Friday, 29 November 2013

10 favourite winter picture books

My youngest child is almost five so this might be the last winter that I get to pull out these books. These are our favourite winter picture books.

Katy and the big snow by Virginia Lee Burton. This is well loved by Youngest Son and is the story of a large and public spirited snow plough. The sketch maps of the town are a gentle way to introduce maps. 

Alfie weather by Shirley Hughes. This is a compilation of stories, not all about winter but one is about a frosty day in winter when there are stars in the puddles, stars outside and stars inside.

Kipper's snowy day by Mick Inkpen. My children love snow and this book is all about the joys of playing in the snow.

One snowy night is one of the Percy the Park keeper books by Nick Butterworth. Too many animals seek shelter in Percy's hut.

Winter garden by Ruth Brown is a simple tale of winter in a garden

The very last first time by Jan Andrews is a story of winter at the top of the world.

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening. Robert Frost poetry for young children with beautiful illustrations by Susan Jeffers.

Just like Floss Kim Lewis. Beautiful pictures of sheepdog puppies born in the winter accompany the story of how a family decided which puppy to keep.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is about the rather cold hunt to see an owl.

Hanna's cold winter by Trish Marx is the story of how the hippos in Budapest Zoo were kept alive during a cold winter in World War II.

Do you have favourite winter picture books? Please share the titles.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends!

We were privileged to be invited to a genuine Thanksgiving dinner and the younger children spent some time this week, learning about Thanksgiving so that they knew what the celebration was about and why. It has been thought provoking to think about the things for which we have to give thanks.

A time to remember our many blessings and the Lord God who has given us all good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Psalm 103 verse 1.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Much more spare time

Having had both school educated and home educated children, it is obvious that home educated children have much more free time. There are no wasted hours on school runs, no homework to be done after getting home late from a club or play date.There is more time to play and be a child. There is a downside: making sure that this free time is used in a way that is beneficial.

We tend to work during roughly the same hours that schools run; not because we have to but because this works for us. Still, this leaves more hours, at home, not during formal education time than most children will have. These hours are also the time when yes, I could provide more exciting educational opportunities but there are limits to my energy and there is the house to run and food to cook.

So what to do? These are some thoughts and, no, we certainly don't always get it right. Yes, it is easy to let them watch programmes/play games on the computer perhaps not bad, in moderation and controlled but far too easy to let this time become too long and lead to lack of engagement with the rest of the family and lack of physical exercise.

 Recently, we have been working on helping the younger children make the most of their free time and this is still a learning process. These are some ways that we are encouraging them to use their time.

  • Time outside-we try to go outside most days. We are grateful for parks and outside spaces. 

  • Classes and groups: swimming, art, church children's meetings. 
  • Meeting up with friends often combined with running in parks!
  • Play-free and unstructured. My home educated children have used toys far more than their school educated siblings, I think, just because there has been more time. 
  • Some of that play hasn't really involved toys: dens-on or behind sofas, creations out of boxes: we have a Gup-X and a rocket, at present.
  • Puzzles: sometimes with some help.
  • Board games-these really need my input, for now. Pop to the shops, the Tummy ache game and Junior Scrabble are current favourites.
  • Cooking.

  • Art-one of the children loves to draw and paint.
  • Gardening-not so useful at this time of year although Youngest Son did help plant a tree earlier this week.
  • Helping with chores. As I've written before, this isn't my forte but I've realised, recently, that often I've asked too much. "Please, clean your room" doesn't work so well as something specific, "Please, put your pajamas under the pillow and pull the duvet straight." 

How do you try to ensure that your children, home educated or not, make the most of their free time? 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Children of the New Forest

Children of the New Forest, by Frederick Marryat, is children's historical fiction about the English Civil War. It is almost impossible to write about the Civil War without having some sort of bias and this book has a clear leaning to the Cavaliers (the King's men).

A Cavalier is killed at the Battle of Naseby leaving a young family. His wife dies soon after leaving the four children as orphans. During the escape of Charles I, the family home is razed and the children are presumed to have been killed, instead, they are taken to the depths of the New Forest, in Hampshire, by an elderly forester and brought up, under his surname, to be self sufficient. The children live in seclusion as foresters and there is fascinating detail about stalking the deer, capturing cattle and New Forest ponies. 

