Thursday 28 June 2012

Katie in Trafalgar Square

We recently brought a set of the Katie books by James Mayhew. These are picture books where a little girl, Katie, and her Grandmother visit art galleries as well as central London and the Natural History Museum. Katie has adventures when she goes into paintings, finds live dinosaurs or rides on a lion. The paintings involved are based on real, famous paintings.

The two younger children love these books so today we went for a visit to Trafalgar Square to see the lions  which play a important part in Katie in London, and to the National Gallery, also on Trafalgar Square, to see van Gogh's famous sunflower painting which figures in Katie and the sunflowers.

It was such a beautiful day just right for seeing the lions.
 The lions are large but the children managed to clamber up next to them.

The fountains were a great attraction on such a hot day. There was a man, in waders, sweeping one!

On to the National Gallery, to see the famous Sunflower painting. We didn't find it straight away but wondered through a few rooms. Miss Belle suddenly pointed out the picture of "The king of Spain" and so it was: Philip IV in Brown and Silver by Velazquez. Spotting this was completely thanks to another Katie book, Katie and the Spanish Princess.

The downside of the books is that pictures from all over the world are brought together to make a story so I had to explain that we wouldn't be able to see the picture of Philip IV's daughter, Infanta Margarita, as it lives in Vienna, not in the same gallery, as in the book.

Overall, though, the Gallery made much more sense to the children having heard stories about several of the pictures before. They spotted several more from the books before we had finished. There are now requests to return to the National Gallery to find more of the pictures and to go to the Natural History Museum to see dinosaur skeletons.

Of course, when we got home, we had to read some of the books again. I think that I've learnt as much as the children from the books and have also been surprised at how easily the children can distinguish fact from fiction in the books.

Saving, or not, on stationery and educational supplies

We've made some efforts to be prudent about stationery use. Obviously, it is important to have sufficient for our use and a bit frustrating to buy small numbers of expensive pencils which all mysteriously go missing, the week after they were brought.

It is also frustrating to buy poor quality supplies. We've decided that cheap felt tip pens aren't worth buying as the high quality ones last so much longer and give better results.

So the savings:

The one that definitely works is to have a pile of scrap paper and use this. There is plenty of paper-those pages which print three sheets with only one of useful information, the print-out which is discarded and so on.

The one that should have worked but didn't, was buying the children little white boards. This was a false saving at a pound shop as the boards fell apart on day one. Once I've done some research, I'm hoping to go for a better quality version. I have heard slates recommended.

The one that partially worked was using School Surplus. Some of the items are amazingly inexpensive. A4 lined paper was £3 for 6 blocks and the air hardening clay was £2 for 2kg which was about 25% of the last lot I brought. The Bic biros were 95p for 20.  Glue sticks, and we use many of these, were £2 for 12 which is pretty good.

The equivalence dominoes ( fractions, decimals and visual representations of fractions) were £3 and are well made as was the geoboard for £1.

The page a day diary did state 2013 on the blurb but came as academic year 2011-2012 which ,of course, is almost complete. The lever arch file failed to work properly.

Would I use them again? Probably, yes as the prices are very competitive but I might be a bit more careful what I brought.

The one that isn't available now but is worthwhile when available is the deal that Lidls have on art sets. We've brought the younger children's version and the older version of these. The younger version has been used almost daily all this year and is still going strong. It has a plastic carry case and contains felt tips, oil based pastels, coloured crayons, watercolours, paint brushes, pencil and sharpener. The older version has had less use but has a wood carry case and contains pastels, water colours, charcoal, coloured crayons and pencils. I'm hoping these become available latter in the year, again.

The one with worthwhile savings if they have the item needed: The Southwark technology shop supplies a small range of equipment for science and technology at very competitive prices.  We've used them for supplies for electrical circuits, large numbers of googly eyes, magnets and lollysticks. I see that they do pH paper at 30p for 20 strips.

Any other tips on stationery and educational supplies?

Tuesday 26 June 2012

10 good things about home educating in the UK

Home education in the UK is less common than in the US. It is easy to look enviously across the Pond,  at the enormous conventions and groups, but there are many positives to home education here.

1. Home education in the UK is legal.

2. Whilst home education is not as big as in the US, most big towns have a group. It is almost always possible to meet up with other home educators. Here, in London, there are several Christian groups and a plethora of secular groups.

3. The UK is full of history and there are so many sites to see.

4. Many museums and art galleries are free.

5. The National Trust and English Heritage have special deals for home educators. In the case of English Heritage, entry is free provided it is booked at least 14 days in advance.

