Thursday 23 February 2012

Maths for every day life

Producing a budget is a maths activity that I have used twice now-once for Middle Son and today for a group.

The scenario involved a fictional but realistic scenario with an 18 year old working 35 hours a week at minimum wage (£4.98/hour at 18). The children were given titles for expenditure and then asked to produce a budget which balanced.

When I set this for Middle Son, he had to do the research around cost of accommodation, food etc but I provided some of this information for the group as time was more limited.

The objectives are to

  • produce a balanced budget
  • think about ways of increasing income e.g. second job, training to get a better job and hopefully, inspire the children to acquire skills before they need a job
  • talk about the importance of giving
  • talk about the importance of saving
  • think about which expenditures are necessary and where and how economies can be made
This isn't an easy task but on both occasions I was amazed at the ingenuity shown. 
Some children wanted to cut the food budget perhaps by cooking from scratch
Some wanted to cut money on clothes-perhaps this man can help
The entrepreneurial ideas were fantastic and many were realistic options for an 18 year old with some spare evenings. 

A fun activity for inspiring thought around a serious topic.

This is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

What we do all day-curriculum

Before we home educated, I was curious to know what those home educators did and now I home educate, my curiosity about other people's curriculum is great.   So, this is an overview of the curriculum we use, or don't use, for the younger two children. I may post about Middle Son's curriculum at a later stage but that is very different.

These materials are mainly for Miss Belle, aged 5, who would be in the UK reception year. Mr Exuberance who is 36 months joins in some aspects.

We don't follow the National Curriculum but I do keep an eye on it. My headings are not all standard National Curriculum headings.

This comes first in our day. We are Christian home educators so we start with prayer. We try to pray for the needs of others and often this is an opportunity to talk about the needs of friends in other lands.

I had been reading Training hearts, teaching minds by Starr Meade which goes through the Shorter Catechism with a short thought for each day. This worked well for Middle Son, and sometimes for Miss Belle, but was way over Mr Exuberance's head. Recently, we have read a children's version of a Biblical narrative followed by that section from the Bible. This has worked much better.

We work on Bible memorisation-this is very slow but we are currently working on the Lord's Prayer.

There are several strands to this

-Five in a row is a literature based curriculum for 4-8s based around mainly classical or award winning children's literature. I have blogged fairly extensively about this. The basic building block is a book for the week which is read daily for a week.Activities are done related to the theme of the book. These include social studies, language, maths, art and science. We don't slavishly follow the book and I often add my own ideas or those found around the internet.
I love Five in a Row. It works well for us. Mr Exuberance enjoys the books even if he is unable to participate in all the activities.
 Some weeks it seems that there is more to show than others and some books work better than others. We change book after a week to prevent overkill although I know many people will use a book for longer successfully.

-Reading aloud-plenty of this goes on. I was using the idea of 5-a-Day from  the Imagination tree. 5-a-Day books involves reading the same five books  for a week. This has fallen by the wayside recently, as Miss Belle has started to enjoy chapter books. I should probably re-institute this for Mr Exuberance.

-Phonics-this really applies to Miss Belle. Having said this, Mr Exuberance loves the bath letters and fridge magnets and has learnt many letter sounds from this but this is completely informal.
We use Jolly Phonics with Miss Belle and are currently using the readers as well as ideas/writing sheets from the handbook. The recent addition of Reading Eggs has accelerated progress quite amazing although we have spent a fair amount of time on phonics recently using a variety of approaches and materials.

This is where I have to admit that we don't really use a curriculum although we have a set time to do number work, each day.

At the beginning of the year, I went through reception and year 1 maths objectives and decided that it would be fairly easy to use an informal approach . We use games, books, life ( there are eight of us and we have two guests so how many plates do we need etc.) and some work books with games and number stickers.
I have to decide in the next few months whether to continue this approach next year or whether to use something more formal.

There is a weekly science activity to go with the Five in a Row book but we supplement this with some other informal science, often using the Usborne book which I have written about previously or doing some nature study or science from around the house.

Again, there is usually some idea linked with Five in a Row but often the art ideas are a little old for my children. There are so many wonderful, creative ideas for children of this age. Most afternoons the children will be either doing a science activity or  something "arty" or both.

