Tuesday 30 July 2013

Reception year curriculum

This is an odd post to write. In many ways, I feel that I shouldn't be writing it as after all, little ones mainly learn from life yet I know that without planning and some degree of formal learning, there will be a bored little boy on my hands. Yes, Youngest Son reaches school age in September. Legally, he doesn't need to receive formal education until the term after he is five which isn't  until later in the academic year but the vast majority of children enter school the September in which they are rising five.

Of course, he has been learning all his life and in many ways, being home educated, the beginning of next term doesn't make so much difference. 

Having a child, with plenty of energy at home, means that the more plans the better. Don't think that he will be sitting at a desk all day, many of these plans involve play and activity.

Anyway, on to the plans.

This year we have used the Bible Road Trip as a rough outline and we plan to continue doing this. I was pleased to note that there are going to be suggested readings from Carine Mackenzie's 365 Great Bible stories in the new Kindergarten section of this curriculum

English aka literacy and language arts

I'm planning to use Jolly Phonics.

 Youngest Son loves the Finger Phonics books.

After the holidays, I hope to introduce some of the other components of the programme.

Younger Son has already been using Reading Eggs and this is something we plan to continue. It also buys me some time to spend working on reading with Younger Daughter.

Somewhat to my surprise, Younger Son has become interested in writing a few words . Hopefully, this will continue along with some work on fine motor skills. The homegrown preschooler has helpful ideas for fine motor control and emerging literacy as well as most of the other areas in this post.

Read alouds are really important here and we tend to read many picture books each day. Over the year, I hope to read a few simple chapter books.

We are planning to use some of the Five in a Row books and do extension activities from these. 

When Younger Daughter was this age, I went through the National Curriculum for maths, for reception and year 1, and worked out a schedule of learning from everyday life. It did work but much of it had already been accomplished and she soon needed to go onto something written down so we used Mousematics which comes with the Mother's Companion. This is the plan, again.

At this age, most of the science will be informal "fun science." Youngest Son has shown considerable interest in the more hands on activities which I have practised at home for the group studies on the human body. We hope to continue making hands on projects to go with this.

Social studies aka history and geography
Much of this will be informal and around places we visit. 
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).
Youngest Son has shown some interest in what is under the ground so we hope to look at this, using a Journey in Learning lapbook as a rough outline. 

The Five in a Row books will provide opportunities to use different art techniques. We have used the Usborne First book of art but have now finished working through this. I could do with a second volume!

The plan is that music will be informal. We don't have enough music around the house and I hope to be more intentional about playing music. With our extended Circle Time, we have been practicing a hymn each week and hope to continue this.

Gross motor
Youngest Son is a bundle of energy so getting out and about is particularly important. We don't have anything formal planned beyond, possibly, some swimming but do plan to go outside most days so that he can run and climb.

Old Schoolhouse Expo

Home education conferences are few and far between in the UK. So far, I haven't attended one so I was pleased to find out about an on-line conference, the  Schoolhouse Expo. This takes place between 19th and 23rd August. It does take place in the US (1300-2000 Eastern Time) so some of the sessions will be a bit late, here in the UK but recordings are included in the cost of the ticket. There are 30 speakers and it sounds like a fascinating and inspirational event.

When I was in medicine, I had to attend conferences and often sat there jotting down new ideas, things to implement in my practice, thoughts to research further. I'm looking forward to an event that will inspire me just before the start of the new academic year.

The conference costs just $24 (which on an on-line calculator today is £15.75).  Tickets can be purchased from Schoolhouse Expo.

Schoolhouse Expo

Disclaimer: This is a promotional post for which I will receive a ticket to the Expo.

Saturday 27 July 2013

The homegrown preschooler:teaching your kids in the places where they live

Since I started home education four years ago, there have always been preschoolers in our family so I was pleased to be able to review The homegrown preschooler: teaching your kids in the places they live by Kathy H. Lee and Lesli M. Richards, published by Gryphon House.

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The homegrown preschooler is a beautifully produced soft back book.

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The book is divided into two sections: the first consists of nine chapters on the preschooler learning at home covering a variety of topics from learning through play, to making time, organisation and managing in special circumstances such as having children with special needs, chronic illness and adopting a preschool child.

I found that this part of the book was clear and well explained. For example, when explaining that children learn concepts best in a real way, the example of an apple is used. The child could colour a picture of an apple but it is so much better if they can explore the apple using touch, sight, hearing and taste.

The chapter on making time has sample days from different families, ranging from a mother with one child to a home educating mother with six. Useful ideas but equally helpful is the section on "Planning for those days" and well, don't we all have those?

