Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Medieval Castle

Since our history topic is the Middle Ages a castle  visit was in order.  Bodiam,  a beautiful  14th century fortress was our choice.

Bodiam is a moated rectangular castle in the Sussex countryside.

 In its long history  it has been a fortress, family home  and ruin.  Apparently, it has been valued as a ruin 
since at least Victorian times.  More recently,  in the  Second World War,  a pillbox was built for air raid defence. 

There is some debate about whether its primary purpose in the fourteenth century was defence against the French and the peasants in revolt or whether it was just a status symbol. It had fish ponds, a wharf and mill ponds. Probably, we will never know but certainly the moat is full of fish now. Enough to keep an invading army fed for a day or two!

The heavily defended entrance is approached over a long bridge
and has an impressive unicorn on the wall.

Once inside the tower, we could climb turrets
and found arrow slits.

We watched the introductory video after we had climbed the tower. Not quite right but then climbing the towers was important.

An archer
told us about the King Arthur stories and how they were used by Medieval monarchs to encourage loyalty from the knights and how the Order of the Garter was formed.

Probably the best part for the children was the archery including trying to hit a plastic deer and a plastic boar. One child is very keen to have another go! I'm hoping to avoid target practice in the garden.

A highly recommended day for some hands on learning and fun.

Disclaimer: Some of these photographs were taken by Younger Daughter.

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Monday, 26 October 2015

Nature Study: Pumpkins

The last October nature study, in Exploring Nature with Children, was about pumpkins. The book suggested visiting a farm or pumpkin patch. We don't have either of these locally but what we do have is our own garden grown pumpkins.

Back in the Spring, we started with a pack of seed from Lidl which cost all of 29p. They were amazingly easy to grow although I did use slug pellets when they were small as the slugs showed some interest. The fully grown plants took up loads of space.

They plants grew and flowered.

Then there were little pumpkins.

The little pumpkins grew into bigger pumpkins and turned golden.

Except for the one which is still resolutely green in the garden.

We weighed. floated our pumpkins
and drew them.

One has been sliced and roasted with olive oil, herbs and Parmesan-yummy! 

To go with the pumpkins, we pulled out the Australian book, Pumpkin Runner. 

We also have winter squash growing but sadly, I suspect that I planted these too late so they are at this stage now. It is difficult to imagine that they will grow large enough to harvest.

For completeness, we ought to read the Milly Molly Mandy story about how she was given an unknown plant which turns out to be a pumpkin.

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Friday, 23 October 2015

Autumn Half Term

We have just finished the first half of our autumn term.

The new introductions were
  • Nature Study with Exploring Nature with Children.

    This has been a great success even, or perhaps especially, with the child that I thought would be least interested.

  • Poetry Tea. Again, this has been popular.
     Being a bit of a spoil sport, I was a bit concerned about an overdose of cake but there have been requests for poetry even on the couple weeks when I haven't provided cake.

  • Free writing. This is another Brave Writer idea. We spend a few minutes on Friday mornings doing free writing and then read our writing to one another. There is no marking of spelling or punctuation during free writing. Yes, I have to write too! In fact, all three of the new innovations have involved me being a participant. I'm sure that this has a beneficial effect on learning. Now, I need to translate this into the less popular parts of the day, particularly phonics and spelling.
Literacy/English aka Language Arts
This is the area that takes the most time. As usual, there has been plenty of reading aloud. Popular books this autumn have been
  • Stone Girl, Bone Girl
  • Door in the Wall
  • Marcia William's Three Cheers for Inventors
  • Augustine: Farmer's Boy of Tagaste
Phonics programmes continue although I don't think it would be fair to say that there are popular. We are currently using
  • All about Spelling
  • Dancing Bears.
Alongside these, we use Galore Park Junior English 2 and Jolly Grammar 2 workbook.

Middle Son works hard, with a tutor, for English and his other IGCSE/GCSE subjects.

Near the beginning of term, I changed Younger Daughter onto Galore Park Junior Maths 2. This seems to have been the right decision. Having children on two different years of MEP was just too challenging!

The Veritas self-paced remains popular. We are in the depths of the Middle Ages learning about the feudal system. This has been a fascinating course and I've learned loads. Justinian and Theodora and Otto I were, previously, not even names to me. 

Geography has been covered at our home education group where we have been learning about Asia. Younger Daughter helped a friend give a talk about Malaysia. It was lovely to see them both spending hours, at a time when they could have been playing, making a banner and doing research.