We use Five in a Row ideas for these subjects. Miss Belle loves history so we have done some extra trips for her. The cultural exchange is a fun way that we are using to learn about other countries.

When we pray for people in other countries, we look up that country and try to learn something about it.

I currently use 2 Simple French for the younger children. This is a programme on the computer which is spoken language based with pictures-ideal for me as my French accent is poor to say the least!

Physical activity
Most days and most weathers see Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance outside, either in the garden, the local walk or walking to the library. Miss Belle also has swimming lessons.

Thoughts on curriculum
This isn't a perfect or ideal curriculum. It works reasonably well for us, at present. but wouldn't necessarily work for others.
 I find that by looking at what others use my own ideas become clearer or I find a resource that would work well for us. This is the spirit in which this is presented.

Do feel free to add thoughts and suggestions. As I said, I love to know about other people's curricular materials.

Friday 17 February 2012

Harold and the purple crayon and other happenings

This week, our Five in a Row book was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. This is an amazingly imaginative book in which Harold draws the story.  This book isn't billed as a whole week's row but is linked to a review week. I wasn't sure how this book was going to work but it led to some creative thinking.

We used this book as a springboard for some activities using the imagination. Drawing on large pieces of paper.

making purple pictures

 and cloud dough. The children started acting out the story with cloud dough, the circles represent pies

 but the play rapidly evolved to being at the sea.

This book lends itself to counting up to nine and to counting in threes. We did some of this but didn't really touch on fractions-Harold cut a third out of his pies. Hopefully, we will do a little more on fractions soon.

As this was a review week, we looked at our piles of Five in a Row books. I asked the children to select their favourites. These were

  • Mirette on the high wire (both children)
  • The Glorious flight (Mr Exuberance)
  • The bee tree (Miss Belle)
There are details about these on my Five in a row page.

Of course, we did other things. More science from the Usborne Big book of things to make and do. This was a creature that walks on the water looking at surface tension.

Reading and making progress-so good to see. Reading Eggs has really helped Miss Belle with confidence. Both children played with letters in playdough. Thank you to the Imagination Tree for this idea.
Reading aloud is increasingly having three strands: picture books for Mr Exuberance alone or with Miss Belle, chapter books for Miss Belle and a biography for Middle Son. Middle Son, of course, does plenty of reading on this own but likes to have an occasional read aloud. 

We started to pack our box for the cultural exchange. It needs to be sent off next week.

Next week is half term so I don't plan that we will row a book. Plenty of other things that we would like to do though. It isn't always easy to see where learning begins and ends.

This is linked to The weekly wrap up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Fun Science resources

This isn't the be all and end all list of  fun science resources- just some we enjoy. Please do suggest your own favourites in the comments.

Wonderopolis has a daily wonder and facts around this. Not all science related.
Science sparks  has plenty of activities to do at home. Activities cover various ages.
Answers in Genesis is the children’s site from Answers in Genesis.
Nature detectives has ideas for an overwhelming number of ideas. Many based around the great outside.
Potatoes for schools-also open to home educators. This is a scheme run by the Potato Council, in the UK. A potato growing kit is sent out including potatoes, bags in which to grow them, a poster and information.. Registration is now open for 2013. We did this last year although our potatoes were rather tiny compared with some.

Royal Institution -famous for its Christmas lectures but also has other science lectures and demonstrations through the year. These are open to home educators. There are videos of the Christmas lectures on the site.
The London Wildlife Trust has events around the capital which are often either aimed at children or accessible by children. we have enjoyed bat walks and teddy bears' picnic.
I've just joined this Pinterest group around hands-on science. It is run by Julie from Creekside learning. Julie is looking for bloggers who might be interested to join the group. Let her know if you are interested.


Big book of science things to make and do –Usborne. Many activities mainly using household items. We use this book almost every day with the younger children.
This is the volcano demonstration.

Backyard science-Chris Maynard. Activities for the garden.
Mini-scientist in the garden-Lisa Burke. We found the ice sculpture idea in this book.


