Friday 28 June 2013

Railways and the Railway Children

Recently, I read aloud The Railway Children by E Nesbit to Younger Daughter. Youngest Son had also been talking about steam machines so it seemed time for a trip to a steam railway.

We visited the Bluebell Railway which has recently been extended to East Grinstead in Sussex. The Railway is run by volunteers and there has obviously been so much work around the Railway and its details.

This brought back memories of eating Robinson's Golden Shred at my Grandparents' house.

In The Railway Children, the station staff talked to the children and explained about railways. My children got to clip their tickets.

Youngest Son was surprised how noisy the engines were but then we did sit in the carriage right behind the engines.

The trains were pulled by two engines coupled together and running backwards.

Beautiful country stations-easy to imagine the Railway Children watching the trains from this bench.

Signal is up-remember trying to stop the train in E Nesbit's book?

Horstead Keynes station was used as the setting for the film of the Railway Children. The signal box is in the background.

Going into the tunnel

Perhaps the up platform?

This was a great way to bring a classic to life.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Potato harvest

This year,we have taken part in the Grow your own potatoes project. This is open to home educators, in the UK, with primary school aged children.

The project provides potato tubers, a chitting box, black bags for growing, stickers for dates and, on the website, teacher resources.
Chitting the potatoes
 The potato tubers provided were of the Rocket variety and a regional type. One extra Rocket tuber was sent so that it could be grown in a clear bottle to see the root structure.

We had a cold Spring. There was frost after we had planted the potatoes and although we had put them in a fairly sheltered spot, I was concerned that we might have lost them. This wasn't the case but the shoots were slow to emerge. The project has a set date for harvesting and weighing the potatoes, I guess, to fit with school holidays. My gut feeling when we got to the date was that the potatoes probably needed longer and sadly, I was right.

 The picture below is of our harvest-there were also some very, very tiny potatoes which might have grown more with a few more weeks.
 A rather sad 60g of the regional variety and 210g of Rocket. I didn't bother to enter the competition for the heaviest crop! They did taste good roasted although we did have to supplement them with other potatoes for this family of eight.

It is worth taking part in Grow your own Potatoes especially if your children haven't grown potatoes before. This is the second time that we have taken part and whilst seeing the tubers emerge from the soil is always exciting, it probably wasn't quite the learning experience that it was first time round. We probably need to make our own project for another year, growing something new to us!

Monday 24 June 2013

Learning about the heart

Younger Daughter has been learning about the heart and the cardiovascular system using the Apologia Elementary book, Exploring Creation through Human Anatomy and Physiology.

Rather to my surprise this seems to be one of the more difficult topics to understand. In order to try to clarify things we talked about the heart being a pump and what a pump does-moves gas or liquid from one place to another. We went to have a look at our central heating pump and talked about pumps that put air into bicycle tyres, petrol into cars and air into fish tanks.

The book suggests a model made using square biscuits and coloured icing. The blue icing represents deoxygenated blood and the red oxygenated blood. The atria are at the top of the picture and the ventricles at the bottom. This is a very schematic picture as the vena cavae are shown at the top as one vessel and the pulmonary artery and aorta are at the bottom of the picture.

We added some of our own models: a playdough model of the heart, with blue for the right side of the heart and red for the left.

This time, we were able to make the left ventricle look larger than the right.

Of course, we added to this by colouring and labeling a heart diagram.

In order to talk about how much blood goes round the body, we measured out blood volumes. First for an adult and then for a six year old. A six year old has, according to the calculation we used of 80ml per kilogram, a blood volume of about 2 litres (about 4 pints). To make this realistic, we added some red food colouring. It looks a surprisingly small amount sitting in a washing up bowl!

The Mayo clinic have a particularly useful simple video of the heart which also helps explain its function.

Do let me know about other ideas for explaining about heart function to younger children.

Friday 21 June 2013

Year 2 curriculum

Younger Daughter is year 2 age in September. I think this is equivalent to 1st grade in the US.

So what do we plan to do?


This year we have used the Bible Road Trip as a rough outline. By the end of the academic year, we should have finished 2 Chronicles. We hope to continue with this. There is so much more in this curriculum than we've used. Hopefully, we can add in some of the mapping and other of the craft activities.

Our Bible memorisation has been slow, this year. A verse a week seems to be the maximum we have achieved. It would be great to increase this rate. This is an area that I need to think about over the summer.

Recently, we've added in a hymn each day-the same one for a week! My plan is to continue this.