The second section consists of activities in groups:

  • home life
  • science
  • gross motor
  • math
  • language and emergent literacy
  • art
  • social-emotional

We used the second part for some ideas for activities. "We" means we. My six year old loves pouring over this book and spent time making a den like the one in the book.

Other activities were putting up a tent and reading books in it before sleeping out overnight.

I had forgotten about magnetic fishing until I read The homegrown preschooler but it was a big hit.

Of course, the science section was an excuse to make more volcanoes, adding glitter so that they looked a bit like cappuccino.

Throughout the book there are recipes, both for food and play materials such as playdough,
sand dough, cloud dough, paints and quick drying clay.

The book has an appendix with links and further reading suggestions as well as instructions for building a plexiglass easel, sand/water table and a light tray. It also contains an activity checklist to allow for planning a balanced range of activities-I found this particularly helpful.

This book is particularly helpful. It has a "can do" attitude and talks about "unavoidable difficulties" as something to "mine for treasure". Whilst many of the activities can involve obtaining items, it also talks about creativity coming out of situations where these are not available.

My plan is to use the activity checklist to work on activities for my four year old, so far,we have only scratched the surface! If anything there are so many activities that it can seem a little overwhelming. In view of this, I'm planning to work through systematically. Yes, many are old favourites but having them together and categorised is particularly helpful for planning.

This book would have been such a help when I started home education, four years ago, with a baby and two year old, as well as an older child. I recommend it for all mothers of preschoolers whether the plan is to send them to school or to home educate them but it is particularly helpful for the many home educating mothers who are trying to balance teaching their older children while not neglecting the preschoolers.

This book retails at $29.95 (£19.48).

To read more reviews of The homegrown preschooler and Global art:activities, projects and inventions around the world also from Gryphon House, visit the Schoolhouse Crew blog.

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Friday 26 July 2013

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle, near Lamberhurst in Kent, is an eclectic place with a moated, mediaeval, partly ruined castle and a nineteenth century manor. My memories of it as a child were only of the ruined castle as the manor wasn't open to the public. The property had been gifted to the  National Trust by the Hussey family and Betty Hussey was still living in the house, with some apartments let out to others, including Margaret Thatcher. Betty Hussey died in 2006 and now the house, Scotney New Castle, is also open.

Younger Daughter had been asking to visit a castle so this definitely fitted the bill.

This is the old moated castle.

The walled garden was a treat for me.

Plates were used to mark the rows; an ingenious idea although I think ours are needed for other purposes.

I'm looking into growing brassicas.

The best part though, especially for Youngest Son, was the den building. The National Trust produced a challenge called 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4 and this area was to support this as den building is one of the 50 things. This was an area in woodland and precipitated building of a den with seats, kitchen equipment, food, pretend fire, spears and musical instruments; all made out of wood.
This structure is the bear and mouse trap.

A day out with plenty of space and some history-definitely a winner here.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Circle Time: Plan the best part of your school day.

I was curious when I had the opportunity to review the e-book Circle Time: Plan the best part of your school day,

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  by Kendra Fletcher, from Preschoolers and Peace.

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Curious because whilst the general concept seemed helpful, my older children had been subjected to what was called "circle time" in school and it certainly hadn't been the best part of the day.

It soon transpired that the circle time talked about in the book was very different from that which my children despised and more a gathering where all the children were taught together.  Kendra is a home educating mother of eight and initially started her Circle Time so that she could gather her children together before they formally started the school day. I soon realised that our first session each morning when we read the Bible, pray and learn Scripture together was a sort of "circle time" and had potential to become a longer session taking in more of our learning.

Although I have five children, only three are home educated. These are aged 12, 6 and 4. Kendra's book made me think through the way in which I could increase the learning that the children do together. Realistically, this would mean that we would have a Circle Time which initially involves all three but for a substantial portion, just the younger two. The book gives ideas for what could be included and a printable list with suggestions of what can be included. I found that these were helpful and set to work enlarging our Circle Time.

Our time of reading the Bible, memorisation and prayer was not something that I wanted to change but I added in a chapter from a missionary story. My 12 year old then left to do his other work but the younger two had a time together with me. We went over the date as this seemed to be causing some difficulty,

sang a verse of a hymn that we had sung in church, went over the names of the Tudor and early Stuart monarchs, looked at some art cards
 and read a story.  This has worked really well. The children seemed to have much more idea about the date. The monarchs seemed quite easy to learn, at least for the six year old. We changed the hymn verse weekly to familiarise the children with more of the hymns we sing. They have been found singing these on their own.

