Wednesday 31 October 2012

Perhaps the best museum

Our second stop on the Living History trip was at my favourite museum: The Weald and Downland Open air Museum. This fantastic museum has buildings which have been rescued and moved from all over the Kent and Sussex Weald 

along with fields with farm animals,

woods with animals

 and even a charcoal burners' camp.

 It feels just like a historic village and the houses, church and school are open for visitors to nose around. There is just so much to see-the Tudor kitchen which was making pottage and apple fritters when we looked-so smoky and dark. The bedrooms with pillows at both ends to fit the children in,

trundle beds,

 chamber pots under the beds, the chests for the clothes, the rag rugs
and the kitchen range.

 It was a pleasure to show all this to Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance, for the first time.

This is definitely a child friendly place. There were conkers, horse and cart rides as well as clay modelling with loads of props for open-ended exploration.

50 acres leaves plenty of room to run and the animals are fun to watch.

It is always a bit of a shock to realise how dependent our forebears were on the land and locally grown materials. Probably not as ideal as we might like to imagine but fascinating to observe and imagine what life would be like.

This museum is enormous. At this time of year it opens at 1030 and closes at 1600. We were arrived just before 1030 and left just before 1600 and still didn't quite see everything. By the end, the children were really quite tired with all the walking, running and exploring that they had done.

I really recommend this Museum and no, I wasn't paid to say that. I just wish that we lived closer and could visit more often.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Being a Roman soldier

The two younger children and I have been experiencing some hands-on history.

The first stop was at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex. Now, I must say that we've had mixed experiences taking children to Roman sites. I remember several years ago having some very disappointed children after a visit to a large villa. The children had expected something like a castle that they could go inside not just some half ruined mosaic floor. Since then, I've been very careful to manage expectations before going to see bits of floor. Thankfully, Fishbourne didn't disappoint-it is an enormous complex with a fair few mosaics but in addition, this week, is their Roman soldier week. 

The Roman soldier week was fantastic for the children. First, they had to visit the recruiting officer and be enrolled in the Roman army using the Roman version of their name. They were then given a sheet with six tasks that had to be completed in order to obtain their pay for the day-a denarius.

They had to go to receive the Roman army tatoo which thankfully came off in the bath later.

Then there was drill practice-in Latin. Both children now know that "sin/dex" is Latin (OK shortened) for "left/right".

Soldiers had to be able to throw stones at wild boar.

Then there was spear practice, medicine making and food tasting. I don't think that my children got beyond the spelt bread but there were other Roman goodies-not dormice. 

Of course, there was plenty else to see. The Roman gardens

including the amazing box hedges laid out on what are thought to be the original pattern, in the original spot

and even the gardener to tell us how much more difficult it is to garden here than home in Italy.

This was a great day. We don't plan to study the Romans properly until later in the year but this was a taster that has left the children really enthusiastic.

Monday 29 October 2012

Jungle Doctor and the whirlwind

Years ago, I read the Jungle Doctor books by Paul White, generally one a week from the Sunday School library. They were some of my favourite books and are partially responsible for my interest in medicine as a child which ultimately led to medical training.

 Over the years, I've reread them to the children with some amazement about the differences in medicine between Africa in the 1930s and the UK a couple of generations later. So when I was given the chance to listen to the audio book of Jungle Doctor and the Whirlwind I jumped at this.

Jungle Doctor books combine excitement, medicine and a strong Christian message. This comes out clearly in the audio book. They are set in Tanganyika in the 1930s where Jungle Doctor is a medical missionary loosely based on the life of the author, Australian Paul White.

In this book, Jungle Doctor comes to face with difficulties in the country, illicit drugs and with his own staff at the time of a dysentery epidemic.

I'm always struck by accents in audio books. When I read, I tend to assume that everyone has an English accent like me unless it is completely obvious that they haven't. I was quite surprised about the Canadian accent in Anne of Green Gables. This time, I wasn't surprised but felt the Jungle Doctor's Australian accent made sense.

My one criticism of this audio book is that chapter one is not chapter one of the book but a series on background information. Some of this is useful such as the author's biography and information about diseases mentioned but other is a long list of Swahili words and their translation. The information in this chapter would be better put at the end of the book.

Start with file two and enjoy the story! There are some brilliant turns of phrase and an end with echoes of the parable of the prodigal son.

This audiobook is suitable for older children.

Jungle Doctor and the whirlwind was provided by Christian Focus and Christian Audio for the purposes of this review. The opinions are entirely my own.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Discovery Wok

Recently, a kind blog reader sent me some picture books, thank you Morgan. One of these books was The Emperor and the Nightingale.
 Both Miss Belle (6) and Mr Exuberance (3 3/4) have loved this book so we listened to the song of a nightingale and collected together some Chinese items from around the house. We were going to put these together as a discovery box but decided that it was more apt to put them together in the wok as a Discovery Wok.

