Friday 28 November 2014

Tweaking the Curriculum

We are almost at the end of the first term of this year and it is time to reassess. There are a few changes. I posted in the summer about my plans for Year One and Year Three. I didn't post about Middle Son who is starting work for IGCSEs. We haven't changed much of his work but have made some little changes for the younger two who are aged eight and five.

We have finished Leading Little Ones to God and are now doing some readings about the prophecies about the Lord Jesus. I need to find something else for next term: Vreugdenhil's Bible History told to our Children is a possibility although I wish that someone would translate it again. It was translated from Dutch presumably by a native Dutch speaker rather than an English speaker and sometimes the translation grates! I do like the content though.

The most major change is that we have added a spelling programme, All About Spelling (AAS). I'm am using this for both the younger two children. We have been using this since just before half term. Generally, I am delighted with this.
AAS is multi-sensory and goes right back to the start of spelling. We use it daily for about 15 minutes. This needs to be one to one so it takes me about 30 minutes a day to use with both children. There is plenty of drill and review plus daily practice writing words or short phrases.
I'm not sure that this would be the right programme to use for strong spellers but for anyone who finds spelling difficult, AAS is ideal.

In terms of readers, Younger Daughter has read some "real books" alongside her reader. I hope, and expect, that the trend to proper books will continue. Youngest Son has needed some variety with his Hooked on Phonics so we have also used Jolly Phonics and Oxford Reading Tree readers.

We took some time out from Galore Park maths for Younger Daughter to use New Maths Frameworking Step-Up workbook by Collins which is a KS3 remedial book (yes, I know she is in KS2 but this was a thought out decision). It worked well for a time, being well presented but then we found that it really wasn't at all challenging. Younger Daughter has now gone back to the Galore Park Junior Maths 1 and this seems to be working well.

Youngest Son has also had a break from his Mousematics to use a Collins New Primary Maths Activity Book 2A. This is well presented and is going well. We try to play maths games several times a week as no one really thinks they are work.

We are using the Apologia Flying Creatures bookbut it has been complicated as many of the birds to which it refers aren't found in the UK. I try to alter the examples as we go along but this has been a challenge. We probably need to do some more bird watching to help this along.

The Veritas Self-Paced continues to work well.
We have also been learning about the First World War. It is time to put the First World War on one side and do another project. I have another, non-historical, project lined up for the rest of this term and a geographical project for the start of the next.

Legends and Leagues plus the workbook has been working well. We added some clay work. Thank you to Beth, at As He leads is Joy, for the idea.
In case this isn't clear, this represents a hill, a mountain, a valley and a river.
Next term, we hope to add a country project.

Spanish hasn't gone terribly well, this term. I need to think though Spanish again but might put it on hold for a term. Younger Daughter is very keen to learn British Sign Language and a DVD is on its way. 

Physical Activity
Younger Son has started to play football. He loves this and this is definitely something that we plan to continue. Of course, we have carried on with our many park visits and walks.

Do feel free to add suggestions. I love to know about curriculum that has worked well for others. At present, I would like to add in something about money management. Any suggestions?

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Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Ups and Downs of being a Carer and Home Educator

For sometime, I have been both a carer and home educator. One of the children's Grandparents lives with us. Our three generational household has given the children an opportunity to get to know and spend time with their Grandmother in a way that would not otherwise have happened. As time passes though, the caring side does get more complex and time consuming.

This is a reflection on a complicated day! Thankfully, they aren't all this complex.

First down or maybe it was an up: I remember that I haven't arranged for the careworker to come early before a hospital appointment. Probably really an up, as there is more time for me to work with the children. Amazingly, we manage to get through Bible time, reading, spelling and maths.

Second down: Middle Son's science class starts before I have to get Grandma out. The teacher and equipment have to be moved to get a zimmer frame through.

Second up: We have Veritas self-paced history and Reading Eggs for the two younger children.

Third up: My husband works from home so the younger children don't have to come to the hospital.

Fourth up: the day is cold but sunny.

Fourth down: the wrong wheelchair has been put in the car. This wheelchair has tyres that have been known to slip off. We have a spare to use until it is repaired but when I park, it becomes obvious that the wrong chair is in the car. I pray and move the chair very cautiously. Putting the tyres back on with someone in a wheelchair is complicated and not good for backs.

Major up: At the hospital, no one seems to mind or notice that we are late! Phew.

Should have expected down: the appointment takes longer than expected. Go back to feed the meter. Why haven't I got round to reapplying for a blue badge?

Major praise: we get back to the car with the tyres still on the wheelchair.

Get home and my husband and children have got lunch. Another praise.

Expected downpoint: I don't finish lunch in time to start the afternoon's activities at the time I had planned. Tired! Read aloud time takes over. Finish Theras goes to the play and start A bear called Paddington.

