Friday 31 May 2013

At home in the summer

The long summer holidays loom. Many people won't get away at all but even for those who will there are still many weeks to use for good or otherwise.

So why have a long holiday anyway? The historic reason was to bring in the crops, something that either doesn't apply to most of us or only applies to a minor extent. Most of us don't really need a six or eight week break. Many home educators work year round so that they can take time off at points more convenient to the family; birthdays, new babies, holidays out of season. We've, so far, had a mix of children in school and home educated so this isn't a route for us, attractive though it seems.

So how to use those weeks at home usefully and without breaking the bank. First, some aims:
  • remembering that the Lord comes first in holiday or worktime.
  • refreshment for children and mother!
  • learning in a fun and unobtrusive way
  • building relationships within the family and with other friends.

Some thoughts about activities that can help with this and which are either home based or within walking distance:
  • hospitality-there can be more time to prepare in the summer and a warm day outside can mean that there is less to clean up!
  • quiet days together, at home. Of course, children need occupation but it isn't essential or desirable to provide wall to wall entertainment. Children can help with the gardening, play their own games or help with the cooking.

  • Getting up early or going to bed later. Popular activities here are getting up to see the sunrise and having a special breakfast. On a different day, a night walk works well for older children. Bonfires are always a favourite although definitely need adult supervision and may not be wise when it is too hot and dry.

  • Camping on the lawn. This is on my list for this summer with some very enthusiastic fellow campers!
  • Library reading schemes or home made reading challenges.
  • Learn a new skill. Younger Daughter still needs a fair amount of help with knitting; having a bit of extra time means that she can have extra practice.
  • Picnics-at home, in the local park on local countryside. Teddy bears picnics are loved by little ones. We had a fun poetry picnic last year.

  • Local events-we've been on bat walks, bird walks, seen birds of prey, been in fire engines and there are more that we could have done. It may be me but I'm not sure that they are always as well publicised as they might be.
  • Journal-the older children made holiday journals years ago and this is something that I'm hoping to reinstate. They didn't necessarily involve much writing but included pictures, tickets, postcards received and so on.
  • Local history walk-a wander round to see local sights of interest.

What activities do you have planned, for your children, around home, over the summer?

The Schoolhouse Crew blog cruise on Summer Staycationing has many more ideas for the summer at home.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Group Science

This year, I've been using the Apologia Elementary Science: Exploring Creation with Human anatomy and physiology

to teach a home education group. This may seem an unusual use of the book.

The previous year, I taught a group of children from 7 to 11 science in a home education group setting. We mainly looked at forces but when I did end of year evaluations, these showed rather what I had suspected, that the topic was too easy for some and too hard for others. This really depended on the type of science, and also maths, that they had done before.

This year, I wanted something which would be useful for the whole group: something that would stretch those who had done a fair amount of science but wouldn't be too difficult for those who had done very little and were at the younger end of the age range. 

The Apologia Elementary books are designed for Christian home educators and are intended for use in families with children from 6 to 13 years old.

Each family has brought the Apologia Human anatomy and physiology book and reads a lesson each month. It is up to them whether to do the activities but I usually ask the children to bring something connected with their learning to the group; this might be a poster about smoking or a meal plan with pictures for the nutrition chapter. Sometimes, these activities are from the book and sometimes of my own devising.

At the class, I go over the chapter usually with a different activities. For a few chapters, I have done a major activity with the class, for example, in the nutrition chapter, we did the vitamin C testing in the class as it seemed silly for each family to acquire a bottle of iodine. 

Playdough cell -a class activity for the cell

Nutrition theme park-project done by child to show to the group

How has this worked?

Generally, well although over the year the group has become larger and its age range has increased from 6-11 at the start of the year to 4-12 now.

