Thursday 31 May 2012

Flat Stanley

Flat Stanley,  by Jeff Brown, is the story of a boy who is squashed flat but astonishingly, otherwise no worse for wear. As a result of his experience, he can be mailed in an envelope to his friends. Flat Stanley even has his own website.
Flat Stanley is currently staying with us having traveled from Scotland via Devon.

We hope to take Flat Stanley on some more adventures soon but yesterday, he went for a visit to Battersea Park.

 The visit to the Park was for a particular reason that I hope to write about soon but in addition, we saw the preparations for the Jubilee celebrations with marquees and endless rows of portable loos. My children decided that it wasn't tasteful to take photos of the latter but I have never seen so many. Flat Stanley did have a look at the marquees.

Flat Stanley was able to see some of the nature in London Parks including the nests of both a coot and swan.

Sadly, Flat Stanley now needs some emergency surgery on his arm. I'm no surgeon but should be able to manage this with the help of the laminator. Hopefully, he should be well for his further adventures with us before  travelling on.

Monday 28 May 2012

Planning and reflecting

We haven't quite reached the end of our school year in England but it is a good time to evaluate. What has worked, what hasn't and where we need to go.

I wrote about a year ago about why sometimes things don't go well and the same issues still apply. When I loose sight of why we are home educating and who is the Lord of our education then all else becomes useless.

This year, I've realised that it is necessary to be more focused about goals. For the next academic year, the children will be 12(UK year 8), almost 6 (UK year 1) and 3 and 1/2 ( preschool). A wide range of ages with differing needs. So, I've been working on goals both for the children and for how home education fits into our family.

In order to achieve these goals, we've been working on which curricula to use. We are fairly eclectic so this isn't a complete list., really a skeleton on which we hope to hang the flesh. In addition, education is part of life and sometimes things come up which lead to altered plans: the swarm of bees that landed in the garden or the trip to see The Snail and the whale or the chance to host Flat Stanley.

This is what we hope to use next year in some subjects. I haven't given a full list  of subjects although am happy to give details should anyone be interested.

Bible: Obviously, the Bible-we read this with the children daily and at the start of their educational day.   We hope to do regular memory work perhaps using the sort of system suggested by Raising Olives. We have been doing memory work this year but need to build in a review system.

English: Middle Son has been using the home educator's distance learning from Little Arthur. I found writing difficult to mark and so appreciate the fact that someone else marks his assignments. Little Arthur is an English language based course. I need to add in some more formal English literature including a little Shakespeare. This post by Se7en has given me some ideas about introducing the Bard and I have been pulling some resources together.

Miss Belle has used Jolly Phonics and Reading Eggs this year. We have used other ideas and books but these have been the backbone. We plan to use The Grammar Handbook 1, by the same authors as Jolly Phonics, for spelling and grammar. Improving literacy is a major aim for this coming year.  We also plan to use reading books, writing, copywriting and narration. Much of the work in other subjects, except perhaps maths, will be aimed at improving reading and writing.

Mr Exuberance is learning letter names and sounds in a relaxed way. I want to find a variety of activities so he can work on letters most days but not realise that he is working. We have used Five in a Row books this last year but plan to have a book of the week and structure  activities around this. Of course, there will  need to be plenty of reading aloud, both for Mr Exuberance and Miss Belle.

Maths: Middle Son has been using the Galore Park maths books for some years. These are designed for working towards Common Entrance, which Middle Son is not taking, but they also seem to form a basis from which to work towards starting a IGCSE course. We are finishing So you want to learn maths book 2 and hope to start book 3 in September. For the first time, I have a copy of the answer book! Previously, I have thought that I should work out all the answers myself and there is real merit in this but the answer book should save time.

 Recently, I have found the Khan Academy videos which are useful for re-enforcing more difficult concepts.

Miss Belle has started Mousematics which is a Welsh programme for years R-2. It can even be used in Welsh although we use the English version! The CD with Mousematics is sold with Mother's Companion volume one. We plan to continue to re-enforce this with games. I have a long wish list of manipulatives but need to work out what we actually need.

Mr Exuberance likes counting and is starting to play simple games like dominoes. We hope to expand this.

Science: Middle Son has been using Apologia General Sciencee but this is the year to go back to UK textbooks in preparation for starting IGCSE courses in the future. We plan to use Science to 14 published by Oxford University Press.

