Friday, 23 September 2016

Carry on, Mr Bowditch

Carry On, Mr Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a children's biography of the American navigator and mathematician, Nathaniel Bowditch. The book was originally published in 1955 and won the Newbery Medal in 1956.
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Perhaps, because I am English, I hadn't heard for Nathaniel Bowditch before. However, he was an important figure and responsible for saving the lives of many sailors.

Jean Latham tells the story of a boy who came from a poor background. Nathaniel desperately wanted to go to Harvard but instead was indentured to a chandler for nine long years. An studious and determined boy, Bowditch applied himself to study of maths, science and even taught himself Latin so that he could read the scientific books of the day. His method for learning Latin and later other languages was to acquire a Latin Bible, dictionary and grammar and teach himself from there. Thankfully, he did have a Frenchman to help him with his French accent.

Later, having finished his apprenticeship, Nathaniel went on voyages where he discovered a more efficient way of of working out a ship's location using the position of the moon. He also discovered that the charts in the current sailing text, Moore's Almanac, contained thousands of errors. These errors could, and did, cost lives. Eventually, Bowditch wrote his own navigation text The American Practical Navigator. According to Wikipedia, this book is still carried on US naval vessels.

I enjoyed this book. It is ideal for children who are less keen on fiction and shows the importance of maths in real life. Highly recommended. Suggested age range 8+.

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Monday, 19 September 2016

The Beginning of Term

We've been back at more formal home educating for over two weeks. Two weeks of getting used to having an older sibling abroad and another in the sixth form. Lunch time has been for messaging and talking with the sister in another time zone. Hurray for the internet!

We've had our  first outing of the year to the Fire, Fire exhibition at the Museum of London. This was topical and fitted in brilliantly with the history that we are studying and was followed by a picnic beside the walls of London.


However, there have been challenges:

  • Phone calls/door bells/talking to carers and hospital appointments. 
  • Realising that some subjects continue to need reenforcement.
  • Seeing the government target for physical activity in children which is an hour a day and realising that we don't hit this every day. I'm not hide bound by government targets but for many reasons this makes sense for us.


As usual, planning has had to be modified. I don't think this is a reason not to plan. For me, not planning would mean that we would subside into doing nothing but that doesn't mean that the plans can't be altered. One of the benefits of home education is that education can be customised for the children's needs at any particular time.

So what has needed changing already?

  • Spelling. I had hoped that Nessy would be sufficient but realised that both children could do with some extra, regular spelling practice so decided to use All about Spelling again. I have added this to morning time and both children are learning together. So far, this is working well.

  • Adding in a new daily exercise slot-this has been really positive. In addition, we have continued going out for nature walks often focused around conkers!

  • Latin. This was always going to be a stretch and it became obvious, within the first week, that it would be sensible to use the gentler Minimus rather than starting with Galore Park. Minimus seems to be going well. Learning vocab is always a challenge. Just writing the word didn't seem to work but adding a picture seems to  help. Minimus also has a great website.

  • It really isn't possible to do everything every day. We do English and  maths daily and I have no plans to alter this but there just isn't time to do Latin and English literature every day. 
Do you plan too much and end up having to modify too? I always think that we can do more than is really possible.

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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Elin's Air

My husband is from Wales and exploring its history and landscape has always been important to us so I was delighted to review Elin's Air by Emily Stanford. 
Elin's Air is set in North Wales in 1903. At this time, North Wales was turbulent with strikes, gold mining and revival.

Elin is the daughter of a miner and her father is a difficult man from over use of alcohol and over exposure to dust in the mine. Elin's life alters when she has to leave school and go out to work. She learns of the revival and also of a potential of a find of gold. Through the novel, Elin grows and faces difficulty, death and a substantial amount of hard work.

The book has a fascinating portrayal of the 1904 revival in Wales showing both the striking interest of the people but the small role of preaching and the comparatively large role of words from the congregation. Alongside, the story of the revival is Elin's own spiritual growth and conversion.

