Friday 28 September 2012

5 different ways of modelling animal cells

Early in the summer, one of my younger children announced that they wanted to know all about skeletons. I hadn't planned to study the human body with them in science, this year but since there was so much interest it seemed  a good time.  I previously worked as a physician so this is happy teaching for me.

So we have started and it seemed logical to start with the cell.

As the children are young (3 and 1/2 and almost 6) I wanted them to understand that physically we are made up of cells and what cells are so it seemed important to use models.

 We built a Duplo wall to show this that a structure can be made of smaller units. A Duplo wall is made up of Duplo and living things are made up of cells.

I drew a cell-not really a model but useful for explanations. One of the children wanted to draw their own although, in case you are wondering, this is my effort.

We made a pizza cell. Please note this is a model of an animal cell.
The tomato is the nucleus, the olives are mitochondria, the pepper centrioles, the onion represents the Golgi body, the cheese is supposed to be endoplasmic reticulum with pepper corns for ribosomes and the cucumber stands for lysosomes.

Previously, we have made cells using jelly to represent cytoplasm and with sweets to represent organelles. The advantage of this model is that it is three dimensional like a real cell.

We haven't made any other models recently but one of the other models was made by one of my older children, some years ago, for a school project. That was a chocolate model with dark chocolate as the cytoplasm and milk and white chocolate pipped on for organelles. Sadly, I don't think I have a picture.

Instructables has a fabric cell. I haven't tried to make this but it looks impressive.

I would love to know about other cell models.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Ways to save time for home educating mothers

There are two really important facts about home education.
  • Home education takes time
  • Home education is very bad for housework.

So how to maximise time use? I'm not sure that it is really possible to "save time" as time goes on like an ever rolling stream. Still, it is possible to use time effectively on priorities. These are things that have helped me-I don't always do these things consistently but still...

  • Priorities are important-making time to pray and read the Bible is better than a clean kitchen floor. Best is both, of course, but sometimes that just isn't possible.

  • Planning saves time thinking. I use plans for home education, meals and much more. My home education planning is partly yearly, partly termly and partly weekly. The more I do in the summer, the easier things become although I still need to plan weekly. It isn't easy to predict, in advance, that a child is going to find co-ordinates hard or easy hence the need for weekly plans.

  • Having a curriculum saves so much time and effort. I know that there is a tendency to frown on having a written curriculum with books attached but for home educators, like me, who are trying to educate children of different ages having a plan and ideas written by someone else saves hours. I do make up my own curriculum for unit studies and deviate considerably from the books especially where I feel confident. So I am currently teaching my younger two about the human body. I am using ideas from books and a very rough order but for Middle Son's Latin, the textbook and teacher's guide are carefully followed.
Maths text and answer book
  • Answer books. These are new for me. When we started home ed, I decided that it was important that I could do all the maths so didn't bother about an answer book, however, whilst I can do the maths working out results late at night isn't fun. This year, I have an answer book for Middle Son (year8) and it has saved me time already. 

  • Internet grocery shopping saves me at least an hour a week-yes, the order has to be put in and the groceries have to be put away but it still saves time. 

  • Getting everyone to help-I'm really not good at this although I'm not convinced that little children, particularly, are able to do many chores independently and well.  However, my five year old is becoming really helpful at laying the table. All the children chip in and help put the groceries away. The children love to cook. Whilst this can be painful when they are very little, cake mix goes everywhere and there are constant reminders not to put spoons in mouths; cooking really pays off when they get older can can put a cake or even a meal together.

  • Going to bed at a reasonable hour-I'm a bit of a hypocrite about this but when I manage, the next day is so much better and I feel less jet lagged.

  • Servants-most home educating mothers don't have cleaners or real servants but many of us have washing machines and even dishwashers. These are our servants and can get on with the work while we look after our children.
Have you any tips about time use?

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Bodiam Castle

This trip was really breaking one of my rules but was actually one of our most successful trips. The rule is that trips have to be around current educational themes and objectives. Currently, we are studying Ancient history not the history of the Middle Ages. 

The trip worked as Middle Son finds the Middle Ages the most interesting part of history, Miss Belle thinks anything historical is great and Mr Exuberance loves anything to do with knights and castles. Now, I really have to make that timeline! And so much for rules!

Bodiam was built in 1385. I was surprised by this as from its position, near Battle, I had thought that it must be Norman but I was wrong. There is a satisfyingly large amount of castle left and an amazing moat. It is easy to imagine what living there was really like-much easier than if there were just a few stones.

It has a short introductory video which was good enough for a three year old's attention span. Climbing the turrets was the children's favourite activity. I'm always a bit nervous at the top but the walls seemed fairly well secured.

