Friday 31 October 2014

John Knox and Reformation Day

31st October is Reformation Day. Today is the 497th anniversary of Martin Luther pinning his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church. Apparently, there is some debate as to whether the theses were actually pinned to the door but they supposedly were sent out around this date.

We celebrated Reformation Day thinking not about Martin Luther but the Scottish reformer, John Knox. I had recently purchased the biography of John Knox by Simonetta Carr in the Christian biographies for Young Readers series.

These are beautiful books with plenty of colour illustrations, a time line, map and additional notes. I have certainly learned much from these books. I have recently acquired all the books in the series and am slowly looking through them. They will be given to the children, even more slowly, on suitable occasions so they can be savoured and explored properly. I am impressed with the quality of the books that I have seen so far. The John Knox biography has a recommended age from 7 to 12. The lower age is probably correct but adults who are not historians would also enjoy and learn from these books.

The children had some friends round so we decided to have a John Knox treasure hunt. The eleven questions were all around the life of John Knox-the correct answer leading to the next clue. There were also misleading directions for incorrect answers. This is real life so there were some children who didn't get the answer quite right so looked carefully in the wrong place! The tea towel drawer did have a clue

and the treasure was in the microwave.

We made shortbread to fit with the Scottish theme.
The idea was to dip the shortbread in melted chocolate but I have to report that the shortbread collapsed on any attempts at dipping so it had dollops of chocolate instead. It wasn't exactly the Great British Bake Off but the shortbread did disappear!

I'm a bit embarrassed to report that we played musical galleys. John Knox was a galley slave for seventeen months, rowing for the French. The game was well received and allowed some energy expenditure but I did wonder whether it was in poor taste.

Do you celebrate Reformation Day and how do you celebrate?

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Wednesday 29 October 2014

Treasure Hunts!

My children love treasure hunts so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review some treasure hunts from Clued in Kids.
Clued In KidsReview
The aim of Clued in Kids is to teach academics as well as social skills and being part of a team by means of treasure hunts.

We were able to review Multiplication Dragons
Clued In KidsReview
and the Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt.
 Clued In KidsReview
Multiplication Dragons is actually five treasure hunts covering the 2x to 6x table. I am keen to re-enforce the tables for Younger Daughter so this was ideal. In fact, all three of the younger children (aged 14, 8 and 5) worked on these together. Middle Son helped with the reading and guided his younger siblings.

The Thanksgiving Treasure hunt probably seems like a strange choice for English people but the children have learned about Thanksgiving. I hope to read Cranberry Thanksgiving at our home education group in a few weeks so brushing up on Thanksgiving seemed a useful choice.
Again, all three children worked on this as a collaborative effort. 

The Treasure Hunts that we used are suitable for a variety of ages. Children who are not competent readers will need help. They are ideal for siblings of different ages to work on together. The recommended ages for Multiplication Dragons is from 7 to 9 and for the Thanksgiving Hunt from 4 to 104. Realistically, none of my four year olds would have been able to manage the Thanksgiving Hunt alone as a reasonable degree of literacy is required in order to be able to fill in a simple word puzzle.

The treasure hunts are downloadable as PDFs. Once I had downloaded them, I printed them. The A4 sheets are then cut into two. Each piece of paper has a clue plus a note for the parent about where to hide the clue. There is a space for a name at the top so that older children can be given more difficult clues. We didn't use this as the children worked together.
There is also a helpful summary sheet which needs to be kept well away from participating children!
Clued In Kids says that the hunts take less than 10 minutes to set up and I found this to be accurate. They are very easy to use. There seem to be able 12 clues per hunt. 

They also note that if some place happens to be absent in your particular home then to hold onto the clue, ask the child to do something different instead and then give them the clue. The only places that caused us any difficulty were the mail box and pantry as we have neither of these. We used the letter slot
instead of the mail box for clues although it wasn't large enough when required for treasure so this went in a nearby umbrella stand. A food cupboard was a suitable substitute for the pantry.

There were a variety of hiding places:
with a plant,
with the socks,
in the dishwasher and more.

There were clues to look at in the mirror,
clues that required a little maths,
clues that meant activity
and clues which involved words.

Of course, there was treasure. The type of treasure is at the discretion of the person setting up the hunt. For the 2x table, I used some little books which I thought would be a hit but no, the children preferred to have food so I resorted to crisps (potato chips) which worked well for the other hunts.
What did we think?
Not surprisingly, the hunts were popular with the children. They made a break in the day and were fun. They are easy to set up.
What do they cost?
The Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt costs $5.99 (about £3.74) and the Multiplication Dragons cost $19.99 (about £12.48).
Clued in Kids also produce some seasonal clue books and cards. Do pop over the the Clued in Kids website to see the range of treasure hunts available.
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Tuesday 28 October 2014

Autumn in the country

This morning, things didn't go to plan: no one seemed ready, there seemed no end of "emergency" cleaning to do and when we eventually left the traffic was slow. I thought an autumn day outside would be worth the minor hassles and it was.

The sun shone.

There were trees to climb.

Deer grazing.

Deer camouflaged.

Autumn berries

The outside was so easy and relaxing: worth the hassle to get out and an antidote to the illness and business of the previous weeks.

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.
Psalm 19v1

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Friday 24 October 2014

First half of term

Being English, we divide our learning into terms: Autumn, Spring and Summer. I don't know what happened to Winter but it has never existed as a term. We are just finishing the half term that we started in September. Next week is half term which is a week's break.

