Friday, 19 February 2021

Inspiration for Winter Days

This week, I was looking round the house for a book when I found the autobiography of Patricia St John.

Patricia St John wrote Christian fiction for children. Her most famous books are Tanglewood Secrets and Treasures of the Snow. Miss St John was the child of missionaries to South America. After Patricia was born, they decided that Patricia's mother would stay in England with the three young children while her father would return to the mission field. Patricia was mainly raised by her mother and grandmother. She recounts tales of a happy, boisterous childhood which was the inspiration for many of her stories. Her mother courageously took her young family to Switzerland for a year. This was a time which later led to the writing of Treasures of the Snow. Patricia grew up and trained as a nurse, during the Second World War. This was followed by many years of serving the Lord as a nurse in North Africa. There were many trials and many answers to prayer.  This book is joyful and points to Patricia's Lord and Saviour. The photo is of my old edition but there is a newer edition available. The autobiography is written for adults but would also be suitable for teenagers.

My podcast diet recently has been Mended Teacups and Life more extraordinary. 

Mended Teacups is the podcast of two UK home educators. It is friendly, helpful and applicable to where I am as a UK home educator. 

Life more extraordinary is quite different. It is the podcast of an academic coach with episodes about revision methods, learning differences and how to achieve your academic best. I haven't listened to every episode but have found some helpful ideas and links. While we are on the subject of academics, I recommend Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski. This is written for teens and explains how to learn using some neuroscience on the way. 

A couple of maths sites which are free and useful. Topmarks isn't just a maths site, although that is all that I haven't used anything beyond the maths. It has a teaching clock and number frames as well as games for number bonds, multiplication and division and more. Ideal for primary aged children.

 Corbett Maths has a primary and a secondary site. Both sites have five maths questions, at different levels, for every day  of the year (plus answers!). There are also videos. I haven't used the videos much, or the primary videos at all, but the questions are helpful for revision. Unless you have a maths whizz kid, I don't think the questions are suitable for KS1!


More winter activities!

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Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Activities which work in an online Home Education Group

 As promised in my last post, these are some activities which have worked well in an online group meeting

  • Presentations by children. We have a weekly slot for these and strangely, they often work better online than in person. Have you ever sat in a meeting where a young child is trying to talk to a group without a microphone? It is so much easier to hear when a computer microphone is used and additionally, there is no peering round heads to see pictures.  The use of quizzes after the talk has also increased.
  • Book clubs- are easy to run online. We run four different, fortnightly, book groups for different ages. . The only group that we haven't taken onto the internet is that for the preschoolers. Sadly, loans of books between families which were very frequent and popular don't work. However, we have been able to continue to have book recommendations and plenty of enthusiasm. Not sure that I ought to allow the renaming as the Bookwork, the Bookiest Bookworm etc another time though! For anyone who needs to know, it is possible to disable renaming on Zoom.
  • Science for older children. We run a fortnightly chemistry group for children in upper KS2/lower KS3 and also groups for older children with topics from biology and physics IGCSE. Obviously, these aren't good for practical science although the younger group can be asked to do some practical science at home e.g. growing salt crystals or chromatography.. Quizzes are easy to run using either Powerpoint or Google slides. Google documents make it easy to share slide shows and suggested practical activities with parents.


Kitchen Chromatography
  • Scavenger hunts work are popular with younger children

  • I do miss meetings for mums, sitting someone's house, drinking tea and eating cake, while handing round curriculum but meeting over the internet is the next best thing. So much of this isn't perfect but is so much better than nothing. It is possible to encourage one another in lockdown!

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Friday, 22 January 2021

Home Education Group Online

 For the last few years, Lizzy (Peaches at Home) and I have run a fortnightly home education group. Over time, it has grown and by the beginning of 2020,a group of us were running a meeting which included an older session at the same time as the primary aged group for the first part of the afternoon and dividing into four different age book groups towards the end. Then came Covid and we had to stop. Over the Easter break, we realised that it would be better to have something rather than nothing and that something would have to be online so we put the group online from April 2020. Since then, we have always had some of the meetings virtually although we were also able to have  outside sessions during the autumn.

This is probably the most important lesson that I have learned from this. Something is better than nothing and it is worth having a go.

None of the mums in the organising group are particularly techie. We went with Zoom because one was using that in her church and so had a week or so of experience on the platform. Initially, we only had the free version of Zoom. Our new offering wasn't perfect but for most of us, it was much better than nothing. Our children had something different to do. One of my main problems in lockdown has been answering the question 

What are we doing today?

Saying 

Work

isn't usually a satisfactory answer whereas the promise of a book club or online chemistry or scavenger hunt is.

To be honest, not every family wants to go online and that is fine but for the majority who do, it is worth a go! 

