So the headline news is Ruth got A*s in psychology and sociology and A grades in graphic design and her EPQ. We were already happy going into the college to get the results as her UCAS track had been updated and she had been accepted at Bath very much her first choice! This made getting the results envelope a much less stressful thing.

The history is not what you may expect. Ruth would not have been my predicted child to get the academic qualifications. She didn’t read until she was nearly 9 , didn’t write a paragraph until she was 13 and doing her environmental management IGCSE. We didn’t hot house her we had a pretty autonomous approach to home-educating and Ruth definitely was more artistic and physical rather than academic, although she always had a great instinctive feel for maths ( and did her maths GCSE when she was 12 having done no formal maths before starting the GCSE study (blog post about maths here)).

She studied 4 IGCSEs/1GCSE at home before fighting to get a place at the local 6th form college – they weren’t happy to accept the English IGCSE – bet they are pleased they took her now! At this stage she was ready to do more formal study and really apply herself, she worked amazingly hard whilst still keeping her job at Robin Hill.

We are so pleased that she got into her choice of university and very proud of her – regardless of her results we were so proud of how she decided what she wanted to do and really applied herself to it – but we are delighted that she got grades that reflected her hard work and dedication. Well done Ruth


One of the best things about The Learning Zone is our annual cookie exchange, organised by one of our members. This year we had a whole afternoon of festive fun. The English and drama group put on an amusing play with magically growing hamsters – yes seriously. Then we exchanged cookies – some of which had the most amazing wrapping this year. Then we sang a mix of sea shanties and carols rather raucously which was great!

Here are a few cookie pics to make you which you had joined in!

Our basket of rather cheaply and simplistically packaged cookies, we made chewy chocolate-chip cookies, German lebkuchen and Dutch pepernoten :


But got these amazing cookies in return:


And just look at this house – I think some people were just showing off!




We loved these boxes too:


and there were so many other lovely and delicious cookies from so many other generous people, we feel really blessed to be part of such a great group.


My favourite day at this site was definitely when we went to visit the Maastricht caves . We even had to cycle (or in my case push) up a proper hill to get there and we arrived a little early for the English language tour so there was time for yet another beer!



The tour guide was brilliant, we had a long hot walk to the caves as the usual entrance was closed during which he established that we were a group that were a mix of English and German speaking so he switched flawlessly between both languages throughout the cave tour.

The extra walk was well worth it as we got to see into the vault which is usually too far for the tour. This was where many Dutch pictures were hidden through the 2nd world war, as well as a hidden radio and a fair few people!





The caves are really man-made tunnels and there are the most amazing charcoal drawings throughout the caves.

Some dinosaurs,

the tour guide was rather critical of the fact that there were a couple of dinosaurs that were incorrectly included as they couldn’t have been from this area.



An illustration of 5 people who helped the Spanish in the 17th century and then had their heads chopped off and displayed at De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads Bastion).

We were quite excited to see this as we had visited this bastion on our walking tour the day before!





A map of the underground caves and tunnels, it really is incredible just how extensive they are.




My favourite part was hearing about the Jewish man who used the tunnels to escape to safety during the second world war and had carved his name in a wall in the 1940s and then seeing underneath the same name with a date just a few years ago when he had revisited the caves.

As well as the charcoal drawings there were many sculptures in the soft rock.




The tour guide gave us a choice of the more adventurous experience or the standard one – we opted for the adventurous one and got to experience a little of the more creepy nature of the caves as the tour guide went ahead of us with the lanterns leaving us in complete darkness to follow him using our fingers on the walls as our guide. It was slow, scary and very disorientating even though i knew we were safe my heart was pounding at the complete helplessness I felt, if the tour guide left us we would have had no way out. He told us about some monks who had become lost in the mines and when they were later found their fingertips had been completely worn away as they had tried to trace their way out by running their hands along the rough walls. Many people have lost their lives in the caves and even with the torch light I was unable to identify which caverns we had been in before.

Jonathan was the only child on the tour so got to have a go at cutting a bit of the stone, it was soft but the idea of doing it for hours on end in the cold humidity was very unpleasant. People stopped working in the mines at the age of about 35 as the damp conditions led to horrendous arthritis.


The temperature is about 12 degrees all the time in the mines which on the hottest day of the holiday was was a welcome relief!

Back outside we had lovely dappled sunshine




and after a trek back up the hill we needed another cool beer and then enjoyed the unusual experience of free-wheeling down a Dutch hill to head back to the van.

One of the things I do is run a few Pre GCSE maths groups, this is a relatively new venture for me and I am loving it. Compared to the GCSE groups we are more relaxed, have more time to explore and discover, more time to play games and more time to cover the topics.

One of the things I really love is a good card sort activity – matching, dominoes etc. You can do the work on the subject you want to cover without worrying about writing things down and you can work collaboratively too.

