Tuesday 30 April 2013

Homeschool in the Woods-Great Empires

Homeschool in the Woods produces materials aimed to produce a love of learning in children.

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 I was pleased to have the opportunity to review their Great Empires Study activity pack. This activity pack covers 14 empires from the Ancient Egyptians to the United States of America.
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Each Empire has a sheet about its history, a mapping activity, craft and recipes. It also has a list of additional resources. The additional resources include a book list and a link to a page with multiple weblinks for each Empire. This format means that the pack can be used as it is covering each Empire in a relatively short time or can be explored in more depth. An additional, and very useful resource, is a timeline with figures so that children can place each empire in history. A world map is provided so that the empires can be plotted.
The activity pack is designed for Elementary age children.

Younger Daughter, aged 6, and I decided to explore some  Empires in more detail. We started with the Ancient Egyptians. In many ways this was helpful revision as we had done some work on Ancient Egypt earlier in the year.
Cooking is always popular and the fig cookies went down well.
Making the cookies

The finished product-covered in honey and nuts.
The other recipe was a potato salad. Interesting, as I had understood that potatoes were not available in Ancient Egypt-it did lead to some discussions about the origin of the potato.

Each unit has activities. The activity for Egypt was around hieroglyphics. Younger Daughter made a cartouche and wrote on this.
As there was a mention of papyrus, we found a video and practised the technique of weaving used.

The unit comes with a list of suggested books. We had one of these, Cat of the Bulbastes, by GA Henty. I started to read it with Younger Daughter but it was more difficult in terms of vocabulary and concept than the chapter books that I had been reading to her, so we abandoned this. However, we were able to add to our study with plenty of other books from the library.

We found the mapping particularly useful and was an opportunity to talk about how to colour a map and how to add features. Timelines are a helpful adjunct and it was helpful to see how the Egyptian Empire fitted into history.

We have now started to look at the Greek Empire.
Again, the mapping was helpful.
One of the activities was to design a shield for a Greek soldier.

Again, we only had one of the suggested books, and this seemed a little difficult for a six year old so we substituted with some books from the local library.

What we liked about Great Empires
  • This is an interesting study covering a great swathe of history.
  • The timeline is a great asset to this study and helps children understand where an Empire fitted.
  • Recipes are always popular!
  • It is useful to have some simple activities provided.
What worked less well
  • The only books that we had on the reading list were really too difficult. It may be our selection of books.
  • We would have liked to have seen Ancient Babylon and the Medo-Persian Empire covered.
We will use this resource to study more empires as we come to them in history. 

I was provided with the download version of the Great Empires study guide which retails at $18.95. It is also available as a CD version at $19.95.

For more reviews of this, and other Homeschool in the Woods products, do pop over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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Monday 29 April 2013

High energy under fives

I'm writing this as a mother who has had two high energy under fives and three others with plenty of energy but who don't, in my opinion, register as high energy. I'm not an expert so this is not about children who have a medical diagnosis relating to attention level.

This is about under fives
  • with loads of energy
  • whose concentration span is non-existent if not interested
  • who do not rest in the day
  • who need constant occupation
  • who can't sleep if they haven't had a busy day
Our first high energy child went to a Montessori nursery at two and half because that was what everyone else did and I found it difficult to provide the level of activity needed. He managed well at nursery and after a year, went on to a preschool with plenty of outside space. Holidays could be challenging but we had a nanny who took the children out, most days, while I worked.

Fast forward, fifteen years and we have another high energy child who we are home educating along with two siblings. Add to the equation, a mother who is nearer fifty than forty!
So what works?

  • The big outside at least once a day, almost whatever the weather.
 The best outside time is when he can run around freely so walks on pavements are better than nothing but open space is best. 
  • Trips out are popular especially if they can be linked to interests/favourite books.

  • Read alouds-this sounds strange but we found with our first high energy child that concentration increased and boredom decreased with many read alouds. Neither child has tended to wander around while I read although they have hung over my shoulder. We've started this early with both children and gradually built up. We haven't found that audio books work as well, except on journeys.

  • Plenty of activities-I try to set up activities before we start each morning. It seems really difficult to tell what will work. Art/craft activities sometimes work and sometimes not,

 construction toys usually work for some time, puzzles and games often work. Colouring virtually never works. Open ended painting tends to end in a muddy mess as all the colours are mixed and splodged on the paper probably useful for learning about mixing colours but not the sort of picture to grace the wall! Having said this, painting is something that happens most weeks.