I hadn't planned to do anything formal with Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance beyond kitchen table experiments but Mr Exuberance has shown such interest in the Apologia Human Anatomy and Physiology book that I've changed my mind. The plan is to do a study on the human body partly based on the Apologia book but changing this quite considerably in view of their ages. This is a subject that I enjoy teaching with my background in medicine.

History: In order to try to avoid Mummy burnout, we decided that it makes sense to study the same period in history with all three children so we are hoping to use Susan Wise Brauer's History of the World book 1 with ideas from the workbook. Obviously, the activities will be very different for Middle Son than the younger two but  this should be good for trips and means that I only need to do one lot of research at the time.

I'm looking forward to spending time, over the summer, fleshing out our programme for next  year.
It is important to remember, though, that
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Psalm 127 v1

Thursday 24 May 2012

Greenwich-the good, the bad and the ugly

Greenwich has an amazing amount to do so we wanted to make the most of a home education trip there. The actual trip was a nature afternoon run by the Field Studies Council which included watching the deer from a hide and pond dipping.

Since the organised trip was only for part of the day, we decided to add in the Maritime Museum and a little bit about the Olympics. Greenwich Park is due to host the equestrian events in the London 2012 Olympics. Work was very much on going with over the paths which were frequently closed to allow heavy vehicles though. We couldn't avoid seeing the work and a view of the stadium. Important, doubtless, but it does seem a scar on the face of the Park.

The Maritime Museum has something really special outside-Nelson's ship in a bottle. This is fairly new and I'm impressed.

One of our primary aims was to see the Titanic exhibition to fit in with the book that we read about this recently. The exhibition was quite small although it was amazing to see a slipper that one of the  survivors was wearing as well as a soft toy that escaped the disaster with its owner.

The Maritime Museum has a great children's interactive area. My connoisseurs, of such places, tell me that they rank it second only to the Science Museum children's area; high praise indeed. Just outside the children's area is a ship simulator. Middle Son enjoys this but managed to capsize his frigate. It felt scarily real.

Then a dash back up the hill, past the Observatory, to a picnic lunch on the first properly hot day of the year and onto the nature trail.

A full and interested day but the downside was that Mr Exuberance, having walked or run everywhere that we went, was tired. It didn't help that I had totally misjudged the weather and dressed him in winter clothes. The inevitable happened on the way home and he slept soundly and couldn't be wakened until sometime after we got home. Of course, we had one wide awake child, all evening. I wish I knew how to keep young children awake on journeys in the late afternoon.

I do recommend Greenwich-there is far more to do that we didn't even try to fit in. We ought to go back to visit the Observatory, the Old Naval College and the Fan Museum, not forgetting the Cutty Sark.

Monday 21 May 2012

Prayers for our children's education

I found this quote in Matthew Henry's book, The Secret of Communion with God. It seemed ideal for all Christian parents whichever choices they have made in terms of education.

When you are pursuing the education of your children, or the young ones under your charge, wait upon God for His grace to make the means of their education successful. When you are yourself giving them instruction in things pertaining either to life or to godliness, their general or particular calling, when you are sending them to school in the morning, or ordering them the business of the day, wait upon God to give them a good understanding, and a good capacity for their business. Especially their main business, for it is God that giveth wisdom. If they are but slow, and do not come on as you wish, yet wait on God to bring them forward, and to give them His grace in His own time, and while you are patiently waiting on Him that will encourage you to take pains with them, and will likewise make you patient and gentle towards them.

Friday 18 May 2012

Books for less

I've got a weakness for books. I've lost count of the number of bookcases in this house and haven't a clue how many books there might be. Books are doubled stacked, put in wardrobes and in untidy piles by beds. Sadly, books cost money. I can ignore the latest in clothes, fairly obvious if you know me but ignoring a book that sounds interesting; that is much more difficult.

These are some ways that we save on books. They don't necessarily reduce numbers but do reduce cost-a bit.