English aka as Literacy and Language arts

This year we used Jolly Grammar 1 and the on-line Reading Eggs. Towards the end of the year, we needed more of an emphasis on phonics so started to use Hooked on Phonics 1. This is quite repetitive but in many ways this was what we wanted. We plan to continue with this and then use Hooked on Phonics 2. This is will not last all year, using a lesson per day, so we may well go back to Jolly Grammar.

At present, using the Hooked on Phonics words for spelling is working well. This post from My Joy Filled Life about tactile spelling activities has proved useful and I plan to continue using the ideas.

For handwriting, we started using Getty-Dubay, earlier this year, and plan to continue with this. It has certainly helped.

Of course, we plan to continue plenty of read alouds probably a combination of chapter books and using unit studies with a few more complex picture books, some of which will come from the Five in a Row volume 4 list. Using more Five in a Row books is a particular request of Younger Daughter.


This year, we have used some games and informal maths along with Mousematics and occasional other books to re-enforce this. We plan to continue with the Mousematics and hope to add in more games and hands on learning. Mousematics comes with the Mother's Companion.


We have been using Apologia Elementary, Exploring Creation through Human anatomy and physiology. We use this at home and in our home education group. We have taken this slowly, a small section a day, and added in hands on activities. There is still plenty to do left in the book-we do a lesson per month.

This playdough model represents the four chambers of the heart

Of course, we need to carry on with some fun science. The holiday is a time for researching some ideas and putting them into themes although the risk is that we just go ahead and use them.


Youngest Daughter loves history. This last year, we have been looking at the Tudors and the start of the Stuarts. She has had great fun learning about this era in history with one of the mothers, in the home school group who makes history come alive. We have supported this by reading from Our Island story, People in history by R.J. Unstead and several Ladybird books.
We plan to continue this and particularly want to add in some trips.

Some of the Five in a Row books will also have a historical thread.

Youngest Son is very keen to learn about the structure of the earth. I have a lapbook and study guide from a Journey through Learning which we plan to work through.

Five in a Row will also provide opportunities to study Japan (Grass Sandals: the travels of Basho), Australia (the Pumpkin runner), the US (Snowflake Bentley), Hungary (Hanna's Cold winter), Russia (Another celebrated dancing bear) and Italy (Angelo).

Younger Daughter loves art and will often paint in her free time. Next term, she is old enough to start some local children's classes. We also hope to do some art activities based loosely on the Five in a Row books.
Matisse inspired collage after reading Little Nino's Pizzeria

Thoughts on other art ideas would be good particularly anything which links artists' work and hands on art. This year, we've used the Usborne First book of art but have now finished this lovely book which links artists and ideas with art projects.

We plan to continue looking at one of these Usborne cards each day.

We plan that Younger Daughter will start organ lessons.

I'm sure that we don't listen to enough music around the house. One area that I need to work on is increasing this.

The aim is to use a combination of 2 Simple French and Skoldo mainly working on listening to and speaking French rather than writing and grammar.

I'm getting curriculum fatigue!

This should all come with the disclaimer that we use curricular materials in a fairly loose way and that whilst this seems a reasonable fit for our daughter for next year, it might not be the best fit for our other children, let alone for another family. All the same, most of the books and ideas that have worked best for us have been found from other home educators recommendations.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

16 UK Christian home education bloggers

There are many home education bloggers but most of these are outside the UK and some of those inside the UK do not have a Christian worldview.

This is a list of UK based Christian home education blogs.

My criteria for inclusion are
  • home educating family
  • evangelical Christian although inclusion does not imply that we are agreed about doctrine
  • posting relatively frequently-I haven't included blogs that haven't posted for months
  • some content about education 
  • I've come across the blog-obviously! Please let me know about other relevant blogs and I will add them.
The blogs are in alphabetical order.

Angelicscalliwags is written by Claire about her children's history based home education but there is so much more: a pond study, science, Before Five in a Row.

 Boyschooling, not surprisingly, has an emphasis on teaching boys although this isn't exclusive. This blog has helpful book recommendations and plenty of ideas for home education outings.

Ellie at Create with your hands is a relatively new home educator although she has been writing for sometime about play based activities. We've used several of her ideas and the travel workstation is on my list for the summer break.

Delivering Grace, well that is me! And this is about why we home educate.

Helen writes at For His Glory. She features unit studies done by her daughters as well as some resource recommendations. Do check out this post about  planned and unplanned nature study.

Gracieschool is quite new to me but posts about teaching her young children. I especially like the posts about early writing and art.

Jenny at Home schooling for a Dozen or more posts about educating her 10 children and often features book reviews which are always refreshing.