The wok was overflowing and only the lower right edge can be seen. It contained

Chinese kite-the bird pattern at the back
a book with information about giant pandas
a recipe for a Chinese meal
a Chinese vase
soy sauce
noodles-to make our stir fry to go with the book
a toy made in China
a short list of (English) words connected with China
The story about Ping-another loved book about China
The Emperor and the nightingale

Collecting items from the country in which a book is set is something that we will probably do again. It was a very visual and hands-on way to place the book in its setting and to think more about a different culture.

This is linked to Explore the world through picture books at My little bookcase.

Tuesday 23 October 2012


October is an odd month: beautiful autumn colours but the thought of the greyness and gloominess beyond can be a bit discouraging. Still, definitely, a time to appeciate.

We've had a busy few weeks and are now enjoying a two week half term. A time to read and catch up, at least with the housework.

I don't find the first year after a baby, at all easy. Sometimes more difficult  than others but never easy. Often, it seems that everyone else knows what to do with their baby and is happy. Of course, that isn't true but in those post partum months it doesn't seem so. Jamie at the Unlikely Homeschool has written a helpful article called homeschooling through baby blues really about difficulties through the first months and not just the short lived "baby blues". Do read this and don't miss the last paragraph-do seek help.

My little bookcase has a challenge about producing a Discovery Box to go with a picture book about a place. The example on the blog is about Venice. This would have been a great idea to go with our Venice unit.  The challenge ends at the end of the month-we are busy putting a box together but this is an idea to which, I suspect, we shall return.

One of the great benefits of home education blogs is being given ideas. Anglicscalliwags is full of ideas especially around history and writing. The paper mache map of Great Britain to go with their Anglo Saxon and Viking studies is fabulous.

Se7en, as always, has great resources. The music post had a few books and resources that I recognised but many others that I didn't. We go to a group that is looking at music, this year, and some of these books will help my children make the most of these sessions.

Finally, I was challenged by the article on Raising Arrows about a lack of time or a lack of preparation. Definitely, something that I need to work on over half term.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Fizz in the kitchen

Recently, I've used a different science activity book with the younger children: Fizz in the kitchen by Susan Martineau. 

These are a few of the activities we have done from the book.
First, we did the classical demonstration to show that air takes up volume. A cup with dry paper towel in it was inverted into a bowl of water.
We held the cup under water for the count of 10, took it out and checked to see whether the paper towel was wet or dry. This caused great excitement and much repetition to see whether the result was genuine.

Another classical experiment was covering coins in tomato ketchup. We modified this and also tried milk and vinegar. This gave the children the opportunity to predict what would happen.

Rather flawed with the milk running into the vinegar. Results about an hour later with the coins in the same positions. Interesting, the vinegar didn't work well-I suspect because the liquid ran off the coin.

Just one last picture the density demonstration putting marbles into different liquids and seeing which marble moved most quickly-we used oil, washing up liquid, water and golden syrup and then lined the jars up in order of density.

We've enjoyed this book although most of the activities are very classical and if you do much science with your children you may have already done some of them. However, the explanations are attractively presented, clear and there is useful application to real life. All of these activities are easy to do around the home so this would be a good starting book for science activities for younger children. It is always difficult to suggest ages but I would think ages 3-7 with parental supervision.

I brought this book for our own use-the opinions are my own.

Monday 15 October 2012

1066 Battle of Hastings

We had been saying that we would go to the annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment, for years. This time, spurred on by one of the children, we went. It was definitely worth going despite or perhaps, because of the copious mud adding to the atmosphere.

The event takes place on Senlac Hill, in Battle near Hastings, England where the actual battle took place. Surrounding the battlefield were the camps of the Normans and English 

as well as some relatively authentic shops. We managed to avoid most of their blandishments!

There was plenty of opportunity to see the opposing armies. Plenty I hadn't appreciated such as what a new and fearsome weapon, cavalry was to the English. We had an interesting discussion about this, later, at home, in view of the much older stories about Boadicea and the Ancient Britons.

And there was mud-so much mud probably authentic for a battlefield. Some of the foot soldiers fell during their march. They weren't the only people to slip either!

The actual re-enactment of the battle was impressive with arrows flying and the armies in the positions that they held on 14th October 1066. There was a commentary which was great for the children and for people who, like me, easily loose the plot on these occasions. Judging by the war cries, most of us supported the English who, of course, lost. 
Post-Norman conquest Battle Abbey just above the battlefield

A great day out and a wonderful way to learn history. The children enjoyed their day apart from occasional woes from rather too close encounters with the mud. 