The book has a  mixture of pictures of early twentieth Welsh life: cockle collecting, mining, farming in addition to the revival and issues of cross class relationships. The story builds up to a satisfying end.

There are a fair number of phrases in the book in Welsh. Do note that there is a glossary, at the back of the book, with translations of these. The end of the book also has a note around historical accuracy which is worth reading after the book.

Recommended for older children and above as there is a slightly disturbing part about a grave and also mild romance. A book has many areas for discussion, particularly, around issues in the revival and in early twentieth century Welsh life. 

Elin's Air is available on Amazon or from Hillman Publishing.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Elin's Air for the purpose of the review. I was not required to write a positive review. The views stated are my own.

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

A Summer in Children's Books

Over the last few months, I have been reading a selection of children's books so that I can recommend books to the children in the book club.

This is a quick outline of my summer reading. Stars from 1 to 5 and are the rating that I will use if I ever get round to posting these on Goodreads. The books are aimed at children from 8-12 unless stated otherwise.

The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. * True story of Jewish sisters who were hidden by a Dutch family in the Second World War. Fascinating story but completely spoiled by a large amount of swearing.

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong.*** A tiny school in the Netherlands tries to attract storks back to their village.

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner **** Emil has his money stolen. Can he and other children find the thief? This would also be suitable for slightly younger children and despite its subject matter is only very minimally scary. It is being used in our younger children's book club with children from five.

Moonfleet-J. Meade Falkner **** This book is scary and is better for older children. I first read it at 13 which which probably the ideal age for this book. I have reviewed this book in a separate post.


 Five Little Peppers and how they grew-Margaret Sidney ** A Polyanna like book about a poor Victorian family whose circumstances improved. Not scary but a bit insipid.


From the mixed up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler-E.L. Konigsburg*** Two children run away from home and hide in a museum. There is a mystery around a new exhibit which the children decide to solve. Positives of this book: much of the book is around one of the main characters, Claudia, coming to understand herself. Negatives: the children put themselves into dangerous situations (going to a stranger's home) and get off scott free. Incidentally, one of the things that began to frustrate me over this summer of reading children's books was the number of times that I had to suspend belief when children got into dangerous situation and got off without any harm.


Still more stories from Grandma's attic-Arieta Richardson***** These stories don't require the suspension of belief as they are from real life and funny. Written from a Christian point of view and one of these contained a beautiful and respectful story about hospitality to an elderly neighbour suffering from dementia.


War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond.**** This is a book for teenagers and I have reviewed it. Link in the title.

Number the Stars-Lois Lowry**** Historical fiction from the real story of how the Danish Jews escaped from Denmark in the Second World War. There is one phrase which can be interpreted as either taking the Lord's name in vain or an emergency prayer. It is worth skipping this if reading aloud or discussing if children read this. The rest of the story is well told and memorable.

Duncan's War by Douglas Bond **** First in a trilogy about a Scottish family in Covenanting times. More suitable for the older end of the age range as there is some fighting. 

The year of Miss Agnes-Kirkpatrick Hill** I had heard great things about this book but found it disappointing. An inspiring teacher comes to a deprived community and everyone is encouraged to seek learning. Sorrow fills the village as her year in post comes to an end. Sad that the change seems so dependent on one person.

A Country Child by Alison Uttley* A year in the life of a child living deep in the country in, presumably, the early years of the twentieth century. An interesting read but I can't recommend it. It is full of a syncretistic mix of Christianity and paganism.

Rebecca Stubbs: Vicar's Daughter-Hannah Buckland**** Better for teenaged readers. Historical fiction about a Victorian vicar's daughter who is left alone after the death of her parents. My review is here.

The Chocolate Money Mystery-Alexander McCall Smith*** A children's detective story by an author more well known for his adult books. A quick read and suitable for the younger end of the range. 

