Monday, 29 February 2016

Making a home of Book lovers

This is the first post in a series of four as part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2016.

 This year the Virtual Curriculum Fair is hosted by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World, Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses and Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset.

The theme of this first week is around language arts. This covers literacy, English language, English literature and also other languages.
My post is not about a specific curriculum but instead  around ideas and resources that we use to help develop an interest in books.

I love books and would like to share this with my children. One of the main aims of our home education is for the children to read well and enjoy books.

This post is just about  loving books rather than learning to read. These are ideas that we use but there are plenty more around. My Pinterest book board Books has some inspiration.

Reading Aloud
Loving books starts early, with reading to babies and toddlers. We used to read many books each day. In particular, we used the idea of Five a day where the same five books are read each day. Five a day was just the tip of the iceberg and we read many, many more each day. This is a list of some favourite picture books. Searching Five a Day and picture books on Delivering Grace will bring up many more lists! Some of my ratings are on my page at Goodreads.

For some time we used the Five in a Row curriculum for activities connected with some particularly high quality picture books. We loved this curriculum and I would warmly recommend using it with children from about three to six. We still have the picture books that we used and these often come out when the children are tired.

The Five in a Row website can be found here.
My page with Five in a Row activities is here and I have a Pinterest board for Five in a Row.
A UK home educator produces similar unit studies on books as Branch Out World available from CurrClick. We have used the unit studies for Katie Morag and the New Pier and Stone Girl, Bone Girl.

As the children grow older, we have continued reading to them. I have lists of our favourite chapter books: early chapter booksolder children's chapter books and books set in the UK for children. In addition, we use CDs in the car and one of the children enjoys books on Kindle Fire.

Read aloud revival has podcasts which encourage reading aloud.

Book Time
Now, I don't have toddlers or preschoolers so we have a book time after lunch when the children and I sit down with books. The books can be picture books, sticker books or chapter books. Immersion reading with Kindle is also an option. I love the chance to have an extra half an hour reading!

Poetry Tea
Brave Writer is a helpful source of ideas for encouraging a love of books. One of the ideas that we have used is a weekly Poetry Tea.
On Tuesday afternoons, we lay the table and enjoy poetry over a cup of tea or hot chocolate and something to eat. This has proved to be a tremendously popular part of the week. The children tend to go for favourite poems so I feel that my job is to find something different each week. This is a selection of some of the poetry resources that we use.

Shakespeare Week
Last year, for the first time, we took part in Shakespeare Week. Here is a list of Shakespeare Resources to go along with this. Since then, I have also discovered Ken Ludwig's How to Teach your Children Shakespeare which is filled with ideas and has long resource lists.

World Book Day
Usually leads to a frenzy of dressing up and an obligatory trip to the bookshop! The official site is here.

Book Club
This year, we have had a book club at the local home education group. More information about this is found here.

The Library
Our local library is large. We have standard rather than home educator tickets but if we take out a maximum of fifteen books each, that is a fair amount to carry. We found that the picture book selection was particularly useful whereas the chapter books are more mixed. More recently, we have started to use the on-line catalogue and reserve books. Children can reserve items with no charge.

Book Shops
Book shops are wonderful places. I usually intend to avoid them so try to make sure that we don't acquire yet more books but they are rather addictive and great for encouraging children to like books. Special events help too: meeting Judith Kerr, the author of Mog  and talking to her about her cat was a memorable.

Other events
Living in London, we are privileged. There are always different events going on and in many ways, we probably don't take advantage of enough of them.

We loved finding book benches and model Paddington Bears  as well as a performance of The Snail and the Whale as well as sleuthing the sites of The Treasure Seekers  and The Railway Children. I have plans for a particularly special Poetry Tea, hopefully, in the Spring or early Summer.

I am always looking for more ideas to encouraging children in a love of books and reading. Please add your ideas in the comments.

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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Bleak House

Bleak HouseBleak House by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bleak House is a full length novel by Charles Dickens. It is probably most famous for featuring the long running Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case but this is a secondary theme to the story of Esther Summerson. Esther has been brought up in mysterious circumstances and has been told about her mother
Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace and you were hers.

Esther is taken in by the wealthy John Jarndyce to be a companion to his young ward, Ada Clare. Esther, Mr Jarndyce and the young wards in Jarndyce are central to the story.

I'm not going to say more about this to avoid spoilers. 

Like much of Dickens, social issues are covered: the slow law courts, illegitimacy, the homeless poor and more.

This was my second reading of Bleak House; the first being three years ago. On this reading, I appreciated the intricacy of the plot and the amount of foreshadowing within the writing. It felt as through Dickens was trying to hint at what was coming next, yet, not enough that he gives the game away. This feature helped the book keep its appeal despite knowing what would happen next.