After the summer, I am hoping to add more into our Circle Time, probably a poem to learn and possibly some work on astronomy whilst keeping most of the other components in place.

In view of our previous experiences, we don't call the session Circle Time. In fact, it doesn't really have a name. One of the great things about this book is its flexibility; it deals with calling the session by a different name, different numbers and ages of people in the session and how to manage very young children during Circle Time as well as very different length sessions.

Yes, this dealt with something that we had done before but has given me ideas about how to enrich and extend this. It is a helpful read especially for newer home educators.

Circle Time: Plan for the best part of your school day is a 32 page e-book in PDF format costing $4.99 (£3.28).


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Five days of booklists

At the beginning of August, I am hosting a  series: 5 days of booklists.

The plan is that these will be
  • picture books
  • early chapter books
  • other children's chapter books
  • books about home education
  • reference books for use at home.
Obviously, I haven't seen every book in the world! What is my qualification for writing this? I'm not a librarian but I love books and have children ranging from 19 to 4. The books will reflect my personal likes and dislikes. There are some books which my children have loved but which are tedious, to say the best, to read aloud. There are other worthy books which are written in such a pedestrian way that I haven't enjoyed them and so would not recommend them to others.

I write as a Christian so try to avoid books that exalt evil. However, many children's books have phrases that I prefer not to read out, for example, "lucky" or "my goodness". I haven't eliminated all books with these phrases as they are easy to edit whilst reading.

The first three lists will be by far and away the longest. I wouldn't want as many reference books as picture books and don't want to give the impression that a reference library full is necessary!

As a book lover, I would be delighted if you add your suggestions to the lists. It is always fun to find new favourites.

Hope you join me for this series.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Life doesn't get any simpler; in fact it seems to become more complex. So, one of my tasks for the summer is to think about simplifying. Part of this is working though my priorities as a Christian, wife and mother and part is trying to sort out some little things that make life easier. These are a few thoughts about the latter. Please do add your simplifying tips!
  • Meal plans for when I can't think what to cook, often 6 days out of 7! I usually do this but sometimes slip and it does make days more complicated.
  • Prepared food for after home education groups. I'm not sure whether I'm extra pathetic but I'm always tired after group meetings and it really helps when there is food in the slow cooker or ready to go in the oven
  • Fruit for dessert-healthier and easier.
  • Intentional trips-trips take time, energy and money. They also take time away from learning at home. They can be great but work best if we have a reason for wanting to go; for one of my children, being about history is enough! Generally, though term time trips are best if they re-enforce some learning or to help out with some weak area.
  • Local extra curricular activities-this has saved me so much time. In the last two years, we have walked to extra curricular activities. Not driving miles has saved so much time and money plus the exercise is no bad thing. This won't work for everyone but for us, in greater London, there is a fair amount that can be done within easy walking distance.
  • Explore the local area.
  • Declutter

Do you have any thoughts about freeing up time, from the lesser to the greater?

Monday 22 July 2013

Homeschool Programming

Middle Son is interested in learning how to programme computers so we were  pleased to be given the opportunity to review Homeschool Programming's Java programming courses, the Teencoder Java series.

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 Homeschool Programming is a company which sells products to teach home educated pupils to programme computers. These programmes are designed for students from 4th grade (year 5) to 12th grade (year 13). The four programmes

  • Kidcoder Visual Basic series
  • Kidcoder Web series
  • Teencoder C# series
  • Teencoder Java series
can be used independently. There is no need to complete the Kidcoder courses before going onto the Teencoder series. Each product contains two semester's work. The first semester is more basic and can be used by students with no programming experience whereas the second semester is designed to be used after the first and is more advanced.

The product that we reviewed, Teencoder Java series, is for the older end of the range. The suggested age range is 9th to 12th grade (year 10 to 13). Middle Son is a bit younger than this, being UK year 8 (7th grade) but is particularly interested in computer science.

The Java series has two components each designed to last a semester or term: these are Java programming

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The course comes supported by optional DVDs.

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Each of the chapters is divided into lessons (one to six) and activities (usually one but six in the last chapter of the programming course). The aim is to complete a chapter a week: there are 16 chapters in Java Programming and 15 in Android programming.  The book doesn't assume prior knowledge and starts with the basics of binary code and then high level languages. The first chapter covers the history of Java, the advantages of using it and the ethical use of programming. The activity for the first chapter is to install the Java Development kit and the course files.

From chapter two on Java is used for programming. The instructions are detailed and clear as well as enforcing the logical saving of programmes.