The Family with two Front Doors-Anna Ciddor***** One of the best books that I have read this summer. The true story of an Orthodox Jewish family in Poland between the wars. The time sequence is the time preparing for and up to the arranged marriage of the eldest daughter. The amount of food detail reminds me of Farmer Boy. There is plenty of detail about the closed community but also overtones of increasing anti-Semitism outside the ghetto. Certainly, a book that I hope to read with my own children.

Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr***** Highly recommended biography of a French Huguenot. Review here.

Elin's Air-Emily Standford Review coming very soon. You will have to wait for this!

Guns of Thunder-Douglas Bond****The first of a trilogy about a Scottish immigrant family in the US. This covered a period in history of which I know little, preRevolutionary America, so I found this particularly interesting. Some fighting and probably best suited to the older end of the age range.

The King's Book-Louise Vernon** Fictional story around the time of the translation of the Authorised Version. Deals with issues of religious toleration but really isn't Vernon's best. Her book about Tyndale is much better.

Swallows and Amazons-Arthur Ransome*** I enjoyed this book more as an adult than as a child. Personally, I think that I found this difficult before as so much of the sailing vocabulary was beyond me. I must say that this series has never been particularly popular with my children. Worth trying though particularly if you have avid readers as there is a whole series.

Pirates of Pompeii and Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence *** A series of mysteries set in Ancient Rome and its surrounding area. Very popular with the children and are full of background information about the Romans. They do require the suspension of belief as the children seem to escape from incredible danger on a regular basis.

Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence**** The first in a new series from Caroline Lawrence. Some children flee to Britannia in search of their uncle. Will they survive in the dangerous Britannia? This has the same issues of improbability as the other series but the character development is better which makes the story more compelling. The next in the series is due out in October and is on pre-order!

The book on the window sill and other stories-Damaris*** Stories of how people, often children came to know and love the Lord. Some of the stories are beautiful but they are all rather old. Some of the characters to whom the author refers as well known figures are unknown today. 

Feel free to ask questions about these books if you want more informaton. Which books would you recommend?

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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

September Inspiration

September is a working month! We are back to home education as usual although with one less now that Middle Son has gone to the sixth form. It always takes a while to settle back and fine tune. We are in the fine tuning process now: trying to fit in time for daily exercise, working out the best way of learning vocabulary and so on. It is also the time of year when it is most possible to loose the wood for the trees: to forget our reasons for following this less trodden path and get too involved in the nitty gritty of teaching maths and English.



Se7en has some words of wisdom to home educating mothers. Who hasn't tried to squeeze in more?

I have a child who loves to build so thought that this post with 100 invitations to build had his name on it.

Marianne Sunderland has produced another useful post, this time about teaching children with dysgraphia.

Who hasn't had a distracted child? Ben and Me has a post about just this topic.

Lisa, at an Ordinary Life, has a post about a Lego model of soil. The link to an older post about investigating soil is also worth following.


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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Learning about Church History 1600 to 1850

We plan to use Story of the World: Early Modern Times for history, next year. We like the way this book covers a whole sweep of countries. However, we would like to add some additional church history and British history to this. This post is about the church history component. Please note

-this isn't exhaustive, just a snap shot for young children (ages 7 and 9).
-we are Protestant, Bible believing Christians.
-I'm not a historian.

The events that I have chosen to add are
  • The production of the Authorised Version of the Bible
  • Persecution including the Huguenots, also the treatment of non-conformists in England and Scotland prior to 1688
  • The effect of evangelical Christians on society where we will concentrate on the abolition of slavery. There is mention of abolition in the book but nothing about John Newton.
The Pilgrim Fathers are well covered in Story of the World. We will use the ideas in the activity book but I have added some UK resources for background reading.

The Resources
Authorised Version
Trinitarian Bible Society booklet: The Authorised Version-a wonderful and unfinished history.

