, the walls have been painted white which makes the wood look stunning. We have a whiteboard, a bookcase and a plain white desk and two spare dining room chairs. We already had this sideboard which we have used for extra storage and a nature table. We also have a couple of photo shelves for the walls (you will soon see what these will be used for). A blank canvas, so we have plenty of room to showcase her work as time progresses.

The mud kitchen outside was made from a pallet and an old potting table. The muffin tins and cups are all recycled from family and friends. The whole mud kitchen project cost next to nothing and has proven to be such a useful space for Neiva.

Books are an integral part of our schooling and could be something that could really send your budget spiralling out of control. I am an total bibliophile and have shelves full of books so I feel I am qualified to preach here a little. The most cost efficient way of ensuring you have the right books at the right price has always been for me our Amazon Prime account. More often than not, Amazon will have the book at the cheapest price with the added bonus of free fast delivery. If not, then I always look under their used section. Many books in used but good condition start as little as 99p. We also have a library a short walk from where we live if the occasion should arise that we cannot source a book we need.

I hope these tips have been useful to anyone looking to start their home educating adventure. Thank you for taking the time to read and if you have any questions just pop them below and I will be sure to try and answer them.

Follow our journey on Instagram.

When A Flower Does Not Bloom

This has been such a difficult post to write. It is very bitter sweet. For the last four years, Neiva has been in primary school. A wonderful one. One of the best. I have never seen a school so committed to the well being of its children. A school that has given Neiva all the support they could possibly give. A school that gave us the kindest, most patient and loving support teacher that has been with her since her nursery days and held her hand all the way through to today.

Why then, have we made the decision to take her away from all this?

The best way I can explain why is with an illustration. I’d love to take credit for it as it perfectly describes a child with sensory overload. I heard this in a Facebook group for home educators and it really resonated with me. So here is is.

Imagine you are terrified of spiders. A very real phobia. The very thought of one sends you into a panic. Even the mere mention sends your heart rate rising. You have butterflies in your stomach, you start to tremble. Panic starts to creep in. All your senses are now heightened. You are told to go into a room and sit at a desk. You are going to learn something new. Its going to be fun. You are going to be taught by the best teacher in the world.

Now imagine, you open the door and that room is filled with spiders.

That is how Neiva feels in a general classroom. Even with the best will in the world, she will struggle to cope in this environment. A quote you will have probably seen going around social media is “when a flower does not bloom, you fix the environment it grows in, not the flower” This, is us.

Wherever possible, the school made provision for Neiva to learn outside in a more natural environment. Anyone who knows Neiva knows she is calmed, soothed and comforted when immersed in nature. To build on this, we have made the decision to home educate Neiva on a nature curriculum starting March 2019.

The last few weeks Paul and I have been planning. To capitalise on outdoor learning, we have converted our summer house in the bottom of the garden to a school room. It’s a wonderful space that we can dip in and out of the garden throughout our learning time, as a lot of our lessons will be garden based. The school room also gives a designated learning area and a good structure for Neiva who thrives on routine. She will have a clear vision on when her learning time starts and ends. It will also save my sanity, meaning my house will stay tidy. We are in the processing of creating a mud kitchen and I will be writing a whole post on it when its finally finished.

The curriculum we will be following is Exploring Nature With Children. This is designed to be a step by step guide to an entire year of nature learning. To support Neiva’s academic learning we have subscribed to Twinkl, a primary resource that is used in most UK schools. Every fortnight she will be attending Forest School, and of course we have our much loved National Trust Membership.

Saying goodbye to the teaching staff and her best school friend, a lovely boy who has been her friend since they started nursery together, was so difficult. We are going to make an effort to keep in touch. At the same time, we are excited for our new learning adventure to begin. I will be using this space to document our journey, so I hope you will follow along with us. You can stay up to date by subscribing below and of course following us on Instagram.

If you have any questions, just leave me a comment below.