Of course, the story doesn't end there. The children come across the Roundhead Forest chief official, the Intendant, who, of course, they dislike, at first. After the eldest child, Edward, has saved the Intendant's only child from a house fire, they gradually come to know and appreciate the qualities of Mr Heatherstone, the Intendant. There is an increase of understanding about why Parliament revolted but a deep and continued dislike of Cromwell's regime and of the "murder" of the King. 

Edward leaves to fight for the new "King" who later became Charles II and finally, all ends well at the Restoration of the Monarchy.

What did I think of this book? My natural sympathies are more with the Parliamentarians but I loved this book. It made me think more about the rights and wrongs of killing the monarch and about totalitarian regimes of different types. Perhaps, the most lasting impression is from Jacob Armitage, the old forester, who had a clear aim that he needed to bring up the children so that they could manage without him. Isn't that what we are aiming for with our children?

This is an ideal book to help children look at issues, such as the Civil War, from different points of view. It is particularly interesting for anyone who knows the New Forest. Recommended for older children. I downloaded a free copy on my Kindle app but being an old book, and way out of copy write issues, paperbacks are available cheaply.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Top home education products from Schoolhouse Review Crew 2013

The Schoolhouse Review Crew has just voted on its favourite products for the year. The winners have been awarded the Blue Ribbon Awards. Do have a look to see which home education products won accolades from real life home educators.

As a member of the Crew, I reviewed some of these products and of course, we have our family favourites.
So, here they are

Middle Son's favourites were Mayan Mystery and Bridgeway English.

Younger Daughter loves the Great Empires from Homeschool in the Woods.

Youngest Son's vote goes to the If you were me and lived in... books from Away we go media.

My own favourites are IXL maths practice site, the If you were me books, the Circle time book by Kendra Fletcher and the Homegrown Preschooler.

These are products that we are still using. The Circle Time book has shaped the way that I teach my younger children. IXL is used on an almost daily basis. The If you were me books are often reread and we talk about how we would like to visit the ice hotel or other places mentioned in the books. The homegrown preschooler is a reference book that sits on my bedside table for encouragement and ideas.

Middle Son uses Bridgeway English and Middle Daughter has units from Great Empires to add to our history studies.

At the end of the post about the Blue Ribbon awards is a link to the products that other Crew members have loved. Do pop over to see the products that others recommend.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Being thankful on busy days

Recently, I've been thinking about being thankful on days when there seems to be too much on. You probably know the sort of day: someone needs an unexpected visit to the doctor, the washing machine breaks down, there are two group teaching sessions which need preparation, your husband is busier than usual, no one can work without needing almost one to one attention, visitors are expected and the house is a tip. Perhaps because I'm getting old, it dawned on me that these are blessings and one day, I will look back and miss these things. It is time to appreciate things as they are. 

Just a few thankful thoughts that I need to remember on days when there is too much happening:
  • Being busy is often because we are needed by family, friends or for service in our church or home education group. One day, the children will be grown up, the current older generation who need our care will no longer be there, age and ill health may mean that it will be possible to do far less.

  • Good health so that it is possible to do these things is a gift. 

  • There is no time to be lonely, bored or worry about trivia.

  • God knows and has ordered the details of our day.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.
Psalm 142verse3

To read other posts on thankfulness do visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

At home in Dogwood Mudhole-review

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At Home in Dogwood Mudhole by Franklin Sanders is the first part of a set of three. The book is comprised of newsletters that Franklin wrote for his monthly newsletter, The moneychanger, dating from 1995 to 2002.

 If I had to describe my perception of a stereotypical Southerner, I would probably manage to describe someone like Franklin. He is right wing, pro small government, a trader in precious metals as an investment, thinks that the Confederate army should have won the Civil War and loves re-enacting this period in history. He took the risk of Y2K seriously and decided for that he and his family should get back to the land. Usually, I might find this a bit irritating but it isn't because Franklin doesn't take himself too seriously. This book is a compelling and an amusing read.

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Franklin, his wife, the "beloved heroine" Susan, children, spouses, grandchildren and assorted animals move from life in town to living off the land but this is no "happy ever after" tale. This book is the story of the ups and downs: the beautiful and the terrible smells, the day the horse and dog both died; when the fire in the field got out of hand; the dogs who ate the poultry and the animals who escaped. This is all told with wit and humility, not sparing himself.