  • Learning-our elder high energy child did virtually all his formal learning out of the home. This child learns at home-we are fairly relaxed and this seems to work best. Bath letters have been great for phonics, numbers were learnt from house numbers, maps are a bit of an interest after his older brother showed him his GPS app on his phone and sending letters has been a recent interest. As he gets older, he will do more formal learning currently most is done by stealth with books, games, puzzles and plenty of talking.
  • Cooking and anything that involves water are attention grabbers especially if the cooking involves licking/eating.
  • Consistent but not early bedtime routine. Before this sounds too good, I must admit that this fails whenever something different happens: birthdays, holidays, day out, Sunday etc. Most of the time this helps.
  • Computer-I have a love hate relationship with the computer. There are some educational programmes that have been particularly useful with this child but if bored he will gravitate to an open computer and find a DVD that he enjoys. This is useful on occasions when his siblings need attention but something that I wished happened less.
Websites that have helpful ideas:
Frugal fun for boys
Making boys men
Five in a Row
Imagination Tree

Activities that have been particularly useful here
Mid-morning mini-science
Fun science
Ice activities
Around the world with picture books
Five in a Row

Please do share your thoughts and experiences with high energy children.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Spring project-bees

Some time ago, we had a great day out  and met up with my friend, Rachel. We spent time talking about Rachel's Spring Project. This  involves poetry, music, books and craft. I was delighted to look at this further and we have been using it to study bees. Over the next few weeks, we hope to study other animals, in Spring. Using this feels a bit like using Five in a Row-a literature based study branching out to other areas.

We found, and have been reading, several books about bees:
Busy, Buzzy bee published by Karen Wallace
The bee tree by Patricia Palacco
A hive of busy bees by Effie Williams and others

The poem to go with this theme was Mary Robinson's The Queen Bee.

Rimsky Korsakov's the Dance of the bumble bee went particularly well with this theme. The musical component is something that I really appreciate about this project.

There were a few bumble bees around the garden but we were able to make a Bumble Bee hotel to try to attract bumble bees to our garden. We decided to use some old tiles rather than buy wood specially for the project. Making them stick was challenging but we succeeded in the end.

This was a useful video to go with the science.
We went looking for bees in the flowers

 and saw a few although we didn't get pictures of any.

We've done this before but we made tessellations with hexagons.

Unlike two years ago, we didn't see a swarm of bees but this we enjoyed looking at bees, all the same, and hopefully, we will attract some bumble bees.

Monday 22 April 2013

Building Bridges

Having a child who is fascinated by building, I was interested in the Challenge and Discover series from the Imagination Tree, Science Sparks and Inspiration Laboratories.

The challenge is to build a bridge using everyday and recycled objects to bear a 1kg (about 2lb) weight. 

I offered a variety of objects: a pad of A3 paper, knives (the flat dining room sort!), baked bean tins, some discarded flooring tiles and a 1kg weight.

The paper was quickly found not to work.

There was a little experimentation with the knives balanced on the baked bean tins.

 This structure supported the weight adequately although it wasn't up to the children's aim for their bridge.

The flooring tiles turned out to produce the best bridge and could support rather more than 1 kg.

It not only supported the weight of the younger two but could carry Middle Son.

We then looked at the Ladybird book of Bridges which led to the addition of an arch.

I'm not convinced that a cardboard arch added much to the structure!

Other alterations involved extending the bridge with more tins and tiles and using it for playing with dolls and ponies.

Do look at the link up on the sites above for more bridge ideas. This certainly provided some thought and discussion here.

Friday 19 April 2013

10 minutes extra

The theme of this year in our home education seems to be putting in several extra activities which take about 10 minutes each. This has worked well for us.

So far the additions have been
  • handwriting for Younger Daughter. She is using Getty-Dubay. We saw improvement after the first week of daily practice. 
  • word maths programme, Lone Star, for Middle Son. Generally, this doesn't even take 10 minutes a day. He is definitely getting faster.
  • American organ practice for Younger Daughter.
  • Mental maths for Younger Daughter. This is actually meant to take one minute but the reality is that it takes longer.
  • Fun science for Youngest Son. This varies but generally only takes 10 minutes. Today, he got really interested in buoyancy and whether he could make a boat for his toy car which would otherwise sink so it did take rather longer.

  • Seterra for Middle Son, and me! We don't do this every day but hopefully our geographical knowledge has improved. 
It would be good to add a picture study or a daily poem. These are things that we have done, on and off, but not been consistent about. I don't want to over clutter our day though.  

How do you put in extras? I'm trying to plan for next year but. I'm also conscious that some of these things that I would like to add won't quite fit. 