So what has worked well?
  • Reading the chapter in advance of each lesson. This has meant that even the smaller children can have an effective grasp of what is being taught.
  • Activities to bring to the class.
  • Hands-on activities in the group.
  • The chapters have a considerable amount of information embedded in them. This means that it is not easy to read a chapter in one sitting. I read the book to my six year old, one section per day and then talk about that section the next day before reading the next section. Reading the book in this way has been the most effective way of both enjoying and retaining the information.
  • Each chapter stands alone so new families can join in without feeling behind or needing to catch up.
What has worked less well?
  • The book isn't cheap especially for families for whom it is a second science curriculum. Here, in the UK, it is cheapest from Conquest Books or Ichthus Resources both of whom sell the book for £23 plus postage.
  • Running the Apologia alongside other science curricula materials can be  too much. We, as a family, do some fun science which just fits in but hasn't proved a problem, however, this fun science is way off a full curriculum.
  • Some of the chapters seem much more difficult: the section on the muscles seemed especially difficult.
I haven't done a formal evaluation yet this year so await findings! There does appear to be some interest from some of the younger children. Youngest Son is fascinated by the rather beautiful picture of the inner ear. I may well include him more, in reading the chapter, at home, even if he doesn't join the group sessions.

It would be good to hear from anyone else who has taught science in this type of setting.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Simplified Dinners-a review

Making meal preparation easier is always attractive so I was pleased to be able to review Simplified Dinners by Mystie Winckler, from Simplified Pantry

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This e-book uses the premise that it is possible to cook dinners from scratch with a reasonably stocked pantry. This means that recipes are presented using a basic stem and then with variations depending on what is available. This is an approach to cooking that appeals to me. Mystie aims to provide recipes that are simple to prepare and use readily available ingredients.

The book has sections around a theme, for example: slow cooker roasts or baked potato dinner. She then explains how to cook the recipe and provides several variations on the theme, such as different baked potato fillings. I used the book to try different recipes; aiming to find those that we could use on a regular basis.

I've been cooking for years now so was this useful? Yes, and for me, particularly the several sections about using tortillas

 and the part with bean recipes. Of course, I had used some of the ideas before. Baked potatoes aren't new here although "Baked potato dinner" sounds better than what I describe as "Baked potatoes and bits"!

Whilst I make soup several times a week, there were some new soup ideas.

Making sweet potato soup

The same was true for the pasta dishes; sausage penne turned out to be very popular.

The book has a master pantry list which is long. I didn't worry too much about this but it might deter a new cook. The list would enable someone to make all the recipes but many can be made with a much smaller list. A new cook, on a tight budget, could acquire the seasonings gradually. Similarly, whilst many of the recipes require meat, there are several which only require small amounts of meat or none.

This e-book is available for $12.99 (equivalent to £8.60 today) but Mystie has kindly given 30% off this, and her other e-books, through to 3rd June 2013. Use the code TOS2013 at checkout.

There is also a gluten free/dairy free version of the book which has notes on obtaining suitable ingredients, a list of suspect ingredients and a pantry list marked up with those ingredients which have to be sourced carefully. There is a section of gluten free/dairy free desserts including vanilla ice cream. This is also $12.99.

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Mystie has also produced an e-book, Paperless Home Organisation, about producing a paperless home organisation system. This gives detailed advice on setting up systems, on the computer, for running a household and so removing the need to have a paper binder which either gets lost or contains parts that are dated. This is  $3.99 but again there is 30% off using the code TOS2013 up to 3rd June 2013.

More reviews of these products are available at the Schoolhouse Crew blog.

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Wednesday 22 May 2013

Schoolhouse Library

The Schoolhouse Library is a new exciting resource of e-books and audio books for home educators. It has over 175 items and is available for $25 which is about £16.61 today. It covers over 25  topics to reading to organisation to nature study to geography.

E-books are so useful for those of us who aren't in the US-no waiting, no shipping costs.

Do pop over to this link to find out more. 

Monday 20 May 2013

Night of the Moonjellies

Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha was a book that I had been saving until after we had had a seaside trip. The week after the trip, the book came out.
This book is one of the books covered in the first manual of Five in a Row. It tells the true story of a boy who found a moonjelly on his way to work, in the family seaside hotdog stand. 