The Sanders family had wanted to go live on the land and the potential threat of computer systems failing as the new millennium arrived precipitated a move to a farm in rural Tennessee. Initially, the parents and unmarried children moved back along with a married son and his small family but as time went by more of the family moved into the farm. The generations work alongside one another. A reflection of modern day farming is that most of the family seem to retain their day jobs and with the losses of various animals it is difficult to see how they could have possibly made a profit on the farm, initially-probably a reflection of reality when townies start farming.

This book is an advert for Tennessee. Franklin gives details of favourite sites, especially battlefields and businesses that he recommends. Wanting to visit Tennessee hadn't been on my radar before but this has piqued my curiosity and, yes, I would see if I could find Dogwood Mudhole.

Does the book make me want to acquire a homestead? Not really, and the bad parts fit with my perception of the difficulties of returning to life on the land but it is a jolly and easy read, ideal for the Christmas period.

This book would make a Christmas present particularly suitable for any adult who does wish to return to a life on the land.

At home in Dogwood Mudhole is available at $22.95 (about £14.31) in paperback and for $16.95 (about £10.57)in Kindle/ePUB/PDF. A second volume, The best thing we ever did is due to start shipping on 15th November although the PDF version is already available. This will retail at the same prices.

To read other reviews of At home in Dogwood Mudhole visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew site.

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Monday, 11 November 2013

Seasons of the heart

Seasons of the heart by Donna Kelderman is a daily devotional book published by Reformation Heritage Books.  Seasons of the heart is subtitled A year of devotions from one generation of women to another. 

The book comprises short excerpts from the writing of Christian women of previous generations-one for each day of the year. The readings are short usually around two to three pages. Helpfully, the book finishes with short biographies of the writers. 

The writers vary from the famous: Catherine Parr-sixth wife of Henry VIII, to the well known in Christian circles such as Susanna Spurgeon and Frances Ridley Havergal to the previously unknown to me such as Susan Huntington and Isabella Graham. None of them seem to have had simple, trouble free lives and perhaps it is this that makes their writings so useful. There are wives, mothers, widows, single women, rich and poor amongst the writers.

There are some real gems in these writings. They are ideal for reading in a short free time, perhaps, while feeding the baby or after putting the children to bed but they are the sort of reading that it is best to contemplate. 

A little taster from today's reading:
If on earth sacred music raises the heart to heaven, what will be the music of heaven itself? No voices there will sing holy words without feeling them, which is-alas-too often the case here below; but all shall feel what they sing, beyond what we can now imagine. 
Elizabeth Julia Hasell

Recommended but like all devotionals of this nature, this is in addition to, not instead of Bible reading. Yet, these are short enough that most of us can find space for them in our busy lives.

I received the Seasons of the heart,  from Reformation Heritage Books, in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. The opinions are all my own.


Today was the 95th anniversary of Armistice Day-a time for remembering and for learning about events for those too young to remember what it is all about.

Younger Daughter, aged 7, knew a fair amount from previous years but I wasn't sure how much her younger brother,aged 4, knew. They had both had poppies and we had talked about this. In church, yesterday, they had heard Psalm 90 and sang O God our help in ages past.

Today, we read Psalm 90 again and started to learn verse 12.
Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

We plan to use a couple of picture books about the Second World War and an easy chapter book, over this week. These are Hanna's Cold Winter by Trish Max. This is about keeping the hippos alive in Budapest zoo while the Nazis and Soviets were on opposite sides of the River Danube-quite an amazing story and apparently true. The second book is All those secrets of the world, by Jane Yolen, which tells the story of a little American girl whose father went off to fight. The last book is an easy chapter book called War Child by Maurine Murchison.  This is a Christian book about a child in Scotland during the Second World War. 

We also dipped into the Woodlands Resources site for some poetry and for discussion about poppies. I wasn't sure that they had heard the Last Post before but when we listened, they both thought that they had heard it before.

Living in London, it is always easy to find evidence of Second World War so we visited a local place where a bomb had fallen and a war memorial. 

Of course, there was some painting.
Younger Daughter drew little poppies on each piece of work today.