Thursday 16 February 2012

Busy days

Some days/weeks just are busy. I've had a bit of a patch so haven't posted much.

Thinking back though it doesn't really compare with April almost three years ago. Then, I had a tiny baby and a toddler, started home education having taken a child out of school, had an elderly relative move in, and all the unpacking that entailed, and had a husband who was just starting his own business from home. God's grace is and was sufficient. I managed on the verses "My grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness" and "To you which believe He is precious" plus a very valued sleep on Sunday afternoons while the baby slept.

These thoughts on being busy are much for my own benefit. Please feel free to add in the comments.

  • Things are either important, in which case God's grace is sufficient; or not important and need to be dropped.
  • God has given us 24 hours in a day and yes, we need some for sleep.  He hasn't given us more than this. If the work doesn't fit into the time then some of it is either unnecessary or can be delegated.
  • Pray-I've found on many, many occasions that the impossible volume of work disappears. There is often still a lot to do but the impossibility disappears often in quite unexpected ways.
  • Pray for strength.
  • Whilst it is possible to work well outside our comfort zone, it is important to be aware of when things are too much. For me, this is almost always in the form of becoming miserable.
  • Do the next thing.
  • Make a list but don't be unrealistic. Doubtless, the house needs spring cleaning but it is more important that the children have cheerful mother.

Friday 10 February 2012


A year after leaving the work place, is a good time to look at the pros and cons.

Mainly, I'm glad that I can have more time for my God given role as a wife and mother. But there has been some readjustment. I haven't been bored-home education alone has been enough to stop me getting bored and there is plenty else to do.

Loneliness isn't an issue either-living in a family of eight. Some are quite little but my husband and older children are quite capable of providing adult conversation.

 There hasn't even been time to miss the ethical dilemmas-the issue of making the home a god vs having a home not fit for the purpose of hospitality has taxed me a fair amount.

What have I missed? Being a specialist, being asked for a considered opinion-all part of the bread and butter of being a consultant physician. Yes, my husband asks my opinion and listens but I do miss the collecting of facts and then presenting my view and advice. The art of medicine- history then examination and then investigations drawn together to make a diagnosis. Probably pride-why should anyone want my opinion and why should it matter to me? After all at the end of the day, God's judgement is all that counts and to a lesser extent that of those I am specifically given to serve.

Yes, I am a professional and have been a wife for over 20 years and a mother for over 18 but having spent so much time on other things, it feels like the bottom of the ladder. My imperfections nag me. Presentation isn't my thing. My school work would usually be correct or nearly so but there would be a comment about the spider that had crawled across the page. Not a problem in my professional life with a secretary to present my thoughts in carefully laid out documents, a cleaner to make sure the house was clean if not tidy and at one time, even a nanny to make sure the children were well turned out. Now, it is all my job and frankly, I'm not good at it.

It is unlikely that anyone will starve or not have clean clothes but making the house presentable for guests, that the children's clothes match and that there isn't paint on my clothes is a bit of a challenge. I'm teaching a child to write. It wouldn't be good to teach her to write like a drunken spider.

So I'm slowly reskilling. Stopping working was important so that I could try to obey the command to love my husband and children and loving them takes time and effort. Now part of that effort has to be working  at my weak areas. Maybe I will never be good at some of these things but these things have to be done remembering "Thou God seest me."

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Chapter books

I love books and reading to my children. There are books everywhere in this house, even in one of the wardrobes when we ran out of bookshelf space. Yes, we cull-unsuitable, duplicates, worn out-well, may be not the worn out. Worn books are often the best.

Now, Miss Belle is getting into one of the best phases for my bibliophile heart-she is starting to enjoy having  chapter books read to her. "Just one more chapter, pleeease". We are still enjoying picture books and the few pictures in chapter books but the fun of a book read aloud on a cold winter day has begun.

Her little brother isn't quite there yet but the Duplo obsession helps make space for the reading aloud. Maybe, maybe he even listens a bit.

What have we been reading? Not loads yet but some favourites.