Organic Education features Alice's family's home education but is also useful for links to topical and political articles about home education.

Our cup of tea is a written by Debbie who is an American living in the UK. This is a tremendous resource for geography and a blog I visit when putting together a country unit study.

Sarah at Pyjama School writes about Montessori based home education for her two young children. She has tutorials for making DIY Montessori equipment: a particularly helpful frugal resource for home educators.

Caroline at the Joyful Keeper writes both about the Christian life and about home educating her children.This post features an introduction to lapbooking.


Shirley posts at Under an English Sky. Her family have just had a major curriculum change  to prepare for gaining qualifications but are continuing their nature study posts.

Added November 2013:
Young Hosannas is a blog by Kirsty who home educates her five young children. She has practical ideas for learning with little ones and the learning is naturally and clearly rooted in God's Word.

Through the Lattice is a blog from an older home educating family. I love the pictures although I dare not show the pony pictures to Younger Daughter. She already has schemes for keeping a pony in the back garden!

Added December 2013:
The Frog-Academy is about a large family in the North of England. The art ideas are worth exploring and I enjoy reading about another family with teenagers.

Added January 2013:
Home Education Novice is written by Kondwani, a pen name meaning "for ever rejoicing" about her journey educating her young children. She has thoughtful articles about learning from children and motivations. 

Again, please do let me know about other UK Christian home educator blogs. I may well not be aware of them. 

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Duties of Parents

Life has been busy over the last few days but I wanted to write about this. We were talking with some friends who recommended the booklet by J.C. Ryle, The duties of Parents and kindly printed us out a copy. The booklet is available as a PDF or read aloud as an MP3.

This is a valuable read for Christian parents; thought provoking and convicting. Christian parents certainly need God's help in their parenting and the prayers of others.

It has some splendid pithy phrases:

If you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way they would.

Recommended- a booklet that I need to refer to again and again.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Summer reading or not

Ten years ago, I would have loved to write a post about summer reading. My eldest two children read easily and voraciously. Writing about their summer reading would have meant writing about lovely lists of books and what to do when it just wasn't possible to keep up with finding sufficient reading material. I love books and this was fun. Book lists are great and I'm hoping to write about themlater in the summer.

But fast forward, ten years and summer reading is more difficult. Children who either can read but don't like to or who would love to read but have found learning to read anything but easy. Adding to this a little one who is interested but, not surprisingly,  would prefer me to read to him than to read books full of CVC words (those simple three letter words with a consonant, vowel and consonant such as cat and dog).

This isn't an uncommon situation and some boys, especially, can be less keen on reading.

So what am I planning? The library reading scheme offering, this year, is called Creepy House which is off-putting to say the least. So not the library.

Well the plans are a bit varied but involve

  • reading aloud-I'm often not so consistent about this in the holidays but really need to keep this up. Perhaps extending the read aloud at bedtime. 

  • Audio books, hopefully, from the library. Ideal for car journeys. Enid Blyton's Famous Five series is a hit with the younger two. Michael Murpurgo's Adophus Tips was also well received.

  • Visiting places associated with books. It is often surprising what can be found locally or what may resemble places in books.

  • DVDs-OK this isn't reading but two of these children loved the DVD of Bleak House. These are children who either just wouldn't have wanted to read the book, yes, we tried or just couldn't have managed it, no, we didn't try. For the second of these children, this led to a request for me to read a simplified version aloud and another viewing of the DVD along with loads of discussion about favourite characters, saddest moment etc. This discussion was all child generated.

  • Possibly a children's show related to a book. This really depends what is on but the younger two have enjoyed a performance of the Snail and the Whale.

  • Pure picture books and picture puzzle books. The Edwardian books by Edward Goodall are some of our favourites.

  • Strewing books and magazines. This seems to work especially well with recipe books!

  • Books with text but also plenty of pictures. Usborne have some lift the flap books with detailed pictures and a little text. Other books like this include Stephen Biesty's Cross Sections and A slice through a city by Peter Kent.

  • Comic books  such as Asterix and Tintin especially seem to appeal to boys. They can be obtained in several languages so can be a gentle way to keep up with other languages!
Please feel free to add other suggestions.

This is linked to Summer reading for boys on the Schoolhouse Crew blog.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Outside art

We looked at a picture of Andy Goldsworthy's picture Hole in leaves sinking in the Usborne First book of art. This book is a great resource for me as a non-artist. 

The book suggested going on to make some outdoor art. Younger Daughter looked at the picture made with stones and shells in the book then went on to make her own art.
This was the sun-I'm afraid that a few days ago we chalked on the patio and so some of these have a numerical background!