I hope they remember to be grateful for those who fought  for our current freedoms.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

IXL-Practice that feels like play

IXL Logo photo ixllogofixed.png IXL is an on-line educational practice site that I have had the opportunity to review. Its motto is Practice that feels like play. In the UK, this covers maths from reception to year 12. Year 13 is being prepared. In the US, IXL also includes language arts for children in 2nd to 4th grades which would be UK years 3 to 5. This isn't yet ready for the UK market and doesn't show up on the website seen from here.


I was delighted to have this opportunity as UK IXL  is aligned with the UK National Curriculum for maths. This is important for us as the children will need to take UK maths exams. It is also unusual in that it covers maths from Reception to year 12 (ages 4+ to 16+) so was suitable for all three of my home educated children. The site states that year 13 maths is coming soon.

We tested years Reception, 2 and 9.

 Each year is divided into topics in line with the National Curriculum.
Signing up was simple and each child was given an avatar and had to chose a log-in word.
They all have access to the whole range of age work although we only used the sections from what would be the children's school year. However, the ability to move around is useful and I'm sure that Youngest Son may be using the year 1 soon.

Each section is divided into subsections, for example, in year 2 under time there are 20 subsections from days of the week to problems with elapsed time. In each section, the child works on questions with scores up to 100 although I didn't find any with 100 actual questions. If the child makes errors, it seems that they answer more questions than if they sail through. Once an error has been made, an explanation appears and the child has to click "Got it" before proceeding.

There are virtual awards that the children discover after completing a certain amount of work or time on the programme. For parents, there is a reporting page which shows how long a child has spent working, proficiency assessment based on correct scores and more. What I found useful was a weekly e-mail with details of each child's progress.

The first three years, that is up to and including year 2, have an audio function that  the child can use to read the questions to them.

What did we think?
We found IXL helpful and plan to continue using it.

Reception: I worked with my son often inputting the answers for him. It was particularly beneficial for counting practice to 20 and meant that I didn't need to find multiple sets of almost 20. I think that he has now stopped forgetting 15!

We tried the money problems but I found that teaching a child of four, at home, it was much easier and clearer to provide real coins to identify.

Much of the Reception maths curriculum can be covered by talking to a child at home so we don't intend to slavishly do every unit but appreciate that once he has finished these skills, he can just start year 1.

Year 2: We used this for a mixture of independent work and work with me. It has been helpful to have something to re-enforce topics. This week, we are working on telling the time and the practice provided by IXL has fitted in well and can be co-ordinated with that day's work.

The counting and number patterns unit is long but has led to definite improvement in skip counting and using number lines. Yes, I could provide much of this but it wouldn't be in so many formats or so attractively produced.

Whilst there is an audio option, the written information is clear and not over wordy.

I certainly plan to continue using IXLwith Younger Daughter on most working days.

Year 9: Middle Son was able to work completely independently and used the programme for revision. The difficulty that I can foresee is that it obviously doesn't enforce writing out working. However,as he starts to work for exams, IXL is a helpful way for ensuring that he doesn't forget knowledge.

IXL is available either with a monthly payment plan or as an annual charge. A monthly plan is £7.99 and an annual fee £59. Using the annual fee, each additional child can be added for £20 per year. Please note that the US pricing arrangements are different.

To read more reviews of IXL do visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew site.

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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

November inspiration

It is November and approaching the end of the year.

We had a storm which felled many trees in London.

Autumn is here 
and here is some November reading.

I guess that being frugal is reasonably high on most people's agenda as the weather gets cooler and heating bills rise. Moneywise have published a list of Britain's top 25 money saving tips.

Sarah, at Frugal Fun for boys has written a helpful, Biblical post about teaching boys self control. She has many practical suggestions, definitely worth reading if you are a parent of a boy.

A while ago, I posted a list of UK Christian home educator bloggers. More recently, I have found two more blogs:

Young Hosannas is a blog by Kirsty who home educates her five young children. She has practical ideas for learning with little ones and the learning is naturally and clearly rooted in God's Word.

Through the Lattice is a blog from an older home educating family. I love the pictures although I dare not show the pony pictures to Younger Daughter. She already has schemes for keeping a pony in the back garden!

Last, I have been nominated for the Homeschool Blog Award Best Variety blog 2013. Should you feel like voting, I would be grateful! Plus there are links to loads of other home education blogs.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Guy Fawkes and 5 resources for learning about the Stewarts

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes' Night; a strange festival, peculiar to the UK and celebrating the foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. 