Bleak House falls down on the lack of character development in some of the major players. For example, John Jarndyce is an enigmatic character and a major part of the story, yet, as an older man, his past is not explored and his thoughts and emotions are only seen though the eyes of Esther. Esther, herself, is too perfect. Yes, she sometimes betrays herself but generally, she is flatter, as a person, than we would expect especially when compared with what we come to know of the depths of emotion in her mother. Does she repress all emotion even from the diary? The third person who seems only too superficial is Allan Woodcourt. His conversation is Esther, on walking back from Richard and Ada's, near the end of the book is constrained despite the fact that he might have grounds to have felt deceived by the third party.

Some other, more minor, characters seem better described, for example, Caddy Jellaby and Sir Leicester Dedlock. Both of these are also developed through the book.

This is not a children's book. I certainly read some Dickens as a child but hadn't read Bleak House until three years ago. I wouldn't have a problem with one of my teenagers reading the book but there would need to be some discussion around the social issues. 

Do read this book for the richness of the plot; the language and the way in which inanimate objects pick up the mood of the book but be prepared to be left with questions about some characters. 

View all my reviews

This is linked to Back to the Classics 2016.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Runnymede and the Magna Carta

Strangely, Runnymede is somewhere that we had never been, until last week. Despite, not visiting last year, in the anniversary year, we decided the time had come especially as our younger two were keen to visit the place that they had been learning about in history. So we had a parent and younger children trip.

The day we visited was very wet and Runnymede is an outside venue. Wellies/walking boots and waterproof clothing were essential. It is not a suitable for disabled visitors nor for non-specialist pushchairs. The pictures all look damp because it was damp!

The oddest thing about Runnymede is that it is really an American monument. It seems as though England has really forgotten the Magna Carta.

The main memorial was erected by the American Bar Association.

One of the other major monuments, on the site, is to J.F. Kennedy. In fact, the ground on which this monument stands was actually donated to the US.

The ground up to the J.F. Kennedy monument abounded with wildlife and was a great nature walk.

The last, and newest, monument was commissioned by the National Trust and Surrey County Council to make the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, last year. England has managed one mark of remembrance! This is called the Jurors and depicts various scenes from around rights for various different groups.

This shows a boat full of refugees and commemorates responsibility to refugees and maritime search and rescue protocols.

Despite the mud, we stayed for just over a couple of hours. It was worth visiting although might well be better in summer when it might not be necessary to empty water out of wellies

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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Scotney Castle

This year, we have a family National Trust ticket and are using this to explore history and spend time outside. 

Scotney Castle is in Kent, just off the A21 south of Tunbridge Wells. In many ways it is rather strange. Until the nineteenth century, the Castle was a large home but the then owner decided to rebuild and to have the Castle partially demolished to make a folly. Imagine getting planning permission to do that now. The net result is really two places to visit on one rather beautiful site.

A chocolate box castle

Over half term, there has been a cat burglar quiz in the house. The last owner loved cats and so there are plenty of cat ornaments around the place. 

The last time we visited there was a cat in residence. Sadly, that cat has now died but a new rescue cat arrived at the weekend but was still too nervous to be seen.

The house was furnished as a country home. Some of the books were quite modern which isn't surprising as the last owner died in 2006.

Outside, there was another treasure hunt with stamps which cut shaped holes in paper. I'm sure there is a special name for these type of stamps. They weren't completely effective so we took pictures of some of the stamping points instead.

 I loved this little boat house.

The Castle is surrounded by a moat

and is not completely in ruins and has some functional rooms as well as a priest hole.

We didn't do justice to the grounds today. 

Recommended for its view of history interacts with earlier history; the realism of the house and child friendly grounds. 

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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Highlights of the Half term

The last half term has been busy and whilst these things are never perfect, progress has been made. Three items have helped contribute to this.

Family Nature Learning Sessions
 The London Wildlife Trust ran a series of six  Family Nature Learning Sessions for home educators. We spent a couple of hours, once a week, with a group of others, in a woodland area, learning about making shelters, footprints, minibeasts, birds and making fires. The latter was very popular. We tend to spend a fair amount of time outside but having a reason to get outside during the greyest, coldest time of the year was helpful.
The only downside was that the children were tired after the sessions and my grand ideas of doing all the morning work, in the afternoon just didn't succeed. We substituted with read alouds and poetry tea!

Not part of this but allied to it has been our nature table. Youngest Son is particularly interested in lichen and moss so has been busy adding specimens.

Brave Writer
I've written a bit about Brave Writer before. We used the free writing and poetry tea ideas last term.
We have continued with these items this term but added writing ideas from Partnership in Writing. This lead, amongst other things, to a writing project on codes and using a suggestion about narration, making a diorama of Robin Hood.
There is much more that we can do and I have plans for another writing project starting after half term. 