Swimming lessons: out again.
Down point: realise that the main meal has to be early. Last week, I had a long discussion with the agency who can't get care workers out at the preferred time so now they are sometimes going to come early. In my ignorance, I thought that the carers had to come when Grandma wanted but practically, this doesn't work out so we have to have an early meal.

Up: Middle Son phones me while I'm out to volunteer to do the meal. Yes, please!

Up: we just about manage to get through the meal before the care worker arrives.

Down: I try to be clever and order a book on my phone before going to the prayer meeting. Something wrong with ordering on the phone so a bit of a fail.

Down: housework was a bit lacking.

Up: managed to get to the prayer meeting and stay awake.

Down: bed at 1am again!

Overall, there were more positives than negatives and I'm a born pessimist. I am grateful for strength. It isn't glamorous being a carer and not appreciated. I've often sat in church and felt bad that I can't do useful Christian service. Occasionally, not often, to be honest, I wonder about my relinquished career. Yet, this is, for now what God has called me to do. 

I will bless the Lord at all times and His praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
Psalm 34v1

Do you have days like this? Perhaps you are another carer. Please share about how you manage the complicated days.

Linked to

Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth

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Friday 21 November 2014

Cookie presents

Last year, we made bath bombs on a semi-industrial scale.

This year, we wanted to make something different but again something that was relatively easy to make. We decided to make up jars filled with mixture which could easily be transformed into cookies.

We chose a favourite recipe, Delia Smith's Chocolate Chip Ginger Nuts, and soon realised that we needed to double up the recipe to fill the jars.

1 litre Kilner jar
Dry ingredients for favourite cookie recipe: we used a funnel to insert everything apart from the chopped chocolate.
Write out instructions for recipe. Note the instructions had to be altered to state that wet ingredients need to be added. In our case, golden syrup and butter. Younger Daughter wrote out the first set of instructions but we plan for her to type out another set that can just be printed off. I don't see the educational or other value of writing out the same instructions multiple times!

We have listed the ingredients in case of allergies and these need to be wrapped carefully as the jar is glass. Overall, though we are pleased with how these look.

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Tuesday 18 November 2014

Cranberry Thanksgiving

This autumn, I have been using some Five in a Row books to read and spark activities for a home education group we attend.

This time, we read Cranberry Thanksgiving
which I was able to borrow from the local home education library. This seems a strange choice for English home educators but it is a book that has been a favourite with my children and covers topics that are relevant today.

We talked about the Pilgrim Fathers, religious freedom and how non-conformists had to meet before the 1688 Act of Toleration.

We talked about cranberries and how they are harvested. We cut one open to look at the air sacs
and floated them.
Some people even tasted them.

Using some cranberry juice that I had boiled before, the reaction with vinegar, lemon and sodium bicarbonate was explored. Cranberries contain anthrocyanins which change colour with pH. This is very similar to the well known red cabbage pH indicator activity. Red cabbage also contains anthrocyanins. 
 In the photo, the saucer at the back has had sodium bicarbonate added, that on the left vinegar and the saucer on the right is a control. 
The photograph doesn't show the bubbling when sodium bicarbonate was added to the cranberries. Cranberries are presumably acidic and when sodium bicarbonate is added carbon dioxide is released. I didn't do the test for carbon dioxide. Supporting the acidity of cranberries is their bright red colour. Anthrocyanins are red in acidic conditions and interestingly, cranberries only grow in acidic soil.

The book has some silhouettes. The children used black card to make silhouettes of their own design, stuck them on white card and used either felt tip pens or oil pastels to colour the background. Trees were rather popular.

Of course, there was cranberry loaf from the secret recipe, at the end of the book, to sample. I must say that this was more popular with adults than children!

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Monday 17 November 2014

Blue Ribbon Awards

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards

The current year of reviews for the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has finished. The Crew all had the chance to vote for their favourite products in various categories and for an overall winner. This post is linked up to the Crew post with the results.

Here are my personal favourites. Do remember that I, and everyone else on the Crew, haven't reviewed every product. A selection of Crew members reviews each product.

Our top pick has to be Veritas Self-Paced History. We are currently using the New Testament, Greece and Rome programme
but the children have their eye on the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation course for next year. 
The children love the games, the characters and the history song. I love the fact that I am learning too and that the children are enjoying and retaining so much history. A big plus is that I have no preparation to do. We are using the optional recommended historical fiction and have found some great new books. 
My review is here.

We reviewed a couple of products from Maestro Classics: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel Maestro Classics Review
and My Name is Handel. The children have listened to these time and again. We have gone on to buy Swan Lake. Younger Daughter had the chance to see Swan Lake earlier in the year and having heard this meant that she understood so much more about the plot and background. 

WriteShop is another product that has found its place into our regular curriculum. This week, the younger two have had fun making comic strips. I like the way that this programme encourages the children to write in a variety of different genres. See my review here.