Hyperlexia & Echolalia

My daughter’s very first love happened at aged 2. We were having an afternoon at home, CBeebies was quietly playing in the background, Neiva was on the floor playing with her toys, a ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ day.

Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she began to laugh, a real long hearty laugh.

You have to understand, up to this moment Neiva hadn’t really shown any particular interest in anything. No favourite comforter (other than her dummies), no favourite food (she ate anything and everything with the same gusto and enthusiasm), no favourite toy (she would play with everything equally and without favouritism). But, this day, something she saw and heard stopped her in a tracks and put the biggest smile on her face, clapping her hands with excitement.

I looked up. It was an episode of Charlie & Lola called ‘I’ve Got Nobody To Play With’. Lola is trying to play by herself with two walkie-talkies, running back and forth between beds asking for pink milk. I played it again. Sure enough, the belly laughs came. Neiva was up on her feet clapping and bubbling over with excitement. You can see a recording of her here. We still have absolutely no idea why that particular part made her laugh. She is now 6 and still laughs uncontrollably at this scene.

From that moment on, Neiva’s intense love for all things Charlies & Lola began to blossom. We had no idea just how much those two beautifully quirky little characters would soon help us communicate with our gifted little girl.

What is Hyperlexia?

Neiva has Hyperlexia. In short, Hyperlexia is a syndrome which is closely similar to autism, though it has very different defining characteristics. These children are highly intellectual but have to work extremely hard in social situations. What makes Hyperlexia unique to other types of syndromes on the autism spectrum, is the gift of self taught reading, usually before the age of 5 (Neiva taught herself to read when she was almost 3 years old). This, combined with a highly developed visual and audio memory, and an unusual fascination with letters, numbers shapes, colours and maps.

One of the negative sides of Hyperlexia is a lack of everyday conversation. Neiva would very rarely asked for things and if she wanted something she would just simply point, give a one word answer, or just attempt to get what she wanted herself. But, this was all soon to change thanks to Charlie and his little sister, Lola.

What is Echolalia?

Echolalia is the term used to describe when a child repeats or imitates what someone else has said. For example, if you ask the child “Do you want a cookie?”, the child says “cookie” instead of “yes”. There is also a type of echolalia called “delayed echolalia” which is when the child repeats something he has heard before, even though he did not just hear it. For example, a child may repeat a line from a favourite movie even though that movie is not playing currently (Source: Speech & Language Kids). It was this type of delayed echolalia that we could relate to everyday moments with Neiva.

Echolalia is clinically described by some as a “meaningless repetition of another person’s spoken words”. How cold! I could not disagree more. This description is reckless. Every single sentence or phrase that a child uses echolalia to communicate with the world is not ‘meaningless’. They have specifically chosen to speak those words for a reason. Decoding the meaning of those words, for us as her parents, meant that we had to turn this communication barrier into a game, a puzzle, instead of a chore. Some phrases were self explanatory, others took some time to unravel, but the beauty of echolalia is, once the message has been decoded, it very rarely changes its meaning. Children with hyperlexia have an incredible memory. Astonishingly so. So for them, that particular phrase is set, like indelible ink.

Types of Echolalia

Immediate Echolalia is when a child repeats a phrase you have just said, for example, “would you like an apple or an orange” they may reply “apple or an orange”. It is important to realise that she is not saying this because she does not understand you. It is her way of saying ‘I’ve heard what you said, I am just processing that information and need a minute to do that’. Pausing for a few seconds longer before asking again really goes a long way to helping a child using immediate echolalia.

A practical solution for a situation like this would be a visual aid. So if I wanted Neiva to choose between an apple or an orange, I would have one in each hand and she would choose. If she chose an apple for example I would then hold the apple in front of her and say “I would like an apple please mummy” and she would repeat the phrase whilst taking the apple. Very quickly she would know that for me to release the apple in my hand she would have to ask for it. Again, because of her incredible auditory and visual ability, this situation and accompanying phrase would be banked in her memory.

