Friday 27 September 2013

Learning letters outside

We like to take learning outside. Yesterday, having read a story book which showed a letter made with sticks and a feather, the two younger children (aged 6 and 4) and I went outside to make letters. This is such a simple idea but was great fun and a way to enjoy the fine autumn sunshine.

This was so easy and fun. I was particularly impressed with how keen Youngest Son was about this.

Capital A. The book we had been reading, Angelo by David Macaulay, had shown a capital A so I made this to demonstrate the idea to the children.

The first letter Youngest Son created. "M for Mummy".

Younger Daughter started with a lower case i

She followed this up with a capital E.

Youngest Son is into treasure maps so made several x symbols.

Lower case n.

Upper case N.

e from acorns.

r from old leaves

p was made by Younger Son with some help for the curved portion ( a twig with a break or two)

Youngest Daughter made a question mark.

We made several more although not quite the whole alphabet! This did seem a cumbersome way of making words although it would be fun to learn simple words using leaves and twigs. Perhaps, next week.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Living, Home Educating and Caring

As the population gets older, more and more people will become carers. This will, and does, include those of us who home educate...

Today, I'm writing at the Schoolhouse Crew blog. Do go over to read the rest of the article.

Welcome to those readers visiting from the Schoolhouse Crew blog. 

You may enjoy these posts:

Home schooling around many appointments

Three generations celebrate-12 thoughts

Three generation holidays

Not a child

Caring takes time

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Wool-pack

The Wool-pack by Cynthia Harnett is a book that I first read aged about 11. Recently, I discovered it in the local library and had a happy reread.

The Wool-pack won the Carnegie Medal back in the early 1950s.

This is a "living book". A piece of historical fiction set in the reign of Henry VII with carefully researched detail and  occasional black and white drawings.

Nicholas is the son of a wealthy wool merchant from the Cotswolds.  He finds himself concerned about some Italian banker visitors and disliking his father's wool-packer. His father won't listen to his worries so Nicholas and his friend, Hal, have to sort things out. This involves a journey across the south of England, a mysterious barn and a map.

There are some fascinating extras, in particular, the story of Nicholas' arranged betrothal to the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant and the events surrounding Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.

At the end of the book is a postscript explaining which parts of the book are based on fact and which on fiction and where various artifacts can be seen,

I found this book fascinating and recommend it for able readers above about 10. It fits in well with learning about early Tudor England.


Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book because I wanted to reread it. The opinions are all my own and I have only been compensated with the enjoyment of a well written book.

Monday 23 September 2013

Six free Maths resources

These are free added value maths sites that I have either used with my children or plan to use in the future.

Please do comment with your own favourite sites.

Nrich is a UK resource called the Home of rich mathematics. This has sections divided into age groups and challenges that are at different levels of difficulty. The challenges change frequently so it is worth checking back.  I particularly like the balloon game for learning about negative numbers.

Living math is a site dedicated to learning maths in a non-traditional way. There are plenty of ideas about presenting mathematical ideas in different ways and looking out for maths in day to day life.

The Mathematical Association runs the Primary Maths Challenge in the UK which is easily accessed by home educators. There is also a Secondary section to the site.

Khan Academy-this site has videos explaining maths. We haven't used it below age 11 so I don't know how well it works for younger children. For older children, it is a helpful resource for those occasions when parental explanations are not understood or just aren't  clear enough. The only caveat is to make sure that the level is correct-it is fairly easy to pick a video that covers something just a bit to hard or that the child already understands.

Primary resources is a UK site designed for use with children aged 5-11. There are downloads of activity ideas and lesson resources from UK primary school teachers. There is loads on this site-I certainly haven't managed to explore everything on this. The quality of the resources obviously varies but this is well worth exploring for explaining a topic further or making it more interesting.

Primary MathsHomeworkhelp contains practice with basic operations and worksheet generators as well as maths investigations in a game style.

Over to you. Do you have any maths links that you recommend?

Homeschool for Free

Thursday 19 September 2013

The Pumpkin Runner

The Pumpkin Runner, by Marsha Diane Arnold, is a picture book based on a true story of an Australian runner, Cliff Young, who in his sixties won a running race between Sidney and Melbourne. It is featured in volume four of Five in a Row although we did our own unit study.

I read this book with my two younger children aged 4 and 6. This book is an ideal springboard to study Australia but there are also autumnal and mathematical themes.

A kind Australian friend had given us a calendar with pictures of Australian animals. The relevant year was past so we cut and pasted the pictures and talked about marsupials.