6. There are specialist suppliers which sell  home education materials.

7. Some more main stream sites cater for home educators.

8. Our climate means that it is possible to go outside on most days in the year, plus or minus wellies and waterproofs.

9. The sea is never far away-think exercise, biology, geography, creative writing just for starters.

10. There are UK based home education organisations. Home service represents Christians whereas Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service support home educators of various beliefs. Perhaps, more important there are web groups for various aspects of home education. The Christian education group is active and a source of advice and encouragement.

Of course, none of these points are reasons to home educate but factors that make for a more pleasant journey.
Why we home educate is another matter.

This is linked to Top Ten Tuesday.

Friday 22 June 2012

Summer days

 In the UK, the holidays haven't started  but are due to begin in the next few weeks. This is the time to be making plans for those days spent around home or the nearby area. These activities are things that we can do at home or within walking distance. My children have a range of ages from 18 to 3. I don't feel that I have to find activities for the older children but it is useful to have some things that everyone can enjoy.

I hope there will be time to enjoy ordinary things: reading and looking at books, discussions over meals, friends to play and children making up their own games.

Education doesn't stop with the holidays and particularly for early readers, reading and writing will need to carry on although probably in a different, disguised form.

Books and reading

  • Library book club
  • New read alouds
  • DVD to go with books. We read Hugo Cabret with a home education bookclub recently but haven't watched the DVD yet.
  • Local art and reading activity days/hours


  • Picnic in the park
  • Help in the garden-there is plenty of weeding/slug removal/pruning and hopefully harvesting to do.
  • Find out about the famous people who have lived around and about.   
  • Blackberrying. We never have enough blackberries!
  • Barbecue
  • Lunch in the garden with friends
  • Camping
  • Teddy bears' picnic
  • Bat walk
  • Sand pit
  • Open air swimming
  • Cycling/learn to cycle
  • Roller blading
  • Make a scarecrow
  • Make a solar oven-for a sunny day!
  • Get out the guttering
  • Outdoor letter matching


Herman friendship sourdough cake
  • Sour dough bread
  • Frozen yoghurt
  • Make ice cream
  • Decorate ice creams-always a big hit with little people and maybe better outside!
  • Growing bean sprouts
  • Decorating-I would like to tackle the kitchen but am a bit nervous about this. Probably not for the odd bored five minutes!
  • Press flowers
  • Holiday journal
  • Marshmallow building
  • Inside picnic-for wet days

Do feel free to add ideas for the summer. What has been successful in your house?

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Glorious guttering-frugal fun

Last year, we had to have some guttering replaced. There were some lengths left which were just sitting in a shed. These seemed ideal for play use.

The lengths are plastic and without sharp edges. Obviously, this is only frugal if you happen to have some guttering sitting around although planks of wood could be used equally well for some of the activities. It would be more important to secure these carefully due to their weight.

I put the guttering up at different heights on the slide. This didn't interest the children so they asked me to move things around and made race tracks with the guttering from the swing into the "jungle" of weeds.

This kept them busy for a fair time but putting the guttering on the ground provided some impromptu balance boards. There was plenty of talk about acting out Mirette on the highwire. I did intervene to prevent attempts at walking on guttering suspended on the swing!

Water came next. Anything outside tends to involve water.

Making a water wall needed plenty of practice!

Finally, we hunted for snails for a snail race. Amazingly, we only found one; perhaps, there are so many slugs that the snails don't have a chance. The one we found seemed more interested in escaping perhaps because there were so many squeals about its size.

I'm sure that these two pieces of gutter are likely to provide more fun over the summer before I put them to another purpose-maybe bookshelves or planters?

This is linked to 4 weeks of frugal fun, the weekly kids co-opScience sparksLiving Life Intentionally and Summer-Sensory-Fun.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Eclectic Christian British home education

 It is unlikely that any one family home educates in the same way as another. These points are thoughts we went through in choosing our materials which we think are best for our children. One of the advantages of home education is that it can be tailored to the needs of individuals.

We are British, Christian home educators and use a range of  different curricula items. We have been home educating for just over three years. Our home educated children are 11, 5 and 3. 

These are 10 points that have been important to us in choosing materials. 

1.We are teaching from a Christian worldview. That doesn't mean that every book comes from a Christian publisher but that we would not use books as main texts which majorly contradict this worldview. 

2.We are British. UK English is different to American English and whilst there are some great American books around, I would think twice before using them for spelling or as a main phonics text.