  • public libraries are particularly good for picture books for children. Our local library doesn't have them in any sort of order so finding a book is a rather random process. Having said that, each child is allowed 15 books so there is space to try new books and most picture books are short enough to have a scan through at the library. Other good finds have been short chapter books, Tintin and Asterix, books about countries, art and history and the odd cookery book. Beware of DVDs- there usually aren't fines on children's books or CDs but there are on DVDs and the borrowing period can be shorter. Don't forget that the catalogue can be accessed on line.
  • Other libraries-we use a home school library and this has proved particularly helpful for Five in a Row resources not available from the Public Library. When I was a child, there was a Sunday School library which provided me with a different book each week.
  • Friends and family-yes, we borrow and lend out. Don't forget to write your name in your books. My Grandparents, from whom I must have inherited the book gene, used to keep a little notebook to keep track of who had their books-sensible idea. On a sadder note, I have had some wonderful books from when my Grandparents' home was cleared out-lovely hymn books and biographies and more recently, a pile of books from a aunt.
  • Read what you already have. Books have fashions like anything else and it is tempting to buy the latest when there is something unread and maybe similar on the shelf. Old can often be better. At present, we are reading "Black Beauty" in a home education book club. I had forgotten what a great book it is. The copy that I'm reading aloud to my daughter is 97 years old and belonged to her Great-grandmother. Isn't that special?
  • Second hand sales. There are some amazing book bargains to be had. We still use some, now, rather battered copies of Shirley Hughes' Alfie that I brought at a jumble sale 16 years ago. Don't forget library sales. Some of the books in library sales can be a bit battered but there are gems. I have brought a handbook of European mammals and a large book on Lutyens buildings for a few pence.
  • Second hand shops and charity shops. The bargains are not quite as good as those to be found in jumble sales, after all, the owners have to make a living or the charity has to make money, but there are still major savings to be made. I have done well with picture books in virtually new condition, from charity shops.
  • E-books. Many classics can be found for free as e-books. Like many people, I'm not  completely sure about e-books. They do seem to destroy the community of books; that buying of books and lending out to friends but still they do serve a purpose. There is a free Kindle programme for laptops that I've used quite successfully. The Moneysaving expert has a list of some free e-books and for home educators there is also the Freebie of the Day site.
  • Bookstart gives a book pack to babies and another to preschoolers. I'm fairly certain that there was another pack but this seems to have disappeared from the website. If your child doesn't go to nursery/preschool then the preschool pack can be obtained from the health visitors. I had to make a couple of phone calls to get our pack and pick it up. Similarly, Booktime provides packs for reception age children. Parents of home educated children can obtain the pack for appropriately aged children through this link.
  • Audio books can be downloaded for free from LibriVox.
Happy reading!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Comfort books and Kings and Queens

We've been a bit under the weather which has meant that the children haven't been well enough for the usual English/phonics and maths and so forth.

This is the sort of time for comfort books. As a teenager, I kept a massive Victorian novel for such occasions. It was a bit gloomy as everyone seemed to die of tuberculosis but it proved a diversion from more minor ailments.

This week has been full of Postman Pat and princess stories. Stickers always seem to be successful with the younger children and have certainly been a feature of this week This may partly explain why the other hit has been The Usborne Kings and Queens sticker book. 
This  fits in with the Diamond Jubilee as it goes up to the present with a double page spread on the Royal Family today and another on Queen Elizabeth II.

The book starts with Alfred the Great and goes via the early Scottish Kings and the Plantagenets to more recent times, not forgetting the Tudors, of course, and a couple of pages on Queen Victoria.

The book has many coloured stickers for each page and snippets of information- just right for a five year old who is fascinated by princesses and history.

Thoroughly recommended.

We brought this for our own use. This review is my own opinion of a book that we have enjoyed.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Jubilee Numbers

We are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in less than a month. It seemed a good time to think about the number 60 and different ways of counting to 60.

Threading and counting 60 beads
The finished product
Duplo tower of 60 bricks
This was particularly unstable and it was obvious that counting in 10s can be easier.
I had been looking for ways of including practice in counting in tens and the Diamond Jubilee has been ideal. Next, we made a chart with 60 objects grouped in 10s.
There is so much more that could be done; adding up money to 60p or counting in 2s or 5s or even 15s. Maybe for another day.

Friday 11 May 2012

Learning outside

This has been a short week, in the UK, as Monday was a public holiday. We had a great tramp in the woods. It is so, so good to be outside especially as we've had so much rain in the last few weeks.
Several of the best parts of the week have been outside: reading aloud Black Beauty while sitting in the garden; being interrupted by my five year old to tell me that a blue tit had gone into the nesting box; planting seeds with Mr Exuberance, aged three and acting out The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton, with Duplo.