Australia is such a memorable shape. My children describe it as the "dog's head". It seemed the right time to colour maps. Both the children are interested in maps and enjoyed finding Australia on a globe. We discussed seasons and months in Australia and the UK. Having Spring in September, October and November is initially a strange concept.

This week had a food theme. The book talks about pumpkins and various dishes made from them. Our pumpkin became soup.
It seemed the right opportunity to make some other Australian food.
Making damper bread-this tasted good but had a dreadful tendency to fall apart.

 Anzac biscuits. This recipe was made by wives and mothers in the First World War to send to sons and husbands fighting in Europe.

Pavlova-not at all healthy but Younger Daughter had wanted to make this for a long time! 

The pumpkin had to earn its keep. Before being consigned to soup it was weighed and measured.

It was drawn,

predictions were made about its contents which were then inspected

and the seeds counted.
I attempted to dry the seeds for bread but they have turned out rather tough and fibrous.

We were also able to use the cut outline to learn about area. We placed the pumpkin on greaseproof paper and drew round the outside. The pumpkin was removed and the paper cleaned before making a grid of 1 centimetre squares which were then counted. The concept of  measuring area was new to Younger Daughter and this was enjoyable way to learn.

This book naturally introduces the theme of perseverance so we talked about this and the analogy of the Christian life being a race.

This was a satisfying and fun way to learn about a different land.
We have previously used books to learn about
World geography
The Arctic

Tuesday 17 September 2013

September inspiration

We are half way through September and yes, it feels like autumn. There are some yummy positives.  Early this morning, my husband and Youngest Son were happily engaged in digging potatoes.

We have the freedom, here in the UK, to home educate but in Germany, home education is not legal. Do remember this family whose children have been removed just because they home educate. I know that not everyone who reads this is a home educator but do consider what it would be like not to have the freedom to make this decision.

Still on the subject of home education, Jacinda at Growing Home has written about the reasons why she and her husband have decided to home educate. Just in case anyone is curious, our reasons are not dissimilar and I wrote about about them in this blog post, some time ago.

Most parents have had times when either they were horribly embarrassed about their own children's behaviour or wondered why others couldn't get their children to behave better. Those of us who have had children for any length of time have probably experienced both feelings and plenty of the former! Kendra has written a thoughtful post about this very subject.

Do pop over to the Metropolitan Tabernacle site to see some short illustrated clips about the important issues of life: What is life, The mystery of death, the House of the Soul and a couple of others.

Back in August, I reviewed a Bible study book called Beauty in the heart.  At that time it was not available in the UK but I'm delighted that stocks of this book, and the book for young men, Because you are strong, will soon be arriving at Ichthus Resources. It isn't yet on the website but do contact Ichthus if you want to order.

Pumpkin-from the shop. Not grown by me!

Monday 16 September 2013

Rain Forest adventures

My youngest son often talks about creatures in the Amazon so I was pleased to have the opportunity of review Rain Forest Adventures by Horace Banner, published by Christian Focus.

Mr Banner was a missionary on the Xingu River which is a tributary of the Amazon. He has written short stories about the animals and birds that he encountered. Each chapter is about a different creature and comprises a story, at least one black and white drawing and a Christian application and Bible verses. The creatures range from the piranha fish to the armadillo. Twenty six different animals are featured.

I read the book myself and am now reading it to my three younger children, aged 13, almost 7 and 4, a chapter a day. The book fits well for the older two and the four year old dips in and out of concentration mainly depending on the animal involved! Personally, I have enjoyed the pictures of life in the rain forest. Some of the illustrations are memorable such as the parasol ants and their industry and the boa constrictor which ended its life as soap suds being a warning to think about the end of life. One story, that of the butterfly or moth, appeared to have a rather Arminian application.

Overall, this is a useful book to read to children. Christian Focus state that it is suitable for reading aloud to 7-9 year olds and for reading independently by 9-12 year olds. This seems a fair estimate although interested children of a slightly younger age will probably also enjoy the book.

The book can obtained from Christian Focus, Amazon and the Christian Bookshop Ossett.

Rain Forest Adventures was provided by Christian Focus for the purpose of the review. The opinions are my own.

Friday 13 September 2013

Student Strengths Report

When I first started home education, it became obvious that the way I learn isn't the same as that of at least one of my children. It was, therefore, useful to be able to review a Student Strengths Report produced by PeopleKeys.