Science has been about rocks. A friend loaned us a collection to use for our activities.

Of course, the children made volanoes, again! 

We were able to visit Lyme Regis and see the strata in the rocks,
as well, as the extensive work that has had to be done to stop erosion.

The Dorest trip had other science related activities with a visit to the Naval Air Arm Museum

and to the South West Deer Rescue Centre.

The Dorest trip was probably the highlight of this half term. 

What I've been reading
  • When Lightening Struck! The Story of Martin Luther. Danika Cooley's new book about Luther. Review coming soon!
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park for the home education group for next half of term. This is a Newbery award winning book set in Korea in the Middle Ages. 
  • When your child hates handwriting see review.
  • An eagle in the snow by Michael Morpurgo to check if it was suitable for the children and it was, until the last chapter. I've got reservations about this, such a shame as the rest of the book was fascinating.
  • JC Ryle's Expository thoughts on Mark's Gospel. I love this book. The thoughts are relevant to the passage, applied, challenging and succinct. 
Things I've been considering
  • History after the Veritas series on the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation.
  • Picture books about Africa.
  • Children's book prizes 
  • Reading/writing workshops
Looking forward to half term!

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Monday, 19 October 2015

Nature Study: Autumn Trees

Last week, the topic from Exploring Nature with Children was an Autumn Tree Study. This involved choosing a tree to follow through the year.

Youngest Son chose a London plane

Younger Daughter chose a horse chestnut.

My choice was an oak. Fascinating trees and I enjoy the book Lord of the Forest ,by BB, which is a natural and social history of an oak tree.

The children stuck to their decisions but I found a tree which turned out to be an elm; realised that I don't know much about this tree, beyond the devastation from Dutch Elm Disease, and so changed my mind.

Elm leaves seem to be particularly effective for leaf rubbings. 
We started the year trying to make leaf rubbings with pencil but found that oil pastel is much more effective.

Younger Daughter did this lovely picture using elm leaf rubbings.

We are looking forward to following our trees through the year and hoping not to see a pigeon being attacked by a hawk which was a major sideline on this nature walk!

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Thursday, 15 October 2015

When your Child Hates Handwriting: Practical, Peaceful Solutions for Parents

Julie Kirkwood who writes at Creekside Learning has produced a book for parents whose children hate handwriting.
handwriting book square image 600

 I guess that most parents have had this experience, at some point whether they home educate or have children in school. Julie is a US homeschooler who also has a child in public school and the book is aimed at both parents of schooled and home educated children.

The book has four chapters:

  • Why do some kids hate writing?
  • Figuring out what makes handwriting so challenging for your child.
  • Put away the pencils and write with THIS.
  • When your child still hates handwriting.
The book ends with a resource section.

This book was written out of the experience of having children struggle with handwriting and has some helpful suggestions which make handwriting easier to approach. Probably, one of the most useful thoughts is that if a child struggles with handwriting then handwriting should be kept for handwriting time and not allowed to cause havoc with other subjects. There is a list of ways in which work can be done without handwriting-some are obvious but others are less so. 

Julie has a sane approach to handwriting which puts this into perspective and recognises that some children will be doing most of their writing on a keyboard and indeed, provides a recommendation for a course to learn to type.

Handwriting often isn't much fun and there is  long list of how to make practice more interesting as well as different reasons to write. We've been practising with the  Lovely Lemon Salt Tray, using Julie's recipe.

handwriting help

When your Child hates Handwriting isn't long but gives perspective and hope, as well as practical ideas, to the parent whose child is struggling with writing. 


When your Child Hates Handwriting costs $6.99 (about £4.52) and is available from this link.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of When your Child Hates Handwriting for review purposes. The views are my own. I was not required to write a positive review. Please note that the link is an affiliate link.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Picture Books about Asia

Our local home education group has been studying Asia, this term, so I have been collecting picture books that we can use for reading aloud. This is a collection of those that we have used or plan to use.

Asia: Rookie Read-about Geography Rebecca Hirsch 
This is a simple book with many photographs.

Asia Gary Drevitch 
More complex than the first book and is divided into chapters. 


The Story of Ping Marjorie Flack
 A classic story of a duck on the Yangtze River.

Tracks of a Panda Nick Dowson 
A picture book is about the life of a giant panda.