The Little House tells the story of a house, built in the country, which gradually becomes a house in the city surrounded with tower blocks and with traffic in front, above and below. The concepts of the seasons and day and night are woven in.
Our version of the house in the country.

The traffic from the encroaching city.

The elevated train track and blocks of flats-now part of the city.

Moving the house back to the country.

Middle Son has been learning about the plague in a group. We added to this by going to see paintings about the plague and he has been writing an eye-witness account with a twist.

What has worked well?

  • going outside whenever it was fine.
  • Black Beauty-I had forgotten what a splendid book this is.
  • re-enforcing maths concepts by on-line explanations.
What I need to think about?
  • Making sure Mr Exuberance has a sufficient number of activities to occupy him while his sister does her work.
  • Managing home education and appointments which took up a fair amount of one day.

This is linked to the Weekly Wrap-up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Cars, lorries and trucks

Mr Exuberance, aged 3 and 1/4, loves books about machines. His choices are by no means exclusively around vehicles and other forms of machinery but this does seem to be an enduring theme.
This is about those books that get read again and again. Both, he and I, can manage parts from memory.

Amazing machines is a series of books by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker. They are written in rhyme and have cheerful pictures with three characters a rabbit, a mouse and a bird. They are factual and end with a page about the workings of the particular machine. The best of the best seems to be Terrific Trains but I rarely get away with reading one.

The Mr Little series by Richard Fowler appears to be out of print but is available cheaply second hand. These books are about noisy machines and are full of onomatopoeias. Each page has a flap under which is an animal. Most of the flaps in our copies have had to have sellotape but since they have been read and reread, over almost two decades, I'm not complaining.

The glorious flight across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, by Alice and Martin Provensen, is just what it says: the story of the first flight across the Channel. This is told as a story including the names and ages of the children. We've read and reread this as well as visiting the landing site and seeing a similar plane.

Katy and the big snow and Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel are both by Virginia Lee Burton. These are Five in a Row books. Katy is a snow plough and Mike Mulligan has a steam shovel called Mary Anne. Katy and the big snow has borders on some of the pages with fascinating detail-there are 55 horses drawn in groups of five to illustrate 55 horse power. I didn't know about steam shovels before we read Mike Mulligan but now I've watched videos of several in action and Mr Exuberance was excited to discover a steam shovel in another of Virginia Lee Burton's books, The little house. 

This is our version of a steam shovel.

The Percy the Park Keeper books aren't really about machines but Percy's bumpy ride is about a rather fanciful lawn mover and the rather dramatic consequences of using it.

Finally, a really factual series from DK, Machines at work. These have bright photographs and a few paragraphs on each page.

Any recommendations? I imagine that this may be a popular theme with other little boys.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Sweet science

Recently, I've been, occasionally science to a small group. Part of the time, the theme has been the human body. I've used the Apologia Elementary book, Exploring Creation with human anatomy and physiology, as an outline guide, supplementing with some pictures from my old histology book and a few videos which were particularly useful to show how the heart works.

Apologia Elementary has a Christian worldview and uses a Charlotte Mason approach. The Elementary books are recommended for age 6-13. The ground seems to be covered quite thoroughly for this group. We have successfully used the astronomy book and the human anatomy and physiology book when one of our children was 9 and 10. My gut feeling is that the books are more suitable for the older end of the range perhaps 8+.

For group teaching, I didn't use the book in the suggested way. In fact, Apologia suggest that a fortnight is taken over each chapter. Instead, I have used the activities in the book as an introduction and they seem fairly effective and sweet!

The cell
This is a picture from a previous post of when we made this once before at home. The cell model involves jelly (jello) for cytoplasm and various sweets for organelles.
A memorable activity! The downside is that jelly containing numerous sweets doesn't hold together well once taken out of its container. My explanation is that this is a plant cell with a cell wall,

The heart
I didn't really follow the book for this. Their activity is much sweeter than mine! I used cards for the major vessels attached to the heart and its four chambers. These were useful for mapping the flow of blood through the heart and checking understanding.
The mixed set
If I do this again, they could be beautified and laminated!