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Rather than have one of the children to use this, I decided to take the on-line assessment myself. Knowing the details of my learning style, seemed to be a useful move in improving my teaching and an insight into the methods that I use to teach.

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The assessment and report are delivered on line.
Initially, I had to take an assessment. Like similar, assessments that I had taken before, the instructions were to answer the questions quickly and not ponder too long about the answers.

Once the assessment was completed, I received my report by e-mail. This is a 34 page report detailing my results and also the importance of these.

The Student Strengths Report has three sections:

  • personality
  • learning
  • thinking

The personality styles are divided into four using the acronym DISC;

D drive, challenges
I influencing, relationships
S steadiness, consistency
C compliance, constriants

Results are presented as a graph which as I, along with most other people, don't have just a one type dominant personality is helpful. The information is followed by boxes presenting characteristics of each personality type: there are pages showing "personality styles at a glance", "overview of this personality system" and then detailed information about each personality type. The section ends with fill in tables which help the user guess the personality style of others and use this information to build relationships.

The learning styles part of the report is presented in a similar style including a graph, for visual learners! Again, this is followed by information including tips for each style and career suggestions. I felt that further questions to help the student with their own learning environment were particularly useful.

The last section is about thinking style. This is divided into

  • literal
  • intuitive
  • theoretical
  • experiential
The Student Strengths Report is recommended for ages 13 to adult. 

The learning styles section was practical in analysing my teaching and tutoring style. I am an auditory learner but looking at the scores use also use visual cues. I have known for years that I concentrate better if I write notes.

What was interesting were the low scores for kinaesthetic learning. Perhaps the most important lesson, for me, is to remember to include kinaesthetic methods of learning. Certainly, when teaching phonics, this is the aspect of learning that I am most likely to forget or think is not relevant. 

What I liked
It was interesting to have this information and particularly the further thoughts that I can work through. In many ways the suggestions for learning were interesting but perhaps things that I should avoid over-doing when tutoring my children who may have different learning styles.

None of the information came as a surprise to me although this might be an effect of my age and having done similar personality scores whilst I was working. 

What I thought could be improved
In the first section, there appeared to be a fair amount of repetition.
Like all these tests, this information is based on a simplistic definition of personality, thinking and learning style. The graphs help with this but obviously only traits that are included in the questions can be featured in the answers.

The Student Strenghts Report has useful insights and will be particularly helpful for young peope who need to understand more about their strengths and how to build on these. It is important to realise that this is just one way of defining personality.

PeopleKeys sell the Student Strengths Report for $20 (£12.65 today but do check the exchange rate for your self). Discounts are available on larger orders.

My fellow crew members have been reviewing the Student Strengths Report and other assessment tools from PeopleKeys including those that are specifically aimed at career choice.


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Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument is a tower built to commemorate the Great Fire of London. Younger Daughter has been studying the Stewart monarchs and their times. Recently, we read about the Great Fire of London which took place from 2nd to 5th September 1666 so a visit to its Monument was in order.

The Monument is built a short walk from the River Thames

and 62 metres from the baker's shop where the fire started. The tower itself is 62 metres tall and, like many post fire buildings, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. 

Climbing the Monument is via a spiral staircase with 311 stairs. 

This is the official count: Younger Daughter attempted to count but lost count when we had to pass people on the narrow stairs.

There are fine views from the top via the protective cage.

 The Gherkin

The Thames and Tower Bridge.

When we reached the bottom again, we were each given a certificate to mark our achievement!

Visiting the Monument doesn't take more than the time to walk up and down the stairs and look around at the top. It was a convenient afternoon trip, for us but could easily be combined with a more lengthy visit such as to the Tower of London or a river trip.

Friday 6 September 2013

Curriculum and money

I am thankful that I am able to buy the curriculum that we need. Yes, like anyone else I have to be sensible but we can buy the curriculum that we need. This isn't the case for everyone. So some of us, at the Schoolhouse Crew are writing about "What if there is no money for homeschool curriculum."

 Here are a few thoughts. I have previously written about 14 ways to save money on home education.

If there isn't money for curriculum, then it is essential to look at priorities.

  • most important subjects
  • most important items of curriculum
  • ages of children-there are plenty of preschool curricula around but it would be easier to do preschool without a written curriculum than to do without a maths book for a teenagers.
  • financial priorities-I guess that we all know people who say that they can't afford a course/curriculum or exams but can afford to go on holiday. This might be a valid choice for them but means that they have chosen not to afford the curriculum, not that they can't afford curriculum. If there is a choice between food and housing costs and curriculum, that really is can't afford.