Goal setting
This seems obvious, probably to everyone except me. I've set goals for the children before but not shared them with the children or made the goals too distant to be useful. This half term, the children had simple goals which we discussed and rewards for achievement of these. This has worked and half term has seen each child help make a very chocolatey recipe. Of course, I plan to set goals again in the next half term.

Now, we are enjoying a different sort of week with our half term break. I love these breaks half way through the term. Time to recharge but not enough time for everything to be forgotten or for the novelty of a break to disappear.

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Monday, 15 February 2016


On Saturday, we went to the opening of a new building for the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS). We had a tour round the new building and then went to the thanksgiving service in the warehouse part of the building. A service in a warehouse on a wet, grey day doesn't sound inspiring but it was a most encouraging occasion with around four hundred people meeting to thank God for the provision of the building.

We heard the remarkable circumstances which had led the TBS to be able to acquire an old factory site and redevelop it into purpose built offices and warehouse space for the work of translating and distributing the Bible.

The sermon was from 1 Samuel 7 verse 12
Ebenezer...hitherto hath the Lord helped us.

I was a bit dubious about singing in a large warehouse space but actually the a capella singing was beautiful. The last psalm was the first part of 78. I was really struck by the metrical version and yes, how we want to declare God's works to succeeding generations. May this be the prayer of every Christian parent.

Attend, my people, to my law;
thereto give thou an ear;
The words that from my mouth proceed
attentively do hear.
My mouth shall speak a parable,
and sayings dark of old;
The same which we have heard and known,
and us our fathers told.

We also will them not conceal
from their posterity;
Them to the generation
to come declare will we:
The praises of the Lord our God,
and his almighty strength,
The wondrous works that he hath done,
We will show forth at length.

His testimony and his law
in Israel he did place,
And charged our fathers it to show
to their succeeding race;
That so the race which was to come
might well them learn and know;
And sons unborn, who should arise,
might to their sons them show:

That they might set their hope in God,
and suffer not to fall
His mighty works out of their mind,
but keep his precepts all.

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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Caring for an elderly parent at home and Giveaway

My booklet about looking after older people at home arrived today. 

This booklet looks at the practicalities of caring for an older parent, particularly, when they come to stay with the family of one of their children. This covers
  • Who is responsible?
  • When Grandma moves in.
  • Grandma can eat jam first, you can't: Three generational living
  • Looking after yourself
  • When it all gets too much
The booklet can be purchased from Pilgrims' Friends.

I have a couple of copies of this booklet to give away. If you would like a copy either for yourself or someone else, please leave a comment with why you would like a copy and your email address. I won't publish these comments so your email address will stay private. I'm not particularly into random number generators so will select two from the comments. I am happy to post abroad if necessary. 

Giveaway closes Friday 12th February 2016 at 2300 GMT.

My hope and prayer is that this booklet will be useful. 

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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Book Club

At our local Christian home education group, I run a book club for the over eight year olds. This is only one part of the group and takes place towards the end of the meeting. Each book club session takes about 20-30 minutes.

There are two main components to the group
  • book recommendations
  • discussion of a book which we are all reading

This has proved to be the most popular part of the group.
The children can recommend books and are always enthusiastic about this time.
 I ask the children to include

  • title
  • author
  • setting
  • genre
  • a brief outline of the plot without spoilers!
The group has only been running since September but last term, we voted on favourite books that had been discussed, at the end of term. The winning book had a living author that we were able to email and from whom, we received a prompt reply. 

Obviously, there may be an issue around a child recommending a book which doesn't fit with another family's standards and for this reason, and to remind people of the recommendations, I email the parents a list of recommendations.

This term, the plan is that the children will try to read another child's recommendation and that we will again vote and write to the author of the winning book.

We read a book per half term related to our continent study. The actual reading takes place outside the group time and discussion happens in the group. So far,  we have read Return of the White Book,  A Single Shard and Jungle Doctor to the Rescue. Next half term is due to be The boy who biked the world.

In this part of the club, we talk about the book in question. This might be an introduction to the book, usually with maps. This first session about a book would involve less discussion than the following sessions. Another recent session involved discussing what makes a good  book both in terms of literary issues and from a Christian point of view. I am hoping to discuss plot structure and draw plot outlines. We have spent time talking about the effectiveness or otherwise of books written in the first person.

In terms of price of books, I try to keep to a limit of £5 per book although that may be achieved by buying a second hand book. Ideally, the books would be obtainable from the library but so far, this hasn't been possible. 

It is important to have preread the book that we are going to discuss. 

I am not fussy about whether the child reads the book themselves/ has it read/listens to an audio version and purposely don't ask the children to read aloud. The idea is not to alienate poorer readers but rather encourage all the children to enjoy some books which are new to them. 

A particularly helpful article about running a book club is this from Playing by the Book. 