Could somebody pass the salt?: Hudson Taylor Catherine Mackenzie 
A child's biography of the famous missionary, Hudson Taylor.

Yikang's Day: From Dawn to Dusk in a Chinese City Sungwan So 
A pictorial day in the life of a modern Chinese girl.

Elephants of the Tsunami Jana Laiz 
The retelling of a real event when elephants saved some people from the 2004 tsunami. This has references to the many deaths but it is written sensitively and focuses on those saved from the water.

South Korea
If you were me and lived in South Korea Carol Roman
 One of a great series of books with basic information about countries.

A pair of Red Clogs Masako Matsumo A tale of temptation to deceive.

Grass Sandals: The travels of Basho Dawnine Spivak. This chapter book is aimed at older children and is a gentle introduction to haiku poems.

Grandfather's Journey Allen Say A poignant book about two different cultures. Deservedly a Caldecott Medal winner.

Tigress  Nick Dowson Another natural history, non-fiction book.

Can brown eyes be made blue: Amy Carmichael Catherine Mackenzie A biography of the missionary, Amy Carmichael.

Please let me know about any other books about Asia that you recommend. We are hoping to look at Africa, next term, so feel free to recommend picture books about Africa. I have some ideas and books on the bookshelves but could do with more suggestions!

Thanks to Lizzie of  Peaches at Home for devising and directing the production of the cookie dough Asia map, in the photo.

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Friday, 9 October 2015

Brownsea Island aka Kirrin Island

One of our children loves Enid Blyton's Famous Five series so on our trip to Dorest we visited Brownsea Island. Brownsea Island is one of five islands in Poole Harbour and one of the places reputed to have inspired Enid Blyton's Kirrin Island which plays a large part in several of the Famous Five books. It is also reputed to have been the source for her Whispering Island.

There is debate about the origin of Kirrin Island. Some suggest that it is based on Corfe Castle and the Isle of Purbeck. My personal view, and I'm no expert on the subject, is that the description of Kirrin Castle is closer to Corfe Castle than Brownsea Castle but that Brownsea Island could well have inspired Kirrin Island!

Brownsea Island is approached by boat. No, we didn't row but went in the standard commercial boat to the island.

The crossing takes 20 minutes out and double that back. This is due to the shipping lanes in Poole Harbour and the tour around the other four islands within the Harbour.

Brownsea Island is fantastic although my youngest was disappointed to find that the trees don't whisper. Perhaps, there wasn't enough wind or perhaps, the relevant trees have been cut down.
It is one of the few places in England where red squirrels can be found and we found a bush which evidently had a great attraction for green finches. 

On the downside, it does have resident free range chickens and peacocks who took a great interest in our picnic. No, we didn't have ginger beer and spam.

We wandered round. 

There were plenty of views of the sea. Remember those times when the Five were watching for boats from the Island?

There is a Natural Playground with a dugout from a trunk, a wooden racing car, piles of logs and a wooden castle. Probably, the sort of thing that Julian and Dick would have built.

On the way back, we saw cormorants and the four other islands. These are now homes to millionaires and oil wells. Surely, Enid Blyton could have made an adventure from these?

Thank you to Middle Son for the four larger photos.

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Nature Study extra: Deer

We have just had a trip to the West Country. A friend recommended that we visit the South West Deer Study Centre so we booked our tour and drove off down winding lanes, where thankfully we didn't meet a tractor, and arrived at the Centre.

The Centre is run by Mike Gage who has worked with deer for years and hand reared many of those that we saw.
The hand reared deer are tame. We were able to touch them and feed them. Youngest Son was in his element!

Now, it so happened, that our trip was in the middle of rutting season which meant that the sounds and smells of the deer were intensified. The stags can become quite aggressive at this time and don't eat, drink or sleep for about a month until the season is over and the does are pregnant. The stags running with herds of does were behind wire fences

but close enough to be able to see these splendid creatures.

This is a 100 acre site so there was a fair amount of walking on uneven ground. We appreciated on a clear autumn day! I was glad that we missed the previous day when there had been tipping rain.

We loved this trip and recommend it. Do note that visits have to be booked in advance. There is no specific charge but the Centre appreciate donations from visitors as there are a fair number of expenses running the place. We found that they were very welcoming towards us as home educators and said that they have had groups of home educators visiting before.

Other places where we have enjoyed seeing deer are

  • Knole Park
  • Richmond Park
  • Greenwich Park
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