3.We love books so a literature based curriculum for our younger children was ideal.

4.The children have changing needs. When we started home education, Middle Son had been in school for several years. We started using Apologia Elementary science. This was so different to his school science that we changed to something more familiar and workbook based, Singapore Science. After a year or so, Middle Son wanted to do science in more depth and we made a happy transition back to Apologia Elementary.

5.We want the children to be a happy with their learning. One of our children was very unhappy with the rather trendy maths book that we were using. A change to a  traditional style maths workbook, led to a child who now enjoys the subject.

6.Our children will need to take UK exams so, particularly for Middle Son, we are gradually changing to books geared to these. 

7.I have weak subjects. We have chosen to use an on-line provider for modern languages for Middle Son and also have his English writing marked externally.

8.I get tired so whilst using any curriculum for the younger children might be unnecessary, I don't have the energy to reinvent the wheel.

9. The curriculum is our servant-I don't have to use it to teach anything but it is there. Generally, we do follow the materials we have bought but often supplement them.

10.We do use the children's interests to make up unit studies and this has been very successful. For example, Middle Son wanted to learn more about the Netherlands so we chose this as our European country study when looking at countries from different continents.

If you want to see how this all works out in practice, I have written about our plans for next year.

This is linked to the Top Ten Tuesday. Do pop over for many more posts about 10 reasons for home education method and more.

Friday 15 June 2012

Friendship and encouragement

These have been a good couple of days.

My friend, Ellen, sent  me the starter for Herman the German friendship cake. This is a sour dough cake and amazingly, is currently happily bubbling in my kitchen. It has sparked some discussion about from where the yeast appears and spontaneous generation, or rather lack of spontaneous generation.
The idea is that the cake matures and is fed over 10 days. At day 9, the mixture is divided into 4. One portion is cooked and the others can be given to friends as a starter for another round of the cake.

Herman covered in his bowl

The bubbling mixture

If I manage not to kill Herman in the next 8 days, then I shall be looking around for volunteers to take some starter. This is a fascinating cake and might get me working on sourdough bread again.

Today, we went to a Christian home educators' sports day. There were almost 90 children. This was such an encouragement. Sometimes, it is possible to feel quite alone as a home educator. Objectively, there are loads of us, home educators, but sometimes, it seems that almost everyone else has children in school. What does it matter to me that other believers have different guidance,for their children? Nothing but still it was a real encouragement to talk to other Christian home educators and especially those who are further on in the home education journey.

The weather-well, fine for the races then the showers began. I can't say it bothered the children who were busy playing with friends, old and new.

Thursday 14 June 2012

A year of Five in a Row.

Five in a Row is a "book a week" curriculum designed for children aged 4-8. The idea is that a picture book is read each day for five days and that activities are done around the book. There are four Five in a Row manuals, although my understanding is that volume 4 is a little more advanced. The manuals give guidance and ideas so that each book can be used in different subject areas. We have been using Five in a Row, volumes 1-3, for over a year now.

So what have we found? Five in a Row is a happy curriculum and both I and the children have enjoyed the books and activities.
The story of Ping illustrated by us.

Mr Exuberance, currently 40 months, has been officially too young for the programme but has loved the books and has certainly gained, particularly in terms of vocabulary. He wouldn't have been able to do many of the activities suggested in the  manuals and we have tended to do the easier activities for Miss Belle, aged 5 and 1/2 or use other simpler ideas.
Counting activity from The story of Ping

The major positives have been

  • exposure to books, previously, unknown to us. Virginia Lee Burton's books, Katie and the big snow and Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel have been a particularly popular finds.
  • being able to use the books in an order convenient for us. This meant that we could read the Bee Tree when we had a swarm of bees and Madeline and Mirette on the high wire to fit in with a trip to Paris.
  • books covering issues that we might not otherwise have considered. Follow the drinking gourd looks at slavery and All those secrets of the world  tackles separation and war.
  • increased vocabulary
  • a fresh book, each week which, generally, the children hadn't seen previously.
Seeing plane very like that in The Glorious Flight

Some books worked better than others. This was partly a feature of the age of the children. In retrospect, it might have been better to have used Before Five in a Row which is for children aged 2-4. For anyone else using Five in a Row with young children, the books that worked especially well were
  • Little Nino's Pizzeria
  • Make way for the ducklings
  • How to make an apple pie and see the world
  • A new coat for Anna
  • Mirette on the high wire
  • Harold and the purple crayon
  • The story of Ping
  • Lentil
  • The glorious flight
I found that weeks that were less successful were when either the book didn't appeal to the children, for some reason, or where we had less time to do activities around the book. We didn't keep slavishly to the manuals and there are plenty of additional ideas on the internet. We only spent a week on each book which meant that we did nothing like all the possible activities. 
Acting out Peter Rabbit

Next year, we are not planning to use Five in a Row. The main reason for this is that there are not enough books, in print, which we haven't used. I would certainly recommend Five in a Row and am very glad that we have used this.