If He had not come is a recent review of the lovely Christmas picture book that we hope to read again as Christmas approaches. Christmas Book Review

Clued in Kids let us review Treasure Hunts. These proved a fun way to re-enforce tables learning and were enjoyed by Middle Son aged 14 who helped his younger siblings as well as by the youngest two. 

Do pop over to the Crew page to see who the overall Crew winners were. I purposely wrote this before I read the post so I'm going over to see too!
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Wednesday 12 November 2014

November Read Alouds

Read aloud books take a fair amount of the day here: over breakfast, at the beginning of our time of formal education, early in the afternoon and at bed time.

So what is the current reading?

  • Follow the dream: the story of Christopher Columbus by Peter Sis. This a book from the home education library which I have read to Youngest Son so many times that he almost knows it by heart.

  • Where the poppies now grow by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey-for Remembrance Day.

  • Our Island Story audiobook. This is the famous 1905 book by Henrietta Marshall.

  • Leading Little Ones to God- Miriam Schooland. This is a battered and loved book but really for children aged 5+ not tiny ones.

  • Poetry particularly from 100 best poems for children, Now we are Six (A.A. Milne) and Kings and Queens (E and H Farjeon).

  • Theras and his town by Caroline Dale Snedeker. This is one of the literature selection which goes with the Veritas self paced history and is historical fiction about Athens and Sparta. I recommend looking at the Veritas catalogue for book ideas. 

  • Taking Root-Diana Kleyn. This book has short stories about how people came to know the Lord.

  • Five have a mystery to solve This series is by Enid Blyton, for course. 

  • Elephants in the East Lucy Daniels. From the Animal Ark series and tells the story of rescuing elephants from poachers.
Do you have any read aloud suggestions? 

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Tuesday 11 November 2014

IXL-Maths and Language Arts-a review.

Christmas Book Review
IXL is an on-line maths and language arts practice site. Its motto is Practice that feels like play. 

The IXL maths site is customised for different countries:

  • US
  • UK
  • Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Singapore
  • Europe
  • South Africa
  • India
The UK maths site covers reception to year 13 (age 4 to 18). It is aligned to the National Curriculum and of course, covers UK money and metric measurements. It is not necessary to stick with one year's work. One of my children used two adjacent years but we could have used more.

IXL language arts is hosted on the US site and is for grades two to eight (years three to nine). Language arts isn't a term that we use much in the UK but seems to cover grammar, punctuation and vocabulary. I was able to access this site for the review and contacted IXL about general access to the language arts from the UK. This is their reply:

At this time we only offer English Language Arts for the US edition of IXL, though we hope to have that available for the UK edition and aligned to UK standards soon.

In the meantime, customers wanting to access English Language Arts would want to create a separate US membership to do so.

Anyone from the UK who wants to look at the language arts part of the site should scroll down the IXL landing page until they find the list of editions at the foot of the page.

I used IXL with my five and eight year old. My five year old used the year one maths and did a little work from the year two. My eight year old used the year three maths and grade two language arts.

I already had an IXL password. Each child has an individual secret word (set up by the parent) and has individual scores kept. A weekly email is sent to the parent with details of the time spent by each child on the site and their scores.

Once on the site, the year can be chosen.

IXL is primarily a review site. However, it has picked up odd items that I haven't taught, for example, my youngest was quite happy doing subtraction if it was set up horizontally but didn't realise that the sum could also be set out vertically. The way that we use the site is that the children are taught their maths for the day and do some practice in their books. One of them then practices on IXL. This is useful in several ways: I can teach the other child while some useful re-enforcement goes on.
Some year one topics, seemed to need very little teaching and we went straight onto practice about, for example, position of objects.

One feature that helps independence is that in the first three years of the programme, there is an option to have the problem read aloud. I found that Younger Son tried to read the problems first. I found that he was able to be much more independent with the site a year after he first used it.

Each topic is divided up into a series of subtopics:

There is no need to tackle the topics in any particular order.

Each subtopic has scores up to 100 although I don't think that we have found any topic with 100 questions! If mistakes are made, the number of questions seems to increase. The section over 90 is called the Challenge Zone.
Children win awards for number of questions answered, time spent and skills mastered. Each level has a different theme to the awards. This is the year one award screen.

The Language Arts are arranged similarly, having multiple choice questions up to a score of 100.

When any topic is finished there is a congratulations page:

What did we think?
The site is useful for review. It is attractively presented and the children, particularly my five year old, liked earning the rewards.

I also reviewed IXL, last year and this was a programme that we used once the review period was over to help re-enforce mathematical concepts.

It isn't a full teaching programme although mistakes are explained. This really wasn't an issue as I prefer to teach the children maths myself but it is useful not to have to invent every practice question.