So today we’ve been working on using protractors accurately, measuring and calculating angles. I really enjoyed this card sort activity from the brilliant Mr Barton’s maths website.






Last Friday in a beautiful break in the weather we went on a fungi walk with the fantastic Sue Bailey  not only is she an amazing storyteller but she also leads a great fungi walk.


I have been doing Sue’s fungi walks since we move to the Island (yes when you live on the Isle of Wight you really do just refer to it as “the island” and everything a ferry ride away is just “the mainland” regardless of whether it’s London or Edinburgh) twelve years ago. In that time I have come to learn a lot of the names but still can only identify about 3 fungi on my own – I aim to learn a new one each year but for some reason i just can’t retain the information!



One of the things I love about a fungi walk is it is one of the things my family refers to as a “proper home-ed activity”. What they mean by this is it is something that people of all ages can and do join in with.





Jonathan even managed to find one this year, but already I’ve forgotten what it is – maybe some sort of russula?



My last month has been manic – extra maths classes, festival outreach at church and Rebekah’s 18th birthday celebrations. By Wednesday I had finished all of that and could head off to Oxford for a day with Martin, Martin had a meeting to go to and Jonathan and I tagged along for the ride and I could spend a day with no agenda just chilling out.

We started with a trip to the Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museums – we did stuffed birds, skulls and shrunken heads, and weapons and armour. Jonathan was a little disturbed by some of the human models which were a bit to anatomically graphic for him!




Then we waited for Martin to join us at the University Parks.




When Martin caught up with us we had a wander around the parks and played a quick game of table tennis.



We headed back to the covered market and shared some delicious Thai food, junmped back on the park and ride bus and headed back to Southampton somewhat earlier than expected. We managed to get on an early ferry and were back in time to head out to Freshwater Bay and a quick swim before bedtime!


It’s been ages since we had a “circus” in The Learning Zone so I thought I’d host one. Everyone brought an activity and we had fun trying out different things.

We had sherbet making (acids and bases) and paper chromatography:





Various watery activities to do with things like surface tension:




Psychological memory testing:



The well known milk, food dye and washing up liquid demonstrations – we experimented with Ecover and cheap washing up liquid there was quite a difference:



And balloon rockets and the ever fun to play with non Newtonian fluid which I didn’t manage to get a pic of.

Had a lovely day.

Rebekah was out at work in the morning then spent the afternoon and evening planning and preparing music and then going out for a drive with her friend who has recently passed her test.

Ruth was heading to the hovercraft and a day on the mainland with friends thanks to one of their mums getting some free hover vouchers.

Which meant that I had an excuse to take Jonathan over to Ryde and to the skate ramps which he had just recently asked me to do. Add in a couple of his home-ed friends and he had a great morning getting more confident scooting. A trip home discussing tax avoidance along with Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.

He suddenly decided to start learning the ukulele so spent the afternoon swapping between youtube clips teaching him and games on the computer when he got too frustrated with it. Then he spent an age reading in bed.

It was a day I was very happy with.



I’ve had a great day.

I went on a walk with Martin to work and instead of just rushing back I went down to the sea and just stood and watched for a while, peaceful and beautiful.

Then we got the pre-Christmas cleaning up done – all the children joined in and so did Caleb who, unfortunately for him, was around to help out!

We had a bit of time to spend making a few decorations and some gingerbread trees and snowmen followed by a quick spot of lunch.

Then we had friends over to decorate gingerbread houses. Jonathan made a gingerbread camp site complete with a fire and an abominable snowman. Val was quite sure we had made a brilliant gingerbread city. There were a lot more sweets at the start than managed to end up on the houses!

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I also got some mulled apple juice going , non-alcoholic but with a little kick from some Rochester dark ginger drink  and while the icing was setting (we used Mary Berry’s royal icing method and it was brilliant) we made some decorative stars.

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Today we went to the Learning Zone nativity. It was lovely, like any traditional nativity with small kids. There was some not very quiet whispering, some prompting needed, some very cute lines and a gorgeous outfit very clearly completely made from a stripy sheet. It was exactly what you want.

But none of my kids were in it – they are just too big. Jonathan is nearly 12 and not interested and the girls were too busy even to be involved in helping out. While the rehearsals were going on I was very aware that there was this whole set of meetings that I would have at one time been very involved in that I had no reason to be at. I was even moderately tempted to go along without the children bit that seemed to be a bit too sad! So we seem to have progressed a stage now as a family we really are (and to be honest haven’t been for a while) not a family with anything resembling small children any more. Time to move on in my thinking as Ruth considers college next year and is already out a lot with an internship type thing at WightStars, and Rebekah has just been given a very slightly conditional offer on the course she wants to do at uni next year.