There were a few re-enactors to explain facets of the castle's history.

Maybe the real test of success of a trip is how much it enthuses and creates interest if so this was successful.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Opening flower experiment

This week, we had a bit of a science "splurge". Science, as planned, on Monday and then, Miss Belle wanted to do three projects in one afternoon from her Big book of science things to make and do. I've written about this before but this is a great book for introducing science to younger children. We've done most of the activities in the book so two of these were repeats but the floating flower activity was new to us.

This is really about what happens as paper absorbs water.

We made folded paper flowers out of cheap absorbent paper and then floated them in a bowl of water.
As the paper absorbed water, they unfolded, a bit

then completely.
The children were impressed with this so we made another with a frog inside.
This worked well and was quick and easy. A great demonstration of what happens to paper fibres when they absorb water.

Wednesday 19 September 2012


My friend, Rachel, told me at the end of last term about a unit study that she had done with her children as she thought that I might be interested. The study was on Venice and the more I thought about this idea the better it seemed. So, this term, we've started our geography/art/music for the younger two, aged 3 1/2 and almost 6, with a unit study on Venice. I have to thank Rachel for this-the overall idea as well as many of the individual ideas, come from her.

We found Venice on the map and talked about the shape of Italy:
Great big Italy
Kicked little Sicily
Right into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
We found some wonderful pictures of Venice on the internet and an aerial photograph. There were several interesting discussions about whether you can walk around in Venice and passages vs canals.

Miss Belle and I took a Mummy and daughter trip to the National Gallery, on a Saturday afternoon, just before we started this. We made the most of the opportunity to look at some Canaletto paintings.
Later, we took a trip to see yet another Caneletto. I discovered that I had a book with a picture of Caneletto's picture Arrival of the French Ambassador in Annotated Art by Robert Cumming. We used this as a "Picture of the week."

We talked about the shades in this picture as well as the meaning of the clouds and then went on to do some painting with sea and sky shades. Mr Exuberance got into the swing of this with his sea picture.

We listened to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons.  This has been a favourite for sometime and was greeted enthusiastically.

We read three books about Venice: one wasn't obvious!
The old Ladybird book on Marco Polo. These books are such a good introduction for children.

Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew-yes, I know that the Mona Lisa has nothing to do with Venice but one of the other pictures in the book is the Lion of St Mark by Carpaccio.

Olivia goes to Venice by Ian Falconer-funny story of the determined little Olivia

Miss Belle chose an Italian meal from a recipe book. Rather aptly it involved marinated fish-a slightly strange recipe in that the fish was cooked then marinated. If I made it again, I would marinade then cook.

I conveniently had a copy of the McGaw Hill Italian for children which is aimed at 3-10 year olds and the children listened to the first unit. I was rather surprised at their enthusiasm. Gelato seems to have become part of the vocabulary. They were keen enough that I might try a few more of the lessons.

Other activities
Duplo: we made Duplo model of Venice with several bridges but Mr Exuberance transformed this into something more splendid.

Now we just need an educational visit!

This is linked to Frugal fun for boys.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Milad-the voyage to Ophir

Last week, on our visit to the Phoenician ship, I brought the book: Milad-the voyage to Ophir by Nazam Anhar. Not surprisingly, it is historical fiction about a Phoenician boy who sails with a fleet to Ophir (present day Ethiopia) to bring back treasures for King Solomon of Israel.

This book would be, I think, what the nineteenth century educator, Charlotte Mason, would have described as a living book. It is fiction and certainly not a textbook or twaddle but had me looking at my atlas to see what the modern equivalents are called.

Milad comes from a farming family in Phoenicia-modern Lebanon. He has always wanted to go to sea but his parents have wanted him to stay on the family farm until drought threatens their livelihood. Milad is taken on a ship travelling to Ophir to bring back treasures for Solomon. He encounters pirates and a runaway princess as well as travelling deep into Ophir with the crew who trade for treasure.

I don't want to tell you too much but Milad and an experienced Phoenician navigator have a hair raising journey home via Egypt and the Nile.

 It was fascinating to think that some of the pyramids were several hundred years old even then. I learnt more than I had known, well that wasn't much, about the Nile and the area surrounding the Blur Nile.

This book is a suitable read for older children probably from about age 10. It would definitely appeal to boys.

Caveats: the adventures are fairly extreme. I was a bit surprised that they arrived back in one piece.

Solomon doesn't come off in the best light-I don't have a problem with this. I wouldn't have wanted to be the nth wife anymore than the runaway princess did. Milad isn't a Jew and doesn't have any understanding of the God of the Jews nor of the circumstances of Solomon's accession but then these are discussion points.