 We do plan to read a book of the week, next year.  I'm looking for book suggestions-any thoughts?

Monday 11 June 2012

Thinking about teeth

In view of an upcoming dentist visit, we decided to have a look at teeth.

First, we counted and yes, Miss Belle has three more teeth than her brother who is two years younger.

Then we talked about the sorts of drinks that might or might not be good for teeth. Using egg shell as a surrogate for teeth, we put pieces of egg shell into jars of milk, water and coco cola (the proper stuff-none of this diet or zero stuff). We hope to see what will happen over the next few days.

We made models of the three different types of teeth

  • incisors, at the front, for biting
  • pointy canines for tearing
  • large flat molars for chewing
We used pieces of egg carton as jaw and glued on foil shapes for each type of tooth. In case of doubt, from the left, molar, incisor and canine.

At bedtime, after the tooth cleaning, the children used disclosing tablets to see how effective their cleaning had been. I must say, disclosing tablets are quite messy with little ones. I did double check the packet to see if there was a label saying "not for use under x years" but no. From experience now, I don't really think they are suitable for under fives although using them with a five year old worked. 

The good side effect has been the increased interest in tooth brushing; hope it lasts!

Thursday 7 June 2012

June inspiration

Here in England, we have half term holiday, this week. This is a week later than usual because of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations but there are still several weeks to go before the summer break.

I'm looking forward to a new geography project, in this second half of term. My work has been made much easier by an incredibly useful and detailed Geography Travel post by Debbie at Our cup of tea. Debbie has posted the work that she has done with her children on various places and has added additional links. So far, she has posted on Canada, Iran, Venezuela, Haiti, Peru and there is more to come. Definitely, something to look at if you are planning to do a country unit study.

Over half term, we have taken part in the RSPB Nature count. This is a simple survey and involves counting the numbers and types of birds in the garden, or in a park, over an hour. The data can be entered on-line and there are an additional few questions about other types of wildlife seen, in the garden, but not necessarily in the hour. This is a great survey for different age groups. We had all three generations involved. The survey can be entered until the end of the week.

There is a fascinating challenge over at Keeper of the Home-The eat from the freezer and pantry challenge. The idea is to make an inventory of everything in the cupboards and freezer and save by living off this. I made an inventory and found that there was loads of apple, not a surprise and some seeds but not loads, or any, forgotten vegetables.

The inventory has been good, in that we have had some seedy bread which seems to be very popular. We had a bacon and spilt pea soup to use up some left overs of both and a greengage crumble. We continue to eat apples but, probably as a comment on our plenty in this part of the globe, it is difficult to use up more than one or two containers a week. Today, we had an apple cake which was well received but I think that I have overdone the apple crumble theme.

I didn't really count the jams and marmalades. These are eaten at a steady rate-it would be good to have enough marmalade to last until next January and this year may be the closest yet.
Altogether, we probably saved the grand total of about £10 from the challenge although much more from using the freezer through the year. Perhaps, the most useful lesson for me, was to freeze/preserve more of a variety of fruit and vegetables. Having prolific apples trees it is tempting to fill the freezer with apples but there is a real risk of apple fatigue!

Finally, a review of one of my most loved books: Crushed yet conquoring by Deborah Alcock. I have a lovely old copy, found in a second hand bookshop but it has been reprinted and is worth reading. Head over to the review to read more!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Weary mothers

This educational year has been good, in many ways. There have been two "official learners" and they have both made progress but for me, a recurring theme has been tiredness.

I don't, for a moment, think I'm the only one or that my load is heavier than anyone else's. Yes, objectively, I am busy: home educating two of school age and with another under school age, two older children who are  taking exams, a husband who works most waking hours and being a carer plus trying to keep up with a big garden and a house for all of us. But other people are equally busy or more so. Many people are home educating with more children than I have. Others have poor health or children with long term illness.

So how should we view tiredness? I'm not talking about tiredness from medical conditions but the tiredness from volume.