Rainbow over land


Cloud with rain falling

In the meantime, Youngest Son was making his own outdoor art around his "well".

A happy and easy creative afternoon!

Monday 10 June 2013

Summer, organisation and plain tiredness

The summer break is here in a few weeks but break is a bit of a misnomer. Formal home education might have finished for the year but there is the catching up with housework, decluttering, planning for next year, cleaning, gardening, decorating; not to forget the trips out and informal education, also known as education by stealth. All this needs time, energy and planning.

Last year, I was tired and well, we didn't really do as much as I had hoped, intended or really should have done. Being wishful, I will be full of energy for the summer but being realistic, I won't! Also being realistic, I'm probably not the only tired home ed mother out there.

This is my plan. It may or may not work. I'm hoping that the first week will be a complete break and then perhaps some pacing and organisation may help.

  1. A planned week with a day for a trip, a day to see friends, another for the house, another for the garden and a final day especially dedicated to stealthy education. Stealthy education might get as exciting as a library trip but there might be a few other, not too exhausting activities! There are a fair few ideas but probably less get up and go.
  2. Dedicated evenings for planning. 
  3. Planned sleep. When I was a junior doctor, I managed on very little sleep but now five hours means that not so much gets done!
  4. Planned time to read for me, and the children. That means planning a time to read aloud to the children and finding a bit of time to recharge with some books: Christian books, history and probably a bit of fiction.

Any other suggestions are gratefully received and please tell me that I'm not the only tired mum out there!

Thursday 6 June 2013

June Inspiration

We are enjoying the kittens and the recent sunshine.

Whilst here, in the UK, most of us haven't finished for the summer, this is the time for thinking about curriculum for next year. Growing home has a thoughtful post about why curriculum choice might not matter as much as we think it does.

Frugality seems important to almost everyone, at present. Claire, at Angelicscalliwags, who is a constant source of inspiration, is writing a weekly series about trying to pay off their mortgage. This is full of ideas and has links to sites and books. 

On the subject of frugality, this is a useful post about making vegetable broth, or stock. We've made our own chicken stock for a while but that never provides enough stock for all the soup we make so this came in useful. Having made the broth as described, today, I've experimented with making this in the slow cooker. Yes, I cheated and didn't use organic vegetables but well washed ordinary ones. 

After I had written my post about being an older mother, I found this reflection about being a new Dad at 47.

My son told me about this fascinating demonstration of pyrex disappearing. We tried this and it worked! All to do with refraction.

We placed this pyrex dish in a larger pyrex dish full of vegetable oil.

Picture from above the dish, looking through the oil onto the grainy appearance worksurface. The pyrex dish is to the right of the spoon.

I love the way that it is easy to explore facets of science with everyday objects. There are more science ideas on my home science board on Pinterest.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Modelling blood cells

As part of our studies in the Apologia book Exploring Creation with human anatomy and physiology, we've been learning about the blood. We used a couple of hands on models to illustrate this.

We used the instructions from the book, with some UK modification to made a model of the blood.
First, we put plasma (golden syrup) in a jam jar then added 

  • red skittles for red blood cells
  •  one white jelly bean for a white blood cell
  •  white sprinkles for platelets.

The downside of my version of the model is that golden syrup is so dense that the "cells" floated on the top.This version is the prototype that I used at home with Youngest Son.  I re-did this model for the group but then used vegetable oil as plasma which was less dense so the "cells" tended to sink!

Red skittles aren't the best model for red blood cells:
  • they are the wrong shape 
  • they have a big white S on them.
Not quite right so we made some playdough red blood cells. Doughnut shaped without a proper hole in the middle. The shape is of course, properly, known as a biconcave disc. 

Yes, this is orange not red!
I taught this as 

  • bi- two as in bicycle and biplane
  • concave as in cave
We made one rather amorphous white cell with light blue playdough and some platelets with cream dough and put them, along with red playdough red cells, this time, on yellow card for plasma.

The hands-on activity seemed to be appreciated and hopefully, will make the subject more memorable.

Next time, is the heart so now to find some more ideas!

Monday 3 June 2013

Older Mothers

Whilst I'm not a record breaking older mother, I've had two children since I've been forty. Yes, I'm Varifocal Mum. 

In many ways, having children at older ages is not different to having them when younger but I found there are a few subtle differences between having children in my twenties and thirties and having babies at 40 plus. 

Do visit My Joy Filled Life to read the rest of my guest post on Older Mothers as part of Mom2Mom Mondays.