The blood
This again, involved a sweet demonstration. Part of the learning, for me, is that US sweets don't necessarily exist here so some alteration was necessary.
We used

  • vegetable oil-plasma
  • red skittles-red blood cells. There weren't as many red skittles as I would have liked in the pack.
  • Mint Imperial-white blood cell.
  • Sprinkles-platelets. 
 This is a long way from being a perfect model:
  • the shape of the cells and particularly the red cells are wrong. I don't know of any sweets that are biconcave. 
  • the red cells should vastly outnumber the white. The book suggests using "Candy red hots" which presumably must be all red.
  • We were over generous with the sprinkles.
Still these were discussion points.
Next,we should probably do something about the effect of sweets on teeth.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Food odds and ends

Until fairly recently, I thought that we wasted very little food but then the local council introduced food recycling. We already composted but found that we were able to recycle the non-compostable food waste: crusts, banana skins, meat bones and plate waste. Well, the container filled up quickly and the roll of liner bags which was meant to last six months barely lasted three. So, onto more effort to reduce food waste. I'm not sure about success but we are working on this.

So what do we so to try to reduce waste?

Meals built around jacket potatoes-these meals are great for using up bits of salad, small quantities of cooked meat or grated cheese. We usually need to add other vegetables or a quiche to this.

Casseroles-we add in left over vegetables. A good way to use up left over carrots or baked beans.

Potato patties-this is a popular way of using left over mashed potato. Add a whisked egg to the potato, make into rounds, coat in flour or cornmeal and shallow fry.

Pasta salad-this is a less popular way of using up left over pasta. I could do with more ideas here.

Sweet couscous-left over couscous (needs to be plain not with additional ingredients) makes a easy dessert with icing sugar and ground almonds. Just add to taste.

I would be delighted to have other ideas.

This is linked to the 4Moms posts on leftovers.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Peter Rabbit in the garden

This week, I've been reading Beatrix Potter's famous book, Peter Rabbit, to the children. There has been some considerable interest in acting this out, in the garden, between or even in the showers. It has been good to get outside even into a rather wet garden. Peter Rabbit now needs a wash!

We used soft toys from around the house and real gardening tools. I was amazed how many toy rabbits we seem to own. The gold fish were made from orange foam and put in the empty sand pit.

They lived with their Mother...underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

Then he ate some radishes; (real baby radishes)

And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.

He rushed all over the garden,

Mr McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop upon the top of Peter; (not sure that Peter escaped this time)

(Peter) jumped into a can

Mr McGregor was sure that Peter was somewhere...perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. He began to turn them over carefully.

A white cat was staring at some goldfish. (well ours wasn't very white-have to use some imagination! You can just see it at the edge.)

Suddenly, quite close to him, he heard the noise of a hoe (yes, it badly needs hoeing-bit embarrassed about this)

His mother put him to bed. (not exactly in the burrow!)

We had such fun with this-wondering whether we could play Jemima Puddleduck or Tom Kitten next.

This is linked to the Kids' Co-op linky partyIt's Playtime and LGIF Linky party.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Thoughts on not being overwhelmed with volume

Last term was good, in many ways, but by the end I was so tired. Probably inevitable but partly avoidable. These are some thoughts, not just from last term, about not overdoing it-partly as a reminder to myself. Please feel free to add to them.

  1. Staying up extra late doesn't usually help. It might be good to clean after midnight but it might be better to be cheerful the next morning than have a clean floor.
  2. Having decided on a curriculum, hopefully after plenty of thought, discussion and prayer, it isn't worth thinking that X's child seems to be doing so well on another and start worrying. Easy to do for those of us prone to self-doubt.
  3. Trips are good and useful but random trips unrelated to current work haven't always been a sensible use of time, for us. It is particularly helpful to tie in books for smaller children-this has worked really well for us this year. We are planning to do the same historical period, at different levels for our little ones and Middle Son next year-this should particularly help with trips. We try not to travel too far as this takes time and energy but for an important and relevant trip this can be worth ignoring. One day, I would love to walk Hadrian's Wall to go with Roman history and a dose of Rosemary Sutcliffe.
  4. Planning is good especially for difficult days-it means that the basics are done. It might not be the day when you do some exciting extra but English and maths, and probably rather more, get done. 
  5. Going outside is good.
  6. Having a pre-cooked meal in the freezer is even better.
  7. Remember the priorities-for Christian home educators why we home educate (the link is to our own reasoning but it is useful to have individual reasons written for later reference) and that loving our husbands and children are Biblical commands. Too easy to forget in the midst of the pressure of getting everything done.