When I looked at the Bible, I realised that there were injunctions to avoid idleness but not tiredness. The Lord Jesus was tired during His life on earth. There are many encouraging texts, particularly, the one that has become almost my motto, over the last three years:

My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians   12v9

On a day to day level, I've found tiredness hard to manage. Perhaps, partly because of my professional background. I was a junior doctor in the days before hours' limitation. A weekend on call meant arriving at work before 9am on Friday and not leaving the building until well gone 5pm on Monday. I never had a weekend with no sleep at all but theoretically that could have happened. Certainly, there were many weekends with very little sleep-I was far too tired to count the hours. In many ways, this experience was useful. I learned that nothing dreadful happens with an hour or two less sleep. Yes, being very sleep deprived did lead to consequences. I used to walk home from the underground station, after a weekend on call, and more than once investigated black bags on the ground to see if they were tramps needing resuscitation.  There was also the awful "Everyone is against me" feeling from prolonged sleep deprivation.

As a result of this experience, it becomes hard to know when being tired is too tired. When does stopping mean that I'm pandering to myself and neglecting my family and when is it necessary for the well being, not only of myself but of my family? There is certainly enough work around here that I could work 24/7 and probably a bit more and still not be quite on top of everything.

I've fought with this one. My conclusions are hard battled and I'm not sure that I always keep to them.
  • The Lord's Day is a day of rest from secular work; that includes non-essential housework and home education preparation. 
  • Time reading God's Word and praying has to come before other, non-emergency, tasks. 
  • My husband is much more aware of when over-tiredness is affecting my mood. He is right when he says I have to stop.
  • A happy house is more important than a tidy house. Usually though, I'm choosing between clean and happy which is more difficult!
  • Having the children occupied quietly after lunch gives a few minutes to catch up and even read.
  • I can't do everything and in particular, I can't do everything that I see other people doing. Their circumstances may well be different. 
  • Pray.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 
1 Corinthians 10 v13

Monday 4 June 2012

Flat Stanley goes to the Jubilee

Miss Belle was keen to see something of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Tuesday didn't seem a good day to take young children into central London. Exciting as the Diamond Jubilee is, we were sad that the Pageant was on Sunday, the Lord's Day, when we celebrate the King of the whole earth. So Saturday, was a good day to take Flat Stanley to see something of the excitement. We knew the Queen wouldn't be at home as she  was due to visit the races but Buckingham Palace wasn't planning to move.

What we hadn't realised was that although Buckingham Palace hadn't moved, it had a large temporary stadium built in front of it for the concert this evening.

We walked through St James' Park and saw this plant crown-impressive.
Flat Stanley waved flags at the ducks.
He had another go at seeing Buckingham Palace, through a gap in the temporary fences
and went to the playground.
On the way back, we saw a horse drawn carriage, maybe practising for the procession on Tuesday?
Flat Stanley had a little look at one of the many shops full of soveneirs.
Soon, we will say "Goodbye" to our temporary guest and send Flat Stanley onto his next family. We hope that he has enjoyed seeing the Diamond Jubilee preparations.

Friday 1 June 2012

Barbara Hepworth

Not so long ago, a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth was stolen from a South London park. My children had seen this sculpture and couldn't understand why it had been taken. This lead to  discussions about scrap metal thieves. Recently, I found The life and work on Barbara Hepworth from the Heinemann first library. This seemed an ideal time to find out more about Barbara Hepworth's work.

Barbara Hepworth was a famous sculpture of the twentieth century. She was inspired by the natural world but after the 1920s, her sculptures were abstract.  There are collections of her work in St Ives and Wakefield as well as sculptures in cities around the UK as well as a large number of sculptures in the US, Canada and the Netherlands.

Having read the book, we decided to go to see one of the sculptures, in another London park, Battersea Park. We found it quickly. It was easily identifiable with a fence around it and notices to say that there were CCTV cameras. This sculpture is known as Single Form and is a smaller version, of that of the same name, outside the United Nations building.

Barbara Hepworth's preferred media were wood, stone and bronze. I chickened out of trying these with the children and ordered air drying clay. The children were very pleased about this as they really wanted to make pots. It seemed mean to insist on abstract sculptures so they made pots.

Having done pots, Miss Belle was keen to have a go at a model in the style of Hepworth.
At a different angle

Barbara Hepworth moved to St Ives, Cornwall in the Second World War. She lived there until her death in 1975.
Cornwall is famous for its cream teas so we decided to finish off by making scones and having a cream tea, well actually dessert, for the end of the half term. Of course, the scones had to be served with strawberry jam and cream.

This is linked to Kids get arty