This last half of term, has been a settling down time. Middle Son has had an additional tutor and a new on-line tutor for history. Younger Daughter has started her eagerly awaited piano lessons.

We have fine tuned our resources, mainly, adding a spelling programme for the two youngest. None of this family could be described as strong spellers. I am thankful for spell check. Traditional spelling lists and workbooks just weren't working for the children and I can understand why. So many seem to have lists of words to remember with no rationale. For example, verbs where the last letter is or isn't doubled before adding -ing. We are now using All about Spelling. So far, so good! It has a logical, multisensory approach which seems to make sense.

Science has involved making bird feeders.

We are using the Apologia Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. We are enjoying this in many ways but I am finding that I have to translate what we read from American birds to UK examples. Has anyone else in the UK used this book. Any advice?

Maths has involved workbooks (Mousematics and New Maths Horizons), various manipulatives-buttons are the current favovurite, games-Time Lotto and Sum Swamp, treasure hunts from Clued in Kids to help with tables (review soon!)

and reenforcement on the computer with IXL (another review soon).

The children are loving their self paced history from Veritas.

and the literature which goes with this. Currently, we are reading Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield.

We had a trip to the Tower of London with friends from the home education group.

Poppies in the moat which commemorate the First World War dead.

I'm listening to a prayer meeting talk from a London church. I don't know the family concerned nor any more details but this sounds worrying whatever your views on discipline. Please pray.

We are looking forward to our half term break, at home, and hopefully, some battery recharging and cleaning, cooking, planning, tidying, decluttering....
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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Opportunity and News

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of reviewing products for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.
Review Crew
Over that time, I have learned much more about the home education materials around and had the opportunity to use some of these in my own home. This year, we are using several products that either I have reviewed or that have been recommended in the reviews of other Crew members.

Now there is an opportunity for home education bloggers to join the team. Details are available at the Schoolhouse Crew blog. My time with the Crew has been great. The leadership is supportive; there is a helpful members' forum; the opportunity to learn more about blogging and of course, the reviews of some excellent products.

Sadly though, I have decided not to reapply for the 2015 Crew. Middle Son is preparing for UK exams which means that he has to use set UK books so not a time for him to be involved in reviews. Younger Daughter is making progress with the resources we are using at present and for a variety of reasons, I am not too keen to have to leave these to try review curricular materials at present. Books are fine but I'm less keen to swap major subject resources.

Life has also become busier with an increasingly frail, elderly Grandma living with us. So, after the next few weeks, when I have three up coming reviews, there will be no Schoolhouse Reviews. I plan to keep a beady eye on the Schoolhouse Crew site as it is such an excellent source of information.

Do think about applying if you are a blogger. I've loved my time with the Crew and if my circumstances were different would gladly be part of the 2015 team!

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Monday 20 October 2014

Middlebury Interactive Spanish-a review

Spanish has many advantages for us: a useful language which the children can have the opportunity to speak with friends at church and elsewhere and a language which is phonetically less complicated than many. My younger two children have had a little exposure to Spanish from friends and a little formal learning. This seemed a suitable time to extend this so I was pleased to have the opportunity to  review Middlebury Interactive Languages.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive have on-line courses in four languages:

The courses have different levels. We reviewed the K-2 course which is the equivalent to year 1 to year 3 in the UK. The other language courses start with grade 3-5 work.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
We received a login which took us to a welcome page. From this page, we were able to access the lessons. There are usually six lessons per unit around a theme: greetings, numbers, family, colours, school and review. These six units make up a semester when used twice a week. In the semester there are 35 lessons. There are two semesters available to purchase. I reviewed the first semester. This assumes no prior knowledge of Spanish.

A typical lesson would include an introduction with a learning objective e.g. I can name different colours. I can name my favourite colour. This might be followed by a picture. When the child clicks on the picture, the appropriate Spanish word is said.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

This is followed by a story in Spanish using an immersive approach.

and then a story re-cap where the child has to listen for the words which they are learning, for example, the words for colours. This is followed by more exercises to practice the words using interactive screens. As in this example, these are often related to the story which the child has heard.

 Finally, the child says and records the word and can compare their pronunciation to that of the actor on the programme. Other lessons might include songs, worksheets short videos about the culture and an end of unit test. The cultural videos include topics such as pinatas, family blankets and school uniforms and buses. These have accompanying quizzes. At the end of each unit is an explanation and translation of the whole of the story.

There is a separate gradebook section with scores from quizzes.

Middlebury recommend that Elementary children use the programme twice or three times per week.

The activities and story are accompanied by colourful graphics.

I used this course with Younger Daughter aged eight. She had done some Spanish before so was familiar with most of the vocabulary for the first few units. I felt that this was helpful revision for her. Sadly, Younger Daughter was not keen on the programme mainly because she found the immersion Spanish of the story frustrating. She felt that the only words for which an explanation was given were those that she already knew and not the main portion of the story which was a mystery to her. The explanation of the story in lesson 6 of each unit was helpful but was too late to avoid her frustration.

Although Younger Daughter was not keen on the course, overall, I think that the Middlebury Interactive K-2 Spanish is a helpful introduction to Spanish. Her younger brother, aged five, enjoyed watching the videos and perhaps, it would have been better to have used the course with him. The advantages of this course is that it is simple to use even for a parent with very little Spanish, it is both visual and auditory, it includes information about the culture and real Spanish stories appropriate for younger children.

Middlebury Interactive costs $119 (about £73.58 currently) per semester.

To learn more about Middlebury Interactive:
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