  • Milly Molly Mandy series by Joyce Lankester Brisley was the first, some time ago. Sweet, idealised stories about a little girl in a pink striped dress who lived in the white thatched cottage. Each chapter stands alone so great for a first read.
  • My naughty little sister by Dorothy Edwards. I remember having this read to me, again, the chapters stand alone. This may well seem more familiar as the illustrations are by Shirley Hughes whose picture books are well loved here.
  • The Otter who wanted to know by Jill Tomlinson. A short read about sea otters. I wasn't sure how this would be received but needn't have worried. 
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some vocabulary needed explanation and there were occasional passages which were too long. I did a little skipping and found some useful pictures on the internet.
  • Charlie and the chocolate factory  and Charlie and the great glass elevator by Roald Dahl.
  • My cousin Caroline by Betty McKay again has chapters which stand alone about a five year old..
  • Some of the Sophie stories by Dick King Smith.
I have several more waiting but always like new ideas. Which early chapter books did you or your children love most?

This is linked to Works for me Wednesday.

Monday 6 February 2012

How to make an apple pie and see the world

Last week turned out to have a geographical tinge. Not only did we "row" How to make an apple pie and see the world by Marjorie Priceman but we also found out about our cultural exchange partners.

How to make an apple pie is a funny story about someone who wanted to make an apple pie and found the market was closed. Instead of buying the ingredients in the market she had to travel the world to find what she needed. We've had this book for sometime and it hasn't lost its appeal although I did find that the idea of actually making apple pie seemed much less attractive to the children than before. Maybe they've done this too often?

Anyway, we did lots of geography. The book has a map which we used to follow the story. We also placed ingredients on the countries mentioned on a big plastic map.

In the book, the salt water is put out to evaporate. We did try this but it has been very cold and I thought that this was more likely to show that salt water and plain water have different freezing points so I boiled up some salt water which showed well that the water evaporates leaving a salty residue.

The matter of keeping the milk and egg fresh comes up. We have put bread, in a bag, in the fridge and ,in another bag, on the kitchen window sill (amazing what ends up on home educator's kitchen window sills-worth a post on its own!). We wait to see the results!

This book lends itself to being acted out. I was a bit distracted at the way eggs were being carried around but the children enjoyed this.

We used apples for printing.

The results weren't fantastic. Perhaps someone has some tips. Mr Exuberance rapidly changed course in favour of hand printing. These prints came out much better although Mummy chickened out of allowing foot painting, definitely an outdoor activity, in my opinion.

Using hands for painting goes down well here. Miss Belle made this apple tree using the side of her hand for the trunk, her hands for the leaves and fingers for the apples.

I thought that playdough apples would be fun. It is always interesting to see how the children often prefer to do something different and their results. Miss Belle became very enthusiastic about making playdough planets and people.

This week, on to Scotland.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Inspiration in February

February has arrived bitterly cold, after a mild January.

We are thinking about our cultural exchange. This is a scheme arranged through Little Red Farm where families from around the world exchange parcels with families in other countries. The idea is that the parcels contain objects and information which help others gain an idea of what it is like to live here. We've had our list our families through today and are excited to know that we will be finding out about Texas, Hawaii, New Zealand and Poland.

An important event here, in the UK, this year is the Diamond Jubilee of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. There is a cooking competition for 10-15 year olds called Cook for the Queen. The website talks about schools but I have contacted the organisers who have informed me that the competition is open to groups of home educated children provided they are in the right age range and not just siblings.

For smaller children, Miss Belle is loving Reading Eggs. This is a phonics based reading programme. We are using it to supplement Jolly Phonics. She loves the Reading Eggs so much that she often requests it in her free time. It is also useful for when I need to work with Middle Son. There is a free trial and also many codes around which extend the free period to several months (google Reading Eggs codes).

I must mention the Usborne Big book of science things to make and do again. My younger two children love this book-and so do I. It has just so many activities, some of which are very quick and it has kept them busy for ages. Each activity introduces a scientific principle in a fun and relaxed way. We haven't used this in a systematic way, mainly the children choose the activities that they think would be interesting. Most of the materials are the sort of things that are around the house. I've had to buy straws and chocolate.


3-D vision game

States of matter-with chocolate, of course

Finger prints
We have done a few more activities although without pictures and have many more still to do plus the stickers!