Since hyperlexia is a self taught reading ability, we use this gift in situations where there are no visual aids to help. We would simply and clearly write down her choices and she would read and decide this way.

Delayed Echolalia… is the repetition of phrases after a period of time has passed. It could be months or even years after the phrase was originally heard and may randomly be spoken by the child at any time or any place. Below are some common reasons why a child may use delayed echolalia.  

….. for personal entertainment

This is something that we really relate to. Neiva from the age of two would repeat large sections of Charlie & Lola episodes days and weeks after watching it, excitedly reciting and reenacting word perfect out of nowhere and for seemingly no apparent reason.

I found this fascinating to watch. It was like she was in her own private movie theatre in her mind, experiencing escapism of the best kind. For some, this type of delayed echolalia is a child’s way of self soothing, often labelled under ‘self stimulatory behaviour’.

…..to convey a message

Some phrases were self explanatory. “I’m really ever so not well Charlie” she would say, Lola’s voice mimicked to perfection, or, “It is completely absolutely boiling” for when she was (of course) too hot.

Another obvious, well used, phrase was when it came to combing her hair after a bath. Neiva, despite having the most gorgeously beautiful long hair, detests the upkeep and responsibility that comes with it. “I like my hair completely the way it is” or “not the brushing Charlie, PLEASE not the brushing” were commonly asked when it was time to comb that enormous mane of hers. In this situation she would always ask if she could be “Princess No-Knots” another phrase from this episode, which to her translated ‘please stop brushing my hair now, that’s quite enough’.

My personal favourite phrase Neiva uses happens whenever I ask if she wants to go somewhere or do something that she is really excited about for example: a visit to the Ice-cream Farm or her favourite past time, to have a bubbly bath. Her smile slowly grows until it finally reaches her eyes then she replies, heartfelt and slowly “I really….really absolutely do”. It melts my heart every single time.

…. to determine mood or emotion

Some phrases though, required more thought. Whenever Neiva was sad or frustrated she would shout loudly and definitely “its my zoo house and my town too Charlie!” For weeks we did not know what she was trying to say. All we knew was that she was always sad usually with tears when she said it, until one day we watched the episode. Charlie was uncharacteristically mean to Lola and it made her feel so sad. So although the phrase Neiva was saying did not relate to anything going on in the real world, to her the phrase made her remember that Lola was sad and that was the message she was trying to articulate to us.

….. to process and compartmentalise her memories

For a child with an incredibly active visual and auditory memory like Neiva, the every day processing of information can be overwhelming. These incredible brains are storing masses amounts of information every second of every minute of every day and need to be sorted through. For this to happen these children use delayed echolalia as a way of processing the memories that bubble up to the surface and need somewhere to go, like folding and putting away mental laundry. For a parent of a child who finds conversation difficult, delayed echolalia is a life saver. A window into your child’s thoughts and feelings and a wonderful insight into her school day for example. For Neiva, I know she feels so much better when her thoughts and feelings have been processed and she can move on to a new day.

Today…..

Neiva still uses echolalia from time to time, more so during the school day if it gets too much for her or if a regular routine changes. She has the most incredible teacher (Miss T) who has been by her side since nursery, who knows exactly how to comfort and reassure her. We are incredibly lucky to have her in Neiva’s life.

Neiva will be 7 this Autumn and still adores Charlie & Lola and I’m so pleased she does. She has an extensive collection of Charlie & Lola books that she adores and reads most nights. I will be so sad when she eventually outgrows them. However, I am reassured that when she is all grown up, she will look back at her childhood and remember with great fondness just what a huge part of her emotional life they were during these important early years.

These photographs were taken at the beautiful Newby Hall in Yorkshire, during the Lauren Child Summer Exhibition that is currently running from July until September 2018.

To follow our journey on Instagram click here

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