Please visit the Carnival of Homeschooling for more posts from home educators around the globe.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

The town that went to sea

Old Winchelsea went to sea, or rather the sea came to the town and destroyed it in a storm. "New" Winchelsea was rebuilt in the thirteenth century in a rather geometric, unBritish fashion.

The church is large but was intended to be larger.

Its list of rectors is a commentary on history:
died in the Black death
removed at the start of Mary's reign
re-instated when Elizabeth came to the throne

As a Reformed Baptist, whilst I can appreciate the beauty of the interior, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes there can be almost too much history, too much of man and yes, this is an amazing historical record.

Perhaps, the place to be would have been under the tree.

A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Psalm 90 v4

Saturday 13 April 2013

Sacagawea (Brave explorers every child should know)- a review

The history of the exploration of the United States is something about which I know little, and have taught my children even less, so having the opportunity to review a book about this from Knowledge Quest was welcome.

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Middle Son aged 12 and I both read the e-book, Sacagawea (Brave explorers every child should know) by Karla Akin. This is described as an "interactive historical novel."

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This book is a fictionalised re-telling of the story of the Indian woman, Sacagawea, who is famous for interpreting for the Lewis and Clark or Corps of Discovery expedition who explored the route through the central states (the Louisiana purchase) and onto the Pacific Ocean. Particularly useful for those, like us, who have little background knowledge of this history are the links which explain further details and give pictures of relevant places. The text also contains an annotated map of the journey with position of the expedition at certain important dates.

Sacagawea comes across as a courageous, and to use words that she says in the book, "equal" member of the Corps. The book tells of her forcible removal from her own tribe, the Shoshone, and slavery in the Hidatsa tribe and her bigamous arranged marriage to the French trader Charbonneau as well as the long and dangerous expedition.

Her relationship with various members of the crew is worthy of discussion: devotion to her baby and the dog, an uneasy perhaps even slightly contemptuous relationship with Charbonneau, her husband and the  close friendship with "Man-with-red-hair", Clark.

By the end of the book, we were more acquainted with an epic journey in US history.

What did we think of the book?

Middle Son didn't particularly enjoy the book. He stated afterwards that he prefers a straight factual book to historical fiction.

I found that the book got off to a fairly slow start but then became fascinated by how this Indian girl managed this amazing voyage with her very young child. Details of native American legend and belief have been woven into the story which were new to me.

Having had a medical training, some of the details of illness were fascinating. I was particularly interested in Sacagwea's use of buffalo fat to protect against mosquito bites.

This book is suitable for children from about age 10. In my opinion, it would be enjoyed by children who like historical fiction.
Sacagawea  is available as a kindle download for $4.92.


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Tuesday 9 April 2013

14 Ways to save money on home education resources

Home education isn't cheap both in terms of time and money. I don't know that it is possible to save on the time part but it is possible to make a little money go further.

I find that it is best to make a plan for the subject and then look to save money. These are 14 ways to reduce costs of home education materials.

  • Plan early-this gives time to explore second hand and free resources. Second hand resources are more likely to be available at the end of the academic year. It is worth having made plans well in advance-the early bird catches the worm!

  • Check out free resources. The internet is full of ideas, programmes and "printables" This post has links to some that we use. Homeschool helper online and 1+1+1=1 both have printable materials.  There is even a free maths curriculum. Ambleside on line is a free Charlotte Mason curriculum. Some of the suggested books are free on line. If you don't have a kindle or equivalent, there is a free kindle programme available for computers-not so convenient but it does work! 

  • Second hand. Many textbooks, reference books and of course, fiction can be brought second hand. Be careful about dated science books and with UK exams being really prescriptive,when preparing an up-to-date text is necessary. Otherwise, second hand books are friends! We have made major savings on Five in a Row books, Latin texts as well as English and maths books. Sources include Amazon, Ebay, home education groups, friends, home education internet groups (some UK groups are listed on my UK home education resources page) as well as Facebook groups and home education conferences' and conventions' second hand stalls. Don't forget charity shops (Goodwill). I have found Galore Park textbooks, references books and plenty of children's stories hidden away in charity shops.

  • Shop your own bookshelves. This is unlikely to turn up the year 4 maths book that you really want but may well turn up loved books from childhood that can be used as read-alouds or forgotten books with pictures of Roman remains.

  • Look at discount stores. We have used School Surplus for art supplies and some stationery.  The Book People have discounted books.

  • Libraries. The on-line catalogue is a friend. We have found libraries especially helpful for picture books, read alouds, art ideas as well as  history and geography resources. 

  • Do you really need it? Like most home educators, I have brought materials that we haven't really used because we have other, better resources or because there just aren't enough hours in the day. It is always worth thinking twice!