I hope to post later about some of our most successful ideas.


One activity which we have run online is being a judging group for the Royal Society Young People's book prize.

Just a few practicalities

  • It is worth sending round a weekly email with links to all the meetings for the week. Yes, the links may be recurring but we all need a reminder. This isn't my job but I have often been thankful that Lizzy has done this so I don't have to search too hard for the link.
  • It is easier to spread meetings over the week as families may not have sufficient devices or a fast enough broadband connection to have multiple children in different meetings. Younger children will need parental supervision anyway.
  • I don't tend to mute the children as they are usually enthusiastic and want to participate, however, it is worth checking how to mute them first just in case someone's little sibling decides to cry!
  • Similarly, it is worth knowing how to control renaming, chat boxes and how to turn off someone's video if they distract themselves and others with altering background. Why would I need to know this?
  • Meetings don't need to be long. Something is better than nothing! Free Zoom is limited to 40 minutes if there are more than two devices in the meeting. If you should run out of time, it is possible to log back in on the same link. Having said that, we are very grateful that the group has been gifted Zoom membership which allows us meetings over 40 minutes.
  • It is easy to have a Zoom meeting with yourself to practice! I had frequent meetings with myself, initially, to work out how screen sharing worked, how to share videos and slide shows. Zoom isn't difficult!
Have you put your home education group online? I would love to know how this has worked, and particularly what has gone well, as our group is very much a work in progress.

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Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Top Books of 2020

 This year I have read between fifty and sixty books. They fall into several groups

-children's books. Some of these, I have read aloud to my children and others have been prereads before using with a children's book club that I run; using for book recommendations or prior to reading aloud with my children. 

-adult fiction. This has been dominated by Agatha Christie, this year, as my younger daughter has discovered her books and likes to have someone to discuss them with. Reading them isn't a hardship!

-Christian books which I have read to learn more about the faith or for  encouragement.

- adult non-fiction. This is a bit of a ragbag.

I grade the books that I read from 1 to 5. Looking through, no books have received a one this year. This is probably because there have been books which I haven't bothered to finish. Anyway, onto the best.

Children's Books

I enjoy reading children's books and this year, some have been particularly worthwhile.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a classic set in a fictional time in history. What or who are the wolves? It has an encouragingly happy ending. Ideal for children aged about 9-11.

Stella by Starlight is a book that deserves to become a classic. This is set in North Carolina in the 1930s in a black family. It details the struggles of the men of the community to register to vote against a background of Klu Klux Klan activity. 

Next term's read with the book club is Out of the Smoke which I reviewed earlier.

A friend recommended On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. I'm not usually a big fantasy fan but this is written particularly well and my youngest has been very keen for us to start the next volume. 

The faithful spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to kill Hitler was ,again, read at the instigation of a friend. This is a reflective comic book aimed at older children. There is so much to think about in this book: theology, history, pacifism, loyalty to country and when to stand up and be counted. I don't agree with Bonhoeffer in everything, certainly not theologically, but this is a book that I am booking forward to reading and discussing with my children.


Adult Fiction

Agatha Christie has been fun and the best of the year was And then there were none although it is definitely creepy. 

I guess that I need to read some more fiction, next year. Suggestions are gratefully received!


Christian Books

This year, I have reread some of Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. I don't know how many times that I have read these but they are straightforward, helpful commentaries on the text which don't strain the meaning.

A Passion for the Impossible:the life of Lilias Trotter is the biography of a wealthy Victorian artist and friend of John Ruskin who gave up all her hope of becoming a famous artist to go as a missionary to Algeria. 

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: a Devout Muslim encounters Christianity 

This is the raw testimony of a a Muslim lad to starts to work through the truth of the information that he has always believed about Christianity and then the foundation for his Islamic beliefs. A thoughtful book showing the beliefs that many Muslims have about Christianity, Nabeel's love for his family and the cost that he paid to follow the Lord Jesus.


Adult Non-Fiction

Tyneham: a Lost Heritage

I picked up this book which had belonged to my Mother in law and wasn't sure whether it would be worth reading. It is Dorset local history and I wasn't sure that it would grip someone not born in the county but it was definitely a keeper. Tyneham is a village which was taken over by the military in the Second World War and never returned. Lilian Bond tells the story of growing up in the manor at the turn of the twentieth century and a world which has gone forever and a place which has changed beyond recognition. 


I have written short comments about the books which I have read in this year's book list. As always, I have some books on the go

  • Wonder  by R.J. Palacio
  • Prisoner's of Geography: Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about Global politics
  • More than Conquerors: an interpretation of the book of Revelation
  • Spurgeon's Devotional Bible- My husband and I have been reading this together for a couple of years and, God willing, will finish this tomorrow. This might be heresy but I prefer this to Spurgeon's Morning and Evening as the comments follow the text more closely.