The Pilgrim Fathers
Ladybird book on the Pilgrim Fathers
Priscilla Mullins from People in History by R.G. Unstead
Thanksgiving meal

Persecution
Selections from Axminster Ecclesiastica. This is a book where a contemporaneous church record, from Devon, is reproduced. There are some amazing stories of escapes.
Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr

Possible trip to the Huguenot Museum

Great Awakening
Jonathan Edwards, again, by Simonetta Carr
Visit to a site where Whitfield preached


Abolition of Slavery
We had a recent visit to the Museum of London (Docklands) which has a section devoted to the history of the slave trade.
Slave Ship Captain by Carolyn Scott

Trip to Olney where John Newton lived.


Do let me know about other resources that you would recommend or major topics that I should include.

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Plan for Writing

This is the first year for about five years where I'm not having to teach daily phonics-phew! Whilst we have been knee deep in phonics, creative writing has been on the back burner: not completely ignored but not at the forefront. This year, I hope to remedy this.

Now,  I am well aware that some classical home educators do not teach writing during the early (grammar) phase of education. For various reasons, this isn't a route which we wish to take:
  • the children want to produce creative writing. They spontaneously write their own stories and poems.
  • writing is part of every day life. Fair enough, most of us don't write books but writing texts, emails and letters is something that we all need to do. 
  • copywork is something that is difficult for some children. A child can be full of ideas but struggle with the mechanics. It is possible to write a story whilst providing help with the mechanical process but for such a child, just producing copywork is demotivating. 
Having said this, I don't find teaching creative writing

intuitive. The books which I have used are
  • Partnership Writing by Julie Bogart. This has an emphasis on helping the child through a developmental phase when writing is difficult by acting as scribe when necessary. The book has some project suggestions which tend to take place over the course of a month. We use some of the elements of the BraveWrite lifestyle including Free Writing.
  • How to teach story writing at Key Stage 1 by Pie Corbett. This places emphasis on hearing stories and retelling them orally before starting to write. Does this sound like narration?
  • WriteShop Primary has a structured approach to writing and improving the piece.
  • How to Write books by QED publishing. There are four books in the series; one each about letters and emails, reports, stories and poems. These books can be used by the child.
In an attempt to keep writing and to cover different genres, I have produced a plan. Please note that this is a plan not a hard and fast rule. In the past, we have had difficulty with keeping to other people's time schedules on writing. Usually, the writing has taken longer and the editing less long than expected. I am sure that the proportions will change with time but for now, my aim is to encourage the children to enjoy writing and to keep writing. 

Extra note: if a child has weak spelling, put in the first corrections on the day that the writing takes place. There is nothing more dispiriting than no one being able to read the work the following day. We  separate the process of writing from learning about mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. 

The Plan:

September: 

  • Writing from Branch Our World study of Tom's Midnight Garden 
  •  Letters and emails to real friends and relatives. 
  • Write to someone who is not known to us personally, for example, a missionary or the Queen. 
  • Write to an organisation.
October: 

  • Continue the unit study. 
  • Celebrate poetry day on 6th October by writing poetry.
November: 

  • Story writing-start by reading a story and retelling this before building in changes.
  • Write a sequel to a favourite book.
December: 

  • Poetry including rhyming couplets and limericks.
  •  Possibly write a carol.
January: 

  • Mystery story: work on planning the plot with mind maps and diagrams before writing.
February:

  • Play: read a play to look at structure.
  • Chose a simple story for a play
  • Think of ways to perform the play
  • Write a one act play.
  • Possibly perform our play with puppets
March:Write about books to celebrate World Book Day.

  • book report
  • lap book
  • diorama
  • newspaper style book review
April:Adventure stories

  • Find a favourite story.
  • Retell the story and think of variations or a sequel.
  • plan structure of the story possibly using a story mountain.
  • Write an adventure story.
May:Non-fiction writing using different formats and topics

  • illustrated 
  • cartoon style
June:fable-using Partnership Writing
July: journal using different formats

  • diary style
  • picture journal
Do you have a view on learning about writing? Any tips?

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