Like most people here, we like to celebrate on or around with a bonfire and fireworks. There are public displays and it is definitely a night for the cats to be inside. This year, Younger Daughter has been learning about the Stewart monarchs so Guy Fawkes' Night fits in especially well.
Fireworks art with black on white and plenty of flicked paint!

It is more difficult to find resources to cover this period in history than the Tudors. This is what we have been using.
  • Our Island Story-an old (1905) but republished history by H.E. Marshall. No pictures but told as a story and used as the background in our home education group. This book is available in audio format although I haven't listened to this and can't comment on the quality.
  • Ladybird history books, again, these are older books but have a picture on each page. We have used James I and the Gunpowder plot, The Pilgrim Fathers and Oliver Cromwell. These books are out of print but available cheaply secondhand.
  • R.J. Unstead was a primary school headmaster after the Second World War. He wrote history books aimed at primary aged children (5-11). We used the Stewart part of Looking at history. It covers social history as well as the main events. Unstead is, in my opinion, unfair to the Puritans but this is a point for discussion rather than a reason to avoid the book. A major plus of Unstead is that he uses plentiful quotes from Samuel Pepys which is an easy way to introduce primary and secondary sources. Again, this is only available second hand. 
  • The Story of the World  volume 2-Early Modern Times, by Susan Wise Bauer, fits this period in English History into world history, in a very accessible way. It has been useful to read about the Pilgrim Fathers after reading about other explorations and territorial claims on various parts of the New World. 
  • Squanto-friend of the Pilgrims by Robert Clyde Bulla deals with the history of the Pilgrim Fathers in story form.  
Please add further suggestions in the comments. Some historical fiction suitable for younger children would be particularly useful.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

If you were me and lived in...

If you were me.. are a set of books by Carol P. Roman
 photo carole_p_roman_logo_zps9e0a6d7b.png  for young children introducing them to life in other countries. We were delighted to be able to review these books which are an excellent addition to our geography studies.The books are subtitled either A child's introduction to cultures around the world or An introduction to learning about other cultures and this is exactly what these books are about.

We received four books:

If you were me and lived in Mexico:A Child's introduction to cultures around the World

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If you were me and lived in France:a Child's introduction to cultures around the World

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If you were me and lived in South Korea: an Introduction to learning about other Cultures

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If you were me and lived in Norway: an Introduction to learning about other Cultures

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The books are 20-26 page paperbacks covering covering where the country is located in the world, the name and a little about the capital, typical boy/girl names, words for father and mother, shopping, an important tourist site, typical foods, sport and toys, a special national day and the name for school. I read If you were me with my children aged 4 and just 7.

We have several South Korean friends so I was particularly keen for the children to learn about South Korea. It also meant that I could ask a South Korean friend for her view about the accuracy of the book. She was pleased both about this and that someone had produced a children's book about South Korea as these seem very difficult to find.

We used the book about France as part of a week where we read children's picture books set in France and did some extension activities. 

The children remember visiting Paris so this was well received.

Norway lead to a fascination with the Snow Hotel. For children who love snow and spend time listing snow activities this had a great pull.

Mexico fitted in well with learning Spanish and having learnt before about the Mayan culture. 

I was pleased to see how the children learnt to locate countries on the globe.

The books are designed for children pre-K (4) to 10. This seems fairly accurate although if anything, they are better for the younger end of the age range. My 4 year old was more enthusiastic than my 7 year old and kept asking for rereadings. The font is large so the books are suitable for young readers.

What we thought
These books are a great addition to our home library and a useful way to introduce different nations and cultures. 
They are written from a US viewpoint so there were some I adapted "mommy" to "mummy" and talked about an "elevator" being a "lift". This didn't cause any difficulty. 
They also assume that the child is in school, again, this wasn't problematic. 

 I would recommend these books and hope that the series is enlarged further.

The books are available on and The cost on is $1.24 for the Kindle version and $8.99 for the paperback except for the book on Norway which costs $2.07 for the Kindle version an $10.79 for the paperback.
On the costs are £0.77 for the Kindle version and £7.50 in paperback for If you were me and lived in Mexico. There are slight variations in price for the paperbacks between £7.38 and £7.50 presumably due to exchange rate fluctuations. The Kindle version of If you were me and lived in Norway is £1.28.

To read more reviews of this series do visit the Schoolhouse Crew Review blog.

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