Free curriculum on the internet
The internet is full of free home education materials. The big downside of this, is that much of it involves printing which is expensive and it also requires internet access which could also be an issue.
I haven't used Easy Peasy which is advertised as a "complete, free on-line Christian homeschool" but have heard good reports from users.

CIMT is a British maths programme which is free on line. Again, I haven't used it although when I was looking over, it certainly looked helpful for subjects that might need re-enforcement or further explanation. Some sections seem to be possible to answer on-line without printing.

Other free stuff
There are other free sources of books/curriculum.

  • the library might not have home education texts but will have read alouds/ a few early readers/art and history books. Yes, you might have to pick and chose. Here, in the UK, there usually aren't fines on children's book withdrawals.
  • shop your bookshelves. Do you have books from your own childhood to read aloud? Do you have an atlas/dictionary/art books already? Is there some curriculum that could be used but hasn't for some reason?
  • often home education groups have give aways when individual members bring along unwanted books. This tends to be rather ad hoc depending on when people turn out.
  • other friends may give or loan books. Home educators usually have some books out on loan!
  • Friends may have the right level maths book that they aren't using this year. 
  • there may be a home education library run by a group or individual.
  • Do you need a curriculum? Is there a subject that you know well and don't really need a curriculum? It is worth checking what is usually taught at a particular age. It may be a confidence boost that you can teach your young child maths or science.
  • Everyday life-there is so much that can be taught from everyday life particularly for younger children. Maths: number of places to lay at the table, skip counting in twos from house numbers, addition and subtraction with blackberries. English: making up stories about their favourite den, reading books, explaining how their model works, writing letters. History: local history-famous people, war memorials, local museums (usually free in the UK), family history and family tress. Geography: road atlases, maps in local parks, making a map of the local area on a large piece of paper or even on the ground, friends from other countries, missionaries in other countries. 
We haven't quite got to exams as yet but they are on the horizon. The way that UK exams work is that questions are specifically around a particular syllabus so it is essential to buy the correct book, for the right subject, from the right board. Home educators also have to pay to sit exams. So far, there hasn't been a cheap way around this. Of course, some books can be bought second hand although it is important to be careful about editions.
My understanding is that from September 2013, colleges will be funded for 14-16 year old home educated students who take courses and exams with them. This is new and sounds complex but might provide a cheaper way into the exam system.

Above all, pray. 

Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. 
Matthew 6 v8

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Organising your life: home school

Welcome back to this five day series hosted by Caroline at the Joyful Keeper. This is blog hop is about organising life. I'm a learner at this and am looking forward to learning from the other ladies who are posting. Some of my posts will be ideas that have worked well for me and others are more about where I would like to be! I will try to be clear about what has definitely worked and what is just aspirational.

The topics are

Organising home education is definitely an area where one woman's meat is another's poison.

I love planning-months in advance. Planning closer loses it appeal. So I will happily look at curriculum in the New Year and in the Easter break but working on something the day before just becomes stressful. So, I try to choose the curriculum that we will use early and then make lists of books to read aloud and how to tackle unit studies. Inevitably, though, I don't get it all done in time and some planning just can't be done ahead.

Last year, I worked out which maths topics Middle Son would study in each week, forgetting that the beauty of home education is that we can go faster on easier topics and slower on those that he finds more difficult. This planning was just a waste of time. It might have worked in a classroom but not in a home situation.

We use a timetable for our formal learning time because this works for us. This means that we always have a Bible time, English and maths. Reading after lunch is fairly fixed as are the slots for Middle Son's German and science. There is a bit more flexibility around the afternoon but there is a timetable. 

Each Thursday evening, I work on the following week's timetable: the detail of the maths to be covered, the books that we will study and whether we are going to a group or outing, that week and the time it will take. Sometimes, the timetable needs altering-the week that we found that there was a documentary on William Tyndale on BBC i-player, we ditched the usual plans for an afternoon to watch this. Youngest Daughter, who had been learning about the Tudors anyway, then went on to make some outside art about Tyndale being burned at the stake.

The weekly timetable is our servant. It can be changed or ignored but usually we follow it. We would ditch the timetable if

  • someone is ill
  • something exciting happens, for example, when a swarm of bees landed in the garden
but more often than not it is helpful.
A plan for each week is particularly useful if
  • I have to take Grandma who lives with us to an urgent appointment
  • I'm not feeling well/lacking imagination/life and grey weather have caught up with me.
Having a plan then means that education carries on as normal and this is helpful for the children and me. 