The only downside that we found was that Younger Son wasn't keen to work on a different year as it meant that he had to work on a level where he hadn't yet acquired any awards!

I am looking forward to the Language Arts and Maths being all on the UK site.

Recommended programme!

The cost of a UK maths subscription is £7.99 per month or £59 per year for one child. Additional children can be added at £2 per month per child or £20 per year per child.

 IXL have said that UK customers wishing to access Language Arts, at present, need to do this by making a separate US account. The cost of US membership is $9.95 per month or $79 per year for one child.

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Friday 7 November 2014


We've been enjoying autumn, in the town and going outside every day.

There was renewed interest in outside art and plenty of choice of leaves.

Very recently, we have started to use All about Spelling. It seems to have a slow start, almost too easy as it starts with letter sounds which the younger children know well. Still, I think that the systematic approach will be helpful. Recently, I found a fascinating article about why children can't spell and advocating making learning spellings more interesting using an etymological approach. Now to work out how to put this into practice.

All about Spelling has a particularly useful post outlining the components of the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading and spelling. This approach is used particularly for children who find reading and spelling difficult. In retrospect, I would have used a scripted method to teach reading which uses this approach. Even main stream synthetic phonics schemes seem to miss some of these components, in my opinion.

I love reading about books so was delighted to find 1001 Children's Books you must read before you grow up in the local library. This divides children's books into ages and gives a synopsis of each. There are many books that we love included but it is also helpful to read about books to look out for in the library and to be reminded to dig some out from our shelves. The summary also provide a convenient way of finding which books we want to avoid.

Home educating families are usually one income families. Additionally, the house has heavy wear and tear and in winter, it may need heating for longer than if the family is out all day plus educational resources cost money. This means that home educating mothers are often some of the most frugal people around. Jen, a home educating mother of ten has written about how she saves over £3000 a year on groceries.

Coming up to Remembrance Sunday, we have been reading an old family letter about how a great-great-great Uncle was torpedoed in the First World War, how he survived, was rescued by a dirty container ship with insufficient food for those picked up and arrived safely in Canada. This man was a Christian believer who was distressed by the behaviour of those on the ship around him but was able to hold a thanksgiving service, as well as start regular services, on the rescue boat. It all seems so much more real when reading an actual letter from a relative.
The remembrance poppies at the Tower of London are worth seeing although currently due to be taken down next week.

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Wednesday 5 November 2014

If He had not come-a review

Finding books that I like about the nativity of the Lord Jesus and the general theme of Christmas can be challenging. It isn't easy to find books which don't have pictures of the Lord and don't concentrate on the trivia surrounding the season. So, I was interested but cautious about reviewing If He had not Come from David Nicholson. Hopeful that it would be reverent and that it would avoid the tinsel.

If He had not come is a just over 30 page hard back picture book. The book was originally published in 1938 and was authored by Nan F. Weeks. It has been republished, this year, by David Nicholson with pictures by Charles Jaskiewicz.
Christmas Book Review

The book is said to be best for ages 6 and up. I read it with my almost six year old and my eight year old. They certainly understood this book without any difficulty. I think that most children aged four and over would manage the book with some explanation.

The story is of a boy, Bobby, who wakes up on Christmas morning to discover that there are no decorations and no presents. Bobby goes out to find that the factory is working as usual and the shops are all open. No one seems aware that it is Christmas or what Christmas is. Bobby then discovers that his church has gone but in its place is a large sign saying If I had not come. Bobby has read this quotation from the Gospel of John, the previous evening. Bobby finds the children's home and the hospital have also disappeared as has the New Testament. Thankfully, Bobby wakes and realises that he had had a bad dream but one that makes him thankful that the Lord Jesus really did come.

This book brings up conversation topics about the good news of Jesus Christ and its far reaching effects. The end of the book has some conversation starters around the themes in the book. I found that these were not really necessary as the book itself precipitated the discussion.

There is also a Going Deeper section which has four points
  • How life would be different it Jesus had not come to Earth.
  • Why did Jesus come to Earth?
  • What would it mean spiritually if Jesus had not come to Earth.
  • Some Bible passages for further study.
The book concludes with a page devoted to the Gospel Message which is clearly explained. I struggled with the book ending with a sample prayer for salvation which the child can repeat. Whilst the Gospel is the greatest good news in the World, I wouldn't want anyone to think that they can just repeat a prayer and that would make them a Christian. True repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is necessary.

Overall, however, I was delighted with this book. The illustrations are sensitive,

I particularly liked how the pictures during the dream used mainly grey.
This seemed in tune with the text. 

There are no pictures of the Lord and the coming of the Lord Jesus is at the forefront of the book.

Recommended for anyone who celebrates Christmas to read with their children in the run up to the so called festive season.

If He had not come is available as either a hardbook at $18.95 (about £11.86) or as an e-book at $3.99 (about £2.50)

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