Please feel free to recommend books for me for next year! 


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Monday, 14 December 2020

Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain

 So much of British history is around the characters and actions our monarchs but knowing who was who and the order in which they reigned isn't always straightforward. Personally, I find the order during the Middle Ages particularly confusing.

Anne and Paul Fryer have just produced a pocket sized book, Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain which has an evocative, amusing illustration and short summary of each monarch in chronological order, from Ã†thelstan to Elizabeth II. This is an ideal book to have around to let children read and also as a reference; a quick guide for when no one is quite sure about who King Stephen was or can't remember the details of the Henrys.


This book would also fit well with the tea towel with the corresponding illustrations of the monarchs which the Fryers have also produced. Having both the book and the tea towel in the kitchen might spark some interesting conversations.

This book would make an ideal stocking filler for an older KS2 or any KS3 child and would be a useful resource for the parents too.

Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain can be purchased from Lulu or Amazon. The Kings and Queens tea towel is available from the History of Great Britain website.

If you are looking for a longer history of Great Britain for children, then look up Anne and Paul's first book, The Great History of Britain, which is an ideal introduction to British history for younger children.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.



Friday, 30 October 2020

Out of the Smoke

Children's historical fiction about London is always a hit, in this house, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read Out of the Smoke which is due to be published tomorrow, 31st October.



Out of the Smoke is aimed at older children and set in the underbelly of Victorian London. 

Billy is an eleven year old climbing boy, one of the children used to clean chimneys by pulling himself up the chimney and using a brush from inside the flue. Strange to our thinking but it was thought that this gave better results than using brushes although, this method of chimney cleaning came at a heavy cost to the children involved. Billy had six years of experience as a climbing boy when the story starts and was proving useful as he had stopped growing. doubtless, partly due to chronic malnutrition. 

The dangers of climbing weren't the only problem that Billy faced. He lived in South London in a world of gangs, violence, drunkenness and neglect. His problems become worse and he has to flee his own area and face the dangers of gang warfare. 

I don't want to put in any plot spoilers except to say that Lord Shaftesbury, his Christian motivation and his work in eradicating child sweeps does come into the book.

Out of the Smoke has a clear Christian message: a message that is as relevant today, and to today's gang members, as it was to Billy's comrades. Billy has to learn that he can't help himself and that his own schemes don't work before he will listen to the simple Gospel message brought by the Earl.

I enjoyed reading Out of the Smoke and hope to use it with a book group for tweens, in the New Year. It would appeal to children from age about 10.  It has just the right mix of adventure, action and danger to appeal to tweenagers/early teens. Families with avid readers often look for books to give to younger children. There is a fair amount of violence and injury in the book. I am sure that it downplays the reality of the situation, however, it should be pre-read before giving to younger children, particularly, if they are sensitive. 

Highly recommended for readers from about age 10.

Out of the Smoke is published by Wakeman Trust and is available from the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop and Amazon. There are some accompanying resources on Matthew Wainwright's website plus the first chapter if you would like a taster.


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Disclaimer: I was provided with a pdf review copy of Out of the Smoke. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.


Saturday, 24 October 2020

Wulfgar and the Dragon

Wulfgar and the Dragon is the second book in the Wulfgar the Saxon trilogy by Christina Eastwood. I reviewed the first book, Wulfgar and the Vikings earlier in the year. Both are children's historical fiction set in southern England in the ninth century. 

In this new volume, there are rumours of damage to crops and animals by a strange beast. Wulfgar and his mentor, Morcant, set off to investigate. Their findings lead to decisions around loyalty. What is the explanation for the strange beast? Has Wulfgar made the right decision about his findings and what will be the consequence?

This book would help bring a study of the Saxons alive. It is written from a clear Christian worldview and brings up issues such as honesty, loyalty, older Christians doing wrong, a troubled conscience and a changed life. 

The book is said to be for 9-12 year olds and this is fair. Keen readers will finish this book quickly and I think that it would also be suitable for slightly younger readers providing they aren't particularly sensitive. There are some injuries in the book and animals are killed but this isn't over dramatised. 

CS Lewis said 

children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest. 

When Wulfgar and the Vikings  arrived, my husband immediately asked if he could read it as he had so appreciated the first volume. I certainly found it a splendid book. My eleven year old was also fascinated with the idea of a book including dragons. So, this book is recommended by us.

Wulfgar and the Dragon is available from Ritchie Christian Media and also from Amazon. This new book is complete in itself but like any trilogy, it makes most sense the read the first book, Wulfgar and the Vikings first. I hope that when all three volumes are available, there will be an option to buy the trilogy as one volume.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Wulfgar and the Vikings. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are my own.