There is so much that could be covered in this book. We only dipped our toes into the ocean.

We talked about the contrast between the noise in the hotdog stand in the day and evening and the quiet on the boat at night.

The book is full of food. We tried to remember as many items as possible without referring back. 

Books have authors and this tale is autobiographical. We visited Mark Shasha's site.

There are so many books about the sea. We used a changing selection. Here are some that we used. As always, the Lighthouse Keeper series by David and Ronda Armitage were favourites. Not pictured but recently discovered is the Little Tim series by Edward Ardizzone.

Using salt and yellow dye, I made some "sand" which along with various sea related toys, kept both Younger Daughter and Youngest Son happy telling their own sea stories. They were very keen to add water; mean Mummy thought this wasn't such a good idea.

We read Shapes on the seashore by Frances Ridley and Ali Teo.

There were plenty of pebbles, from our recent trip, this  activity about number pebbles fitted in well.

It was fun to watch a video about moonjellies as well as visit our local aquarium.

This book called out for sea pictures.
 Youngest son wanted to use pirate stickers on a sandpaper sand.

Both children painted pebbles which we had brought back from our trip. This, again, belonged to Youngest Son. 

This book has very few pages without a mention of food. There was a popcorn machine at the stool and so Middle Son made some rather tasty popcorn.

As with most Five in a Row books, there always seems to be so much more that we could have done from this book. 
Do visit my Pinterest Five in a Row board for some more ideas.

TGIF Linky Party hosted by 123Homeschool4Me

Saturday 18 May 2013

The best of the year

I'm limping towards the end of the academic year and planning for the next.

Part of the planning is working on what has and what hasn't worked. Some of this is working out the nitty gritty of curriculum: what works for us and how things need tweaking. Another part of the assessment is thinking about the best parts of the year.

So what were the highlights?

  • Going outside-this has been so important. We have an afternoon a week planned to be outside but in reality the younger two go outside at the end of most afternoons. If I were only home educating Youngest Son, we would be outside about 90% of the time. 

  • Re-enactments/living history.
We've been to a Roman day, the Battle of Hasting re-enactment and a Tudor day. Usually, I try to fit these events in with the history that we have been studying but a couple of these weren't in that context. Still, they were appreciated and living history is something that I will look out for over the summer.
My handwriting is not the best, after all I practised as a doctor for many years. It is relatively legible but certainly not beautiful. Younger Daughter needed handwriting practice and copying me wasn't the way to go. A friend recommended these books which are obtainable from Ichthus Resources in the UK. Younger Daughter has done a page per day which takes about 10 minutes. We were impressed that we saw improvement within the first week. One of the best things about these books is that they encourage the child to assess their own writing and book for the best letters that they have formed.
  • Fun science. The older two children do more formal science but all three enjoy informal science. Middle Son likes to watch science programmes and the younger two have fun with science using items in the kitchen and garden.

Exploring the bouyancy of lemons with and without skin.
Middle Son has used this problem based add-on to his maths which has added variety, revision and some learning about Imperial measurements!

We now have subscriptions for the younger two children. This has been helpful in many ways: re-enforcement of phonics and meaning that some phonics can be done with one child while I work with another. 
  • Reading aloud each morning with the younger children
Every morning after we have read the Bible, I read to the younger two. This has been an important time to help Youngest  Son's involvement and is appreciated by his sister. This session is usually devoted to picture books with a few poems.  I read chapter books to Younger Daughter later in the day.
One thing that we haven't done this year and has been really missed is looking at a particular book in more depth as we did previously with Five in a Row. After some requests, I've been collecting some books from manual 4 of Five in a Row to use in the coming year. 

An idiosyncratic selection but I guess that describes most highlights!