Friday 12 October 2012

Skeleton model

My younger two children wanted to learn about the human body. We started talking about and modelling the cell and have moved onto the skeleton.

First, we talked about why we have a skeleton. They made a playdough man to demonstrate how difficult it is to stand without support. We put in sticks to act as bones and help the man keep upright.

We also talked about the protective functions of the skeleton and how it contains bone marrow.

Our other objective was to be aware of the proper names of some major bones. OK, I practised as a doctor for many years but in my life as a mother, it has been useful on a couple of occasions to know the proper names for some of the long bones. Whilst I'm not an advocate of doctors speaking so patients can't understand, bones do have names and it is useful for the children to know them. So we made a vegetable model skeleton.

I first saw something a bit like this on Pinterest although this wasn't really for educational purposes.

Anyway, we went ahead and made our own vegetable skeleton.

OK, he isn't perfect-not by a long chalk. For starters ,he only has four pairs of ribs and nothing beyond his radius and ulnar in his arms and beyond his tibia and fibula in his legs.

From a bony point of view, he has

  • skull-brocoli
  • spine-mushroom stalks
  • pelvis-mushrooms
  • clavicle-apple
  • humerus-carrot
  • femur-carrot
  • radius and ulna-carrot
  • tibia and fibula-carrot
  • ribs-green pepper. 

Do the children know the names of the bones? Maybe not all but they are familiar terms now and they certainly enjoyed themselves. Skeleton man has now been eaten!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Science-oil and water

We had a science afternoon today. The younger children and I ended up doing several activities. 

This is mixing oil and water-a very easy activity to do at home. I used the kitchen because it was rainy but this could be done outside to reduce risk of mess. Having said that, it should be, and was, a relatively clean activity.

We mixed red and yellow food colouring to some water.  This made a rather mucky orange colour. Why orange? Probably because the yellow colouring was new and checking that red and yellow make orange seemed like a good idea.

Next, we added oil. The food colouring really makes the difference striking.

More additions, this time washing up liquid.

 The whole jar had a good stir and then the effect of the washing up liquid was so obvious. Isn't it disgusting?

At the risk of teaching my Grandmother to suck eggs, what happens is that water and oil don't mix. The washing up liquid is a surfactant-its molecules have both an oil loving end and a water loving end so allow the two liquids to mix. This is how the washing up liquid clears grease from plates.

I have  just added a science label to posts about anything vaguely to do with science. 

Tuesday 9 October 2012

British Museum with younger children

We've had a couple of recent visits to the British Museum. It is difficult to learn about the Egyptians and the Sumerians without visiting such an amazing resource especially when we live in the same city as the Museum. Today, was the turn of Ur and the Sumerians. It was exciting to see real objects which had previously been seen only as pictures. One of the lovely things about home education is to see the children enthused and today, Miss Belle was delighted to see the Mesopotamia room.

This week, I pulled out a book that I had found a year or so ago in a charity shop. Ottoline at the British Museum written by Sally Craddock and illustrated by Corinne Pearlman. I had carefully hidden since the summer so it would come out fresh and Ottoline has been greeted with enthusiasm by both my younger children (aged 3 1/2 and almost 6).

Ottoline is a white cat who lives near the British Museum and manages to sneak her way in among the legs and shoes. Once inside she manages to see mummified cats-a bit scary if you are a cat, Egyptian statues, totem poles and the Assyrian lion amongst other objects before being frightened by chiming clocks and finding the "Authorised cat feeding place."

My three year old was really excited to see a postcard with Ottoline on it and was very keen to go back to see the Egyptian rooms. My only concern is that he did mention being scared by the Museum, at one point. Did he pick that up from Ottoline who certainly was worried about the cat mummies and the chiming clocks?

I'm sure that a book about a trip makes that trip so much more memorable for younger children and prevents them feeling left out and bored. We've done this before both in London and Paris. Hopefully, something we can repeat again.

Monday 8 October 2012

Billy Bray-saved from the deepest pit

My children are interested in Cornwall; they have been brought up on stories of their Cornish Great-Grandmother and recently, the lore about the Phoenicians visiting for the tin. So I was delighted to be able to read this book, Billy Bray: saved from the deepest pit by Michael Bentley.

Billy Bray was a tin miner, much, much later than the Phoenicians but before Great-Grandma! (Reminding myself again about the need to make a timeline.)

Billy Bray was born in 1794 in a poor family. His father died whilst Billy was still young; only 6 or 7. Billy then went to live with his Grandfather who had been converted when John Wesley had visited Cornwall, some years before.  Billy attended chapel with his Grandfather but when aged 17, left home and the chapel environment.