I am always looking for book recommendations. Next term is Australasia and Antarctica so books about these continents would be particularly useful. Please let me know about book clubs that you have run or enjoyed. I'm very much an amateur at this!

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Friday, 5 February 2016

February in Books

This is the first year that I have set myself reading lists and I'm still reeling a bit. The first book on one of the lists is now completed and I'm a fair way through the first on the other. Reading is feeling a bit more pressurised than usual. Has anyone else ever felt like this with reading lists?

Anyway, the current reads are

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke Volume 2 by J.C. Ryle. These are brilliant. I've just started volume 2. Just a short paragraph as a taster:

If we do pray, let it be a settled rule with us never to leave off the habit of praying, and never to shorten our prayers. A man's state before God may always be measured by his prayers. Whenever we begin to feel careless about our private prayers, we may depend upon it there is something very wrong in the condition of our souls. There are breakers ahead. We are in imminent danger of a shipwreck.

D'Aubinge's The Triumph of Truth: a Life of Martin Luther. This is slow progress perhaps because I read another book about Luther recently.   When Lightning Struck was fictionalised and aimed at older children so, to be honest, I enjoyed it more although The Triumph of Truth isn't unreadable, just long.

Another long book is Bleak House. My on-line book club is reading this book. I've read Bleak House before and enjoyed the twists of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, after all, I'm married to a lawyer. This was already on my Kindle and I'm reading it again. 

Last, I think, although I'm sorely tempted to pick up a short book that can be finished in a day or two, is How to teach your children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. For a non-English literature specialist this is a helpful book explaining how best to teach children a few lines of Shakespeare; some of the background to some of the plays and some information about poetry. I'm not an enormous Shakespeare enthusiast but this is helpful background to use in deciding which plays to study and to learn about their contribution to the language. 

Our read alouds are Jungle Doctor to the Rescue by Paul White which we are reading for the book club; Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley to fit with history and Bronze and Sonflower by Cao Wenxuan. This latter book is set in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Please do let me know about the books that you are enjoying. 

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

February Inspiration

February is a month that brings mixed feelings; maybe more greyness but hopefully, the very early hope of Spring. 

I hope that these links will provide encouragement.

Over at Se7en, there was a useful and inspiring post about a 365 day photo project. I find that taking photos is a great way of finding the beauty around even in the grey times of year. My personal plan isn't to take photos every day but perhaps, a slightly lower target.

There has been a fair amount of debate, here in the UK, about regulation of home educators and the profile of home education, after a particularly sad case in the news. This article, from a head teacher, brings balance to this.

Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will find this article about the science behind her books interesting. It looks at the location of the school where Laura taught; the severity or otherwise of the Long Winter and Mary's illness.

Becky, at This Reading Mama, has written about Five things that Struggling Spellers need. The second point about spelling being organised in a logical way makes so much sense. We have abandoned a spelling curriculum where the words seemed to have little connection after the first four or so on the list. All about Spelling, which is mentioned in the article is the programme that we use with one of the children.

Tanya has written an article that I feel too guilty to write about starting late in the morning. Yes, maybe I should just accept that we tend to stay up late and not feel bad that we don't start at eight.

Finally, Lizzy has written about home educating without losing your head.

I hope that you all have a joyful February.

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Monday, 1 February 2016

How to Unplug your Child

Like many parents, I am concerned about the amount of screen time to which children are exposed.

Yes, there are plenty of learning opportunities involving screens and we do use screens for history (Veritas self paced), for occasional YouTube science videos and for reading (Kindle Fire for immersion reading and Kindle/laptop for ebooks). Still, computers tend to encroach on leisure time. I would be the first to admit that I haven't been the best at controlling this. Younger children in a family also tend to benefit from older siblings' skills at doing up old computers/putting on the lastest software and the general accessibility of screens. In view of all this, I was delighted when I saw How to Unplug your Child: 101 Ways to help your kids turn off their gadgets and enjoy real life by Liat Hughes Joshi on sale with the BookPeople.

When the book arrived, my child who is least interested in screens, took the book off to read and soon returned with a wish list, including a games night, a spa day, borrowing a dog, making sushi and charades.

Cardboard stair sliding has proved immensely popular including with the child who most likes screens.

The ideas vary from incredibly easy, for example, bath time at the wrong time to challenging, start their own business.

My only concern is that I would have loved some more ideas for the children to do on their own. There were some, for example, the cardboard sliding and making a mini-parachute that the children can do alone but probably, most of the ideas do require parental help e.g. stories around a camp fire and geocaching. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to abdicate parenting but there are times when, like other parents, there are phone calls to be made or the freezer needs defrosting and then it would be helpful to have a section that children from about five can manage on their own. 

Overall, this is a helpful book and should provide plenty of ideas for activities. I plan to try to work through many of the ideas. 

  Disclaimer: I purchased this book for the use of my family. The opinions are those of myself and my children.

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