Tuesday 14 May 2013

Miscalculation and some cat books

Before we made the final decision to keep kittens, I spent ages working out the cost of them, both in financial and time terms. There was one thing that I forgot or didn't realise. That thing was how much fun and happiness these two bundles of fur have brought to all, three generations, living here.

Of course, we've been reading a few related books:

The tale of Tom kitten by Beatrix Potter

My pet kitten by Honor Head

Alfie and the birthday surprise by Shirley Hughes

Mrs Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco

The little kitten book by Elizabeth Martyn and David Taylor

Hairy Maclary's Rumpus at the vets by Lynley Dodd-about a dog as well as various other animals but fitted in well with visiting the vet for immunisations. For anyone who has read the book, our visit to the vet wasn't quite like Hairy Maclary's!

Friday 10 May 2013

New arrivals

These arrived at our house today.

They are nine weeks old and are causing a great deal of excitement.

Younger Daughter has been getting books about cats out of the library for weeks. I've never had a cat before so it is a learning curve for me too. 

I hope that they sleep like this tonight although they certainly aren't asleep now!

Tuesday 7 May 2013

May inspiration

Over the last week, we have had some proper Spring weather. We've been making the most of the outside
including the sea.

Angelicscalliwags' post about the Before Five in a Row book, Yellow Ball, has several sea related activities. Painting some of the many pebbles, that came back with us, seems to be a definite must.

Lextin academy posted with links to the memory work that they have done. I found the lists thought provoking. This year, we have learned verses from the Bible but not as a bigger block. Learning a Psalm or part of a chapter is something that I am keen that we start to do.  The lists have some psalms and passages that we might use although not in the Authorised (King James) version that we use.

After posting on keeping down the cost of living, I found that Morgan at Growing in the Fens had put up a page of Top 35 ways of saving money.

The Unlikely Homeschool has posted an introduction to independent Project based learning. I loved the way that this teaches time management and research skills.

Last, an old post from Sunhats and Wellie Boots about making spider canvases. We've used this idea before but on paper rather than canvas. Last week, we pulled out some canvases that I had stashed away and made spiders. This is so simple and effective.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Keeping the cost of living down

Most home educating families are also single income families. The greatest cost is often the loss of income rather than home educating materials. In addition, educational resources often cost money and there is also additional wear and tear on the home.

These are a few thoughts about keeping costs down in an economy where incomes are generally not going up and prices aren't going down.

  • Home educate locally.  Petrol prices can negate a cheaper course further away. Petrol in the UK is expensive-currently, the cheapest petrol near here is 131.9p per litre  ($9.32 per gallon for my US readers) Of course, we do go on trips but we try to be intentional about these. A trip has to have a reason and preferably for more than one child. Home educating locally also saves time. 

  • In the UK, it is often worth checking whether a trip on public transport is cheaper than car travel. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn't.

  • Make a budget and write down every item of expenditure-it can be frightening but at least it can give an idea of where money is wasted.

  • Buy in bulk. Potatoes in 25kg bags tend to be so much cheaper than in the supermarket. We managed to combine a trip with buying 25kg stone ground flour at a price that undercut the supermarket and supported a fantastic museum

  • Cheap supermarkets-I'm writing this to myself. Recently, I have mainly brought from the home delivery service of the main supermarkets. Shopping at Lidl or Aldi is cheaper. They don't have everything but visiting them instead of a middle of the road supermarket, once every few weeks is definitely worthwhile. We have found that coffee, chocolate and vegetables are especially good picks.

  • Washing lines/airers pay for themselves rapidly!

  • Compare prices-the moneysaving expert is a great resource for anyone based in the UK. 

  • I've been struck recently by the thought that we are called to be stewards of our possessions. If we need and use something that is great but if it is stored for the never-never then this is poor stewardship. Again, I talk to myself.

  • Repair-this may be mending at home. We've found that some dry cleaners do repairs to a high standard. 
Money saving resources
Not money saving but a helpful perspective on not having everything

Money saving posts on this blog
How do you keep the cost of living down? For more posts on the Frugal Homeschool do visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.