It is obtainable in the UK from the Phoenicia but it also appears to be sold by LCP. I've never ordered from LCP which seem to be primarily a schools company but they do seem to sell the book in quantities of one! It is published by the Australian branch of Scholastic and is available on in the US.

Friday 14 September 2012

Picture book fatigue

There seems to be a point, around the three to four year mark, when children have learnt favourite picture books by heart. Generally, the parents have too. My three year olds haven't been ready for chapter books but there doesn't seem to be a clear, or any progression, in picture books. Both children and parents are in need of fresh and slightly more complicated material.

I was first aware of this problem, many years ago, when my eldest son went to preschool aged almost four. The book for the first part of term was Eric Carle's The Hungry Caterpillar. A great book but one that my son had been given for his first birthday and been able to recite, almost word perfect, for probably more than half of his life. Of course, this may just have been to make the children feel comfortable in their new environment and they soon progressed to other books.

This problem has surfaced again. Our youngest, aged 3 and 1/2, knows many of his books by heart and to be honest, I've probably read some of them hundreds of times over the last almost 19 years. But he isn't quite ready for chapter books.

We've found some books which seem to fit the bill, and I would love more suggestions.

  • Most of the Five in a Row books are in the "slightly more grown up" picture book group.

  • The Katy books by James Mayhew have been tremendously popular here, both with Mr Exuberance and Miss Belle. Being able to spot pictures in art galleries has been a great "wow" factor.
  • Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Conor. I really brought these for Miss Belle but her brother appreciates the humour and funny vocabulary.
  • The lighthouse keeper series by Ronda and David Armitage

  • Some of the old Ladybird books from the series about science. Water, Ducks and swans and Bridges have gone down well. Our youngest finds the history series too complex but his five year old sister loves these books.
I've got a few science type picture books on order and some other new books hidden. It does seem to be worth bringing out new books gradually so they can be savoured. I've also taken to hiding books for a while so when they re-appear they are fresh.

Has anyone else met "Picture book fatigue"? Any suggestions for counteracting this?

Wednesday 12 September 2012

I always planned to do this

When we started home educating almost three and a half years ago, I had the idea that once a week, we would spend the morning at home working and then go to a museum or gallery. It hasn't quite worked like that. 

Initially, travelling on public transport with a baby and toddler was just too complicated-those buses that only take two unfolded prams-mine seemed to be the third. Getting on and off buses also seemed complex as I needed an extra hand. Over the last 18 months, getting into the centre has become easier and we have had more trips there.. I  even wrote some tips

Still we had never managed to have a normal morning and then disappear off to London until today! Just to prove-here is a poor photo. (The children were keen to keep moving.)

I'm not sure that we will ever do this regularly-it really depends on whether there is something that fits in with the learning that we are doing. Still since we are looking at Ancient history, there might be a fair number of valid reasons to make the most of the resources in the British Museum. It is even free although I did buy a rather fun activity book in the shop! The idea of learning about pyramids by making coconut pyramids rather appeals-I hadn't thought of that before or eaten coconut pyramids for more years than I care to admit.

Any tips on making outings easy and useful?

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Phoenician ship

We are studying ancient history this year so I was rather excited when I found that a lifesize model of a Phoenician ship was moored in  St Katharine's Dock, London.

The Phoenicians came from the Lebanon area and were great sailors and merchants. They are mentioned in the Bible for their alliances with Kings David and Solomon and brought materials for building of Solomon's Temple in their boats. They are also responsible for the first  known circumnaviagtion of Africa which is said to have been commissioned by the Egyptians in 600BC and recorded by the Greek historian, Herodotus over a hundred years later.

The replica ship, the Phoenicia, uses construction techniques from a wreck of a Phoenician ship. Despite the wreck, the Phoenician construction, using carpentry joints, was apparently much better than the ships of other nations of the time who used ropes to hold their ships together.

Just to prove this really worked, the replica has been sailed all round Africa and then onto the UK. Quite impressive-they had a few modern features: a compass and an engine for getting into ports but generally, the ship used sail power.

The crew are enthusiastic and keen to show people round both the ship and the exhibition in the bows where the cargoes would have originally been stored. They had a few amphorae around to demonstrate.

The boat isn't large but worth seeing. The day we visited tours were free but according to the website there usually is a charge. The exhibition is only open until 30th September 2012. For people on the other side of the Pond, there are plans to sail over and tour the Americas in 2014. I haven't found any details of where the ship will dock.

Just to add to our day out, there was a Chinese junk also moored in St Katharine's docks. We were able to go on board-a fun reminder of Ping.