Billy was a drinker. Once he married, he drank away much of the meager family income. When he was 23,  he closely escaped death in a rock fall in the mine. Billy realised that his life didn't satisfy and spent some time seeking the Lord before coming into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Life completely changed-Billy no longer drank and he prayed before shifts that if anyone died it would be him as he was ready to die. Billy was always a leader and an extrovert and this didn't change but his gifts were now used for God's glory. He would go around singing hymns loudly, and rather tunelessly, and it wasn't long before he started to preach. Later still, Billy was involved in chapel building.

Life was hard and Billy was poor. He had to walk miles for his preaching and initially only had poor patched clothes yet he had real joy in his heart.

There is a fascinating account, towards the end of the book, of how Billy rejoiced in hope of heaven when the doctor broke news of his impending death.

At the back of the book, there is a list of topics for further thought; these are useful but might have added something around how God guides His people. Billy's rather conversational manner can lead to thinking that God spoke directly to him rather than speaking through the Bible.

This is a warm book of a man who lived for God. It is suitable for older children to read to themselves and I found an exciting testimony of how God turned around a man's life. Recommended.

I was sent an electronic copy of this book by Christian Focus. The opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Bible Road Trip-3 year free curriculum

Last summer, Danika Cooley wrote about a new 3 year Bible Road Trip which she was planning. I was interested as I wanted to use something systematic for Bible Study with the children at the beginning of their home education day. We've started to use the Road Trip although have really only dipped our toes into its resources.

The Road Trip is written four different levels using a Classical Education model so there are sections for Lower Grammar, Upper Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric. A new post comes out each week with a printable curriculum for each age. Each age group includes sections on reading the Word, memorising, notebooking, praying for a specific country or group and has an "Explore Further" part with suggestions for further reading or DVDs and craft.

How has this worked for us?

This has been good but a bit overwhelming. It is great to have something systematic but in some weeks the older age groups have an enormous amount to read. So, we've stuck to the Lower Grammar level. It feels as though we have only just dipped into a small proportion of what is available.

Similarly, the volume of memory work for the older groups, alongside, for us memory work from Sunday School, has proved a bit too much. so again we are using the Lower Grammar Level.

We've substituted some of the suggested resources with those already on our shelves and have used our preferred version of the Bible, Authorised Version instead of the NIV.

What has worked well?

  • It is good to go through the Bible from cover to cover.
  • The encouragement to pray for other parts of the world.
  • The crafting through the Word section has been useful. We haven't done everything in it but there have been pyramid models and pictures of Joseph's dreams and  we have been inspired to work on family trees of the Patriarchs.
  • The encouragement to memorise Scripture regularly. It would be good to manage more but currently a verse per week is what works for us.
All in all, I'm planning to carry on with the Road Trip and hopefully, use more of it as time goes on.

Monday 1 October 2012

Around the world with picture books

Picture books are a great way to learn about other cultures.

These are our favourite  for learning about other places and cultures. Several have been gifts from friends from the relevant countries. Some talk about food and a couple have recipes, others depict famous buildings, wildlife or a way of life.

How to make an apple pie and see the world, by Marjorie Priceman, is a whistlestop tour of the world while looking for the ingredients for an apple pie. Not local food exactly but great for geography and a recipe to try. We spent a week with this book, maps, apples and playdough.

Mama Panya's Pancakes, by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, is another book with a recipe but the main theme is about sharing and friendship, in Kenya. There are pages at the back with more information about Kenya.

The little painter of Sabana Grande, the author is Patricia Markun, is about a boy who paints his home in rural Panama using paints made from local materials.

The famous Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, is set in Paris and the pictures show famous Parisian landmarks. My children can recite much of this book probably because of its rhyming text. Madeline in London has London sites and events.

Baby Koala's bedtime and other books in the Steve Parish kids series showcase animals in Australia. These are illustrated by photographs.

Make way for duckings takes place in Boston. The story has now entered into Boston life and there are models of the ducklings. Interesting effect of children's literature on a city. This book can lead to plenty of activity.

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say travels between the US and Japan bringing complex issues of war and home.

Olivia visits Venice, by Ian Falconer, is a comparatively recent find for us-great fun and fitted in well with the Venice unit.

Ice Bear, by Nicola Davies, is set in the Arctic. Really non-fiction about those beautiful but scary polar bears.

The story about Ping by Marjorie Flack is probably very old fashioned but is the story of a little duck on the Yangtze River and his attempts to avoid being last. We made a stir fry to go with this book-not duck!

Have you any "around the world" picture book recommendations?