  • Look before you leap! Sample chapters on line/friends' books are worth examining. I have a rule, which I have broken on occasion, not to buy anything unless I have seen at least a sample. On some of the occasions that I have broken this, I have had my fingers burnt.

  • Check out different suppliers-Amazon isn't always cheapest.

  • Does it need to come from across the Pond? There are great US home education materials and we use a fair few but somethings can be bought much more cheaply in the UK.

  • Is it possible to save on postage? Is the supplier coming to a local resource day? Is a friend visiting from the US and could bring a book over?

  • If all else fails and there is some expensive, unused curriculum sitting on the shelves, sell or give on. It may be ideal for someone else. Materials which just don't work for one family, can work well for another.  Unwanted resources only take up space and end up needing dusting.

  • Borrow and of course, lend out books that aren't currently in use.

  • Make your own-we made a book about being home educated when one of our children reached formal "school age"

but for some amazing home made equipment look at the spindle boxes, red rods and alphabet over at Pyjama School.

Please share your thoughts on saving money on home education materials.

Other frugal posts:

Frugal Educational Trips

Curriculum and Money

Keeping the cost of living down

Frugal Family 2013

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Thursday 4 April 2013

Six favourite resources for teaching children about church history

I recently was asked about the resources for teaching children about church history and thought that I would share here.

Please note that I am writing from a Reformed and Protestant view point.

My favourite church history resource is "Sketches from church history-an illustrated account of 20 centuries of Christ's power" by SM Houghton and published by Banner of Truth.  It isn't  specifically written for children, however, the author was a history teacher in a Welsh grammar school, some years ago-he retired in 1960. The children in the school would have been 11-18 and it would certainly be accessible for this age group. I have used it with my son when he was aged 10 and it could be read to slightly younger children. The chapters are quite short and most pages have illustrations. This book is worth having for adults in the family if the children are too young. 

It covers from the early church until the end of the nineteenth century, mainly in Europe and North America. 

Christian Focus produce some helpful biographies aimed at children. The trailblazers series is aimed at older children (the website says teens but I think that most could be managed from aged 9). There are one or two that I wouldn't, personally, have chosen to write about but generally, a useful series. I have written, in more detail, about  the Trailblazers biographies of Billy Bray and Eric Liddell.

They also do a series for younger children which has a biography of Martin Luther. This series is said to be for 8-12s but I think it would be a little young for this age group. These are picture book biographies. My 4 and 6 year old have enjoyed the Luther book.

Louise Vernon has written historical fiction about William Tyndale called "The Bible Smuggler." This brings Tyndale's story to life and is appropriate for older children, probably from 10.

Heritage Reformed has some beautiful books about the reformers and others
I've looked at the Lady Jane Grey book in detail and was impressed.

The Time Travellers club books are designed for children probably 7-12 around various figures in church history. Here in the UK, there is an actual club, with mailings every couple of months but the books do seem to be available in the US. My 12 year old really enjoyed using these books.

Writing this has made me realise how little I know about church history in Africa and Asia. If anyone can recommend any books I would be delighted.

Do pop over to the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew site for other posts on books.

Tuesday 2 April 2013


Welcome to England: home of the British monarchy, cities steeped in history and wonderful countryside.

I'm writing today at A glimpse of our life about England. Do pop over to read and add comments about your favourite places in England.

Monday 1 April 2013

April Inspiration and update

I've moved the post on UK home educating resources onto a separate page and have added to it. Do feel free to add resources in the comments and I will add them to the page.

Last week, I wrote about when science goes wrong. These are the rather sad flowers after a couple of days. The second on the left is especially wilted. I've updated the post to explain why.

Sometime ago, I brought God's special tent by Jean Stapleton. I've been meaning to write about this book which explains the tabernacle used by Israel in the wilderness, ever since but haven't, mainly because I hadn't used the instructions in the book to make a model. Now, Danika Cooley has written about this book and with photographs of the models that her children made. Do have a look at her review.  I would agree that this book is a delightfully helpful resource.

Moneysaving Mom is blogging through April about a 30-day house cleaning challenge. It might be what I need but there aren't going to be before and after pictures here-I'm not that brave. As of day 1, I have kept up!

Just for fun, try this quiz about children's learning styles.

A group of five bloggers from various parts of the globe are putting up weekly posts about different aspects of home education called Homeschool help for beginners. Chareen has posted about her four favourite home education books. Hwee has written about daily schedule or lack thereof. This series is well worth a read.

From a very chilly England! Well, the snow has melted here  but we had a few flurries, again, over the weekend.