The videos are helpful to re-enforce concepts. I suspect that it is useful to use both the videos and the book to really get to grips with concepts. Middle Son found the formatting of the videos rather disappointing although I had less problem with this. They look like fairly standard Powerpoint presentations with a presenter with an unobtrusive US accent. Unless a child finds reading programming manuals easy, I would advise using the videos alongside the books.

Middle Son did not get as far as using Android Programming. It is necessary to have completed Java Programming before going onto this book. The Android programming course starts by explaining what Android is and why Android applications work on multiple different devices. There is also a useful table with the names of different Android versions something that has power to confuse me when looking at phones. The Android activities include making apps to calculate the distance between two places and  games.

The Android programmes are run on the student's computer on a free emulator rather than on actual Android devices.

The course is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. This page gives more details of computer requirements.

Our thoughts
I would recommend this course although probably for students slightly older than my son. The suggested age range probably means what it says! My son has had experience of programming with C++ but found this programme quite challenging. It was also taking him longer than the suggested time to complete sections. The frequently answered questions section of the website states that the course requires 3-4 hours of work per week to finish in one semester; this may be higher for younger students.

The course is self explanatory and doesn't need a parent to have knowledge of computer programming which is a definite bonus!

From a UK point of view, it would be helpful to be able to purchase the course and videos on line which would avoid expensive shipping fees and the import tax that can be charged on DVDs.

Java Programming  is available at $90 (£58.55 today) for the course and videos. I would recommend the packages including the course and videos. However, the course is available at $75 (£48.79) and the videos separately at $20 (£13.01). Similarly, Android Programming is available at $90 (£58.55) for the course and videos. The course on its own costs $75 (£48.79) and the videos alone cost $20(£13.01). However, the Java Year which comprises both Java Programming and Android Programming costs $155(£100.84) for the courses and video, $130 (£84.58) for the course alone and $30 (£19.52) for the videos alone. Please note that the UK prices are for guide only and obviously vary from day to day.


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Saturday 20 July 2013

Wisdom House Reading Scheme

This year's library scheme, in the UK, is called Creepy House. This isn't a theme that we feel is appropriate for young children: it can be scary and doesn't fit in with the command, in the Bible, to think about things of good report (Philippians 4 v 8). We weren't the only people who were unhappy about this. Joanne, another Christian home educating mother, has set up an alternative reading scheme called Wisdom House Reading.

This scheme will have a couple of newsletters through the summer and certificates for children who complete their reading. The scheme is also open to families with prereaders where read alouds can be counted. It is open to schooled and home educated children.

This seems like a great alternative and we are carefully noting down books! If you are interested check out the Yahoo Group site.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Cats in the garden

London has been hot-really hot for us, up to 31 Celsius. We took pity on the kittens and let them out. They had been really keen to get outside, for the last few weeks and at last, the time arrived.

They climbed

 I wondered whether they would be able to get down but that didn't seem to be a problem.

Probably, even hotter than everyone else with their fur coats.

Saturday 13 July 2013

A week away-the good and the complicated

We've just had a sunny week away in Devon, staying in a house reminiscent of Milly Molly Mandy's "white cottage with a thatched roof".

After a busy few months, it was relaxing to be right in the middle of the countryside and not to have strict time schedules.

We burnt our feet on the hot, red Devon sand
and looked for crabs in rock pools.

We took the younger two to the Dartmoor Miniature Pony Centre. This was really appreciated although probably wouldn't have suited the older children.

Some of the ponies were really small. They would have been far too small for my four year old to ride although they seemed quite happy to be stroked and even have heads laid on their backs.
The Centre also has larger horses,
 indoor and outdoor playareas, other animals

 including some which can be held and animal feeding.

There was time on the River Exe
 and wandering down riverside town streets.

And the complicated? Well getting away for a week with a self employed husband and as a carer for an elderly relative is not simple.
We are grateful for the friends who stayed in our house to cover the evenings and other parts of care that the formal care givers don't cover. However, we are grateful for the respite care givers and all they do to cover meals. 
Oddly, and this is something that I wasn't happy about initially, staying in a house with internet access did make it easier for my husband to get away for a week.

Yes, there were moments, before we left, when I thought that chasing up whether we had been awarded funding for respite care givers, leaving the right food in the fridge and freezer and leaving instructions for the agency wasn't worth it but it was! Yes, and I'm probably writing this to remind myself but also for others reading this who have caring responsibilities. 

Overall, I'm very grateful that we've had a holiday when many won't get away this summer and that unlike many carers, we've been able to have a break.