Just a thought, when we first started, I worked on lesson plans: educational objectives, structured learning time and using a book from a school, even wondered whether I ought to add in a plenary session with my then 8 year old, 2 year old and baby. Of course, the plenary session got scrapped fairly fast but I don't do formal lesson plans now.

 Usually, I know what the aim of a particular slot is, for example, for Youngest Son to practice a sound and correct formation of the letter/letters involved. The relevant sound is on the timetable and usually, a note about how I will teach this, for example, Finger Phonics book and find objects around the house which include the relevant sound but I might not include writing the letter/s on the white board as this is something that happens daily. For Younger Daughter, the note might be even shorter: phonics as I am using a very structure programme with her. For Middle Son, a slot might just say "German" as this is taught on line but for chemistry, there might be a topic/exercise and video link. 

The plan is a servant not a master.

Now I must do my weekly plan!

Do pop over to the other ladies who are writing about organising home school.




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Please join us. There will be opportunities to comment and to link up your blog posts  at the Joyful Keeper. life.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Organising your life: meals

Welcome back to this five day series organised by Caroline at the Joyful Keeper. This is all about organising life. I'm a learner at this and am looking forward to learning from the other ladies who are posting. Some of these posts will be ideas that have worked well for me and others are more about where I would like to be! I will try to be clear about what has definitely worked and what is just aspirational.

The topics are

Today, we are thinking about organising meals.

Anyway, a few basics.
We eat three meals a day and in terms of planning, we try to have these are roughly the same time each day. 

We have family devotions after one meal. This has become more challenging as our household has grown. For years, we had family devotions at breakfast time but then we became a three generational family. 7.30 breakfast wasn't suitable for everyone. So, family devotions has moved usually to after the evening meal when it is more likely that we will all be at the meal. I'm not sure that this is a change that I like but breakfast has become more fragmented over the years and this is what seems to work for us.

We eat lunch and dinner together, well, everyone who is at home. This means that numbers do vary from five to ten or more when we have visitors.

Hospitality is a Biblical command but doesn't means that visitors can't share everyday food with us. Of course, we like to make special meals but often one of the  teenagers will want an extra friend to stay to a meal. This is a time to say "yes" even if it means ecking out the meal with extra beans and veg.

I find menu planning useful mainly because otherwise I have a habit of only buying enough food for half a week. So, there is a plan with days of the week and main meal items against each day. I rarely, cook in the order set on the list but it is useful to know that we do have enough food.

Some days do need specific meals. I always cook food for the Lord's Day on Saturday. This is almost always a casserole with baked potatoes which can go in the oven while we are at church.

Days with outings or home education group meetings end much better if there is food at home in the slow cooker. 

What is on the menu?
I don't think that our meals are especially exciting but since I like new ideas, it seems fair to share some of our basics. Please feel free to comment with more ideas.

  • casserole
  • curry-sometimes I make my own but the curries in jars are tasty with chick peas especially if they are cooked for longer in the slow cooker
  • pasta and tomato sauce. A little bacon or fish can be added to the sauce.
  • Roast meat
  • baked potatoes, ham and salad. New potatoes can be substituted for the baked.
  • chicken Caesar salad.
  • home made pizza
  • fish/ham plus potatoes and vegetables
  • chille con carne
  • spaghetti bolonaise
  • jerk chicken
We've recently removed several items from the list, on health grounds, but they are cheap and cheerful! These are
  • quiche
  • homity pie
  • sausages-well, some family members still get these sometimes.
  • fish and chips-again, some people do have these sometimes or there would be a revolt!  I do use oven cooked fish and chips. The other family members have fish cooked in the oven and boiled potatoes.
  • vegetable pie
We are trying to have mainly fruit for dessert and this is certainly easy. We also eat 
  • home made soup-this is surprisingly quick, easy and cheap. Favourites are lentil, tomato, leek and potato and broccoli/sprout and stilton.
  • pitta and humus
  • boiled egg
  • sardines on toast
  • scrambled egg
  • bread rolls and ham/cheese
  • English muffins
The BBC Good Food website is useful for new ideas. The healthy section is particularly useful.

This blog hop has been arranged by Caroline of the Joyful Keeper.


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Please join us. You can comment on any of the blogs or share posts on Caroline's linky at Joyful Keeper.