Friday 7 September 2012

First week back

We started back this week. The start day was meant to be Wednesday but the two younger children were keen to start back earlier so did a little from the beginning of the week. This didn't seem at all unreasonable. On the other hand, Middle Son wanted to make the most of the last couple of days of holiday seeing friends which also didn't seem unreasonable.

What has worked for us

  • Middle Son has more independence, this year, about his work. He has the plan for the main subjects at the beginning of the week and can work through at his own speed. This means that he did his first maths exercise without any teaching, it was revision, but then talked to me and used a Khan Academy video to reinforce concepts in further exercises. I mark daily to check that he hasn't run into problems.
  • Practical kitchen chemistry to look at the differences between reactions and changes in state: heating and cooling egg white and chocolate respectively.
  • New Berol felt tips and A3 paper have lead to a frenzy of drawing from the younger two.
  • Cooking for our Venice unit. Post about this later, I hope.
  • Music from the Four Seasons lead to excited dancing from Mr Exuberance and Miss Belle.
  • Friday afternoon outside for the younger ones with  tree climbing, dens
 and writing in the dirt.

What I need to think about
  • Books for Middle Son. He is reading fast! My plan is to read just ahead so I can talk to him about the books but he is making rapid progress through the Silver Sword. I need to get reading.
  • Activities for Mr Exuberance. He is living up to his internet name which is meaning that I need to provide plenty for him to do while his sister is working.  Activities that have been useful this week have been drawing, Duplo, marble runs, puzzles, play dough plus cutters, books and painting. 
The sea

What I've been thinking about
  • When I was in medicine, we used to talk about reflective practice. This is a useful concept, for me, as a home educator.
  • New books and curricula take a while to settle. I can begin to see how I need to jiggle things to make them work well.
Hope you have had a good week.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Inspiration for September

Summer is almost over and we are about to start back. Today has been a day of pre-term photos and general getting ready as well as two little people who wanted to start a bit early! We had a great time doing a little work and enjoying the new large drawing paper and good quality felt tip pens.

As we are starting formal learning again, I've been looking again at this post from In Lieu of Preschool on 125+ ways to practice making letters. I've used these ideas, a little, over the summer but this is such a great resource. We've made letters in bubbles, from paint, in sand and from scraps of foam since reading this article but there are plenty more ideas.

Se7en has a post on hospitality in the here-and-now even in the midst of a busy home educating family.

The next links are about life not education.

This moving article by Ruth is well worth reading. I don't know Ruth personally although I have friends who do. Ruth has been married  for just a year during which time she has been particularly ill with cystic fibrosis. Ruth's reliance on the Lord in the midst of her illness is encouraging and challenging.

A thought provoking series is that by Joel Beeke on his late mother. The first part on prayer is something that Christian mothers should read. Personally, I was encouraged by the second part about loving Scripture and how his mother loved and understood God's Word during her illness.

I've realised that not much of this is about learning-yes, there are plans for that but hopefully, more anon.

Monday 3 September 2012

Quiet Book Basket

When we started home education I wrote a timetable with just over an hour for lunch. Within days I discovered that this didn't work.The reason was  that while an hour for lunch might work in school, it takes longer if the teacher is cook, dinner lady and is feeding and changing a three month old baby. Things have moved on since then but we rapidly instituted a time after lunch for Middle Son to read. This has worked well for all concerned. 

Now the little ones are three and five and definitely not sleeping after lunch nor are they independent readers.  Still they, and I,needed a bit of quiet after lunch. A few weeks before we finished for the holiday, I read about the Discovery Quiet Time Basket over at The Unlikely Homeschool. We put this idea into action for the last few weeks of term and hope to re-start this when we start the new term, later this week.

The Book Basket has worked well. Each child chooses two items and looks at them quietly and independently in a place in their own.Twenty minutes seemed to be a reasonable length of time to keep interest and prevent boredom. 

We found the books were better than puzzles and games. In particular, we found that cross-sectional books inspired a fair amount of interest. A book called Slice through a city by Peter Kent was a real hit as were books about the ocean.

 So for this term, I'm using a cross section book, trying two sticker books that we had sitting around, a book about sharks, two books about the alphabet one of which is in the form of a puzzle book and a book about the monarchy. The puzzle book means that the children have to find objects and once a sample page has been read they should be independent with this.  

The books will need changing regularly. From the few weeks we used this before the holidays, a weekly basis is about right for changing the books. I don't intend to buy new books for this but to find books from our home library or the public library which are new to the children. So far, the Quiet Book Basket has been a win-win: a happy time for the children, maybe helping concentration, and time for me to get ready for the rest of the day as well as have a quiet cup of coffee.