Tuesday 31 May 2016


Moonfleet is a smuggling, treasure seeking novel set in Georgian Dorset. I first read this book as a school set book aged 13. The English teacher, Mrs Ward, set this as the first book in my new school in what would now be called year 9. It was a popular read but I haven't reread it until now when I decided to reread for two reasons

  • would it be a suitable read aloud for my 7 and 9 year olds for next year?
  • as part of the Back to the Classics challenge I needed to reread a book which I had read in school.
Moonfleet is narrated, in the first person, by John Trenchard an orphan who at the start of the book is fifteen. John manages to find the possible clue to a lost, ill-gained diamond and to fall in with the local smuggling gang. John is thrown out by his rather unsympathetic aunt and taken in by the local inn keeper and leader of the smugglers, Elzevir Block. Just to complicate matters, John loves the daughter of the local magistrate.

John and Elzevir end up having a price on their heads and having to flee the country. Adventures in search of treasure ensue and eventually, lead to ten wasted years. The book comes to a dramatic and unexpected climax back near Moonfleet village.

My thoughts on Moonfleet:
  • Moonfleet hasn't become less exciting over the years and on rereading, I think that whilst it is probably very suitable for 13 year olds, it isn't a book that I could read to my two youngest quite yet. There are one or two rather scary moments.
  • Smuggling in literature is often viewed with rather a rosy glow. Certainly, in this book, smuggling is viewed in a favourable light. The hero of the book, Elzevir, is leader of a smuggling gang and even, at the end of the book, when John has become "respectable" there is a delicate ignoring of possible illicit bringing in of goods. I didn't struggle so much with this as a child but having had an ancestor who was converted from a family with associations with one of the most notorious south eastern smuggling gangs, I now feel uncomfortable about this aspect.
  • Spoiler alert: The hunt for the ill-gained treasure is treated in a much more moral way and finding this prize leads to trouble. The book has a background theme of repentance and restitution as well as sacrificing life for a friend. 
Overall, I would recommend this book but for older rather than younger children. It has dramatic moments; three deaths-one of which is a shooting. It certainly isn't a dull book and would appeal to those who like adventure with plenty of action!

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Monday 30 May 2016

Book Club Activities

The book club which I lead seems to have taken on a life of its own. We started with a book per half term and have gradually added to this. Anyway, this is an update on our activities and an ask for help with ideas.

The book club has children from eight to twelve. The children range from struggling readers to exceedingly voracious book consumers! 

In terms of our core books, we have read

  • Return of the White Book by Rebecca Davis.
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
  • Jungle Doctor to the Rescue by Paul White
  • The boy who biked the World by Alastair Humphries
  • John Paton: South Sea Island Rescue by Kay Walsh
The first additional activity was to add book recommendations from the children. Each child has a chance to recommend a book, to the group, at each session. The children are encouraged to mention the author's name, setting and genre in their recommendation and to avoid spoilers. I do interrupt if a child seems to be about to spill all the beans on the plot.

In order to encourage the children to read the recommendations, I have just introduced a small prize to be shared by the recommending child and the child who has taken up the challenge. This has been particularly popular! 

Our new activity is that the children have been given the privilege of being one of the judging panels for the Royal Institution Young People's Book Prize. We are waiting for our package of books to investigate and the children are exciting about forming a judging panel.

The future planned activity is where I need help. I heard about podcasts where the participants give three favourite books, one they don't like and books that they are currently reading before being given three reading suggestions. This seemed like an ideal autumn activity for the group and would mean that the children have some individualised reading suggestions. However, I don't know enough about children's literature to manage this off the top of my head so the children filled in forms for me. I have some ideas but I'm looking forward to a summer of reading children's literature to fill the gaps in my recommendations! Where I would particularly value help is
  • modern, quality series for avid readers
  •  historical fiction for children
  • books for struggling readers which aren't babyish. Historical fiction for this group would be marvelous. I will include some audio books but would like to include one or two easier books.
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Wednesday 25 May 2016

Deconstructing Penguins

It is a bit ironic than a former medic ends up running a book club but that is what has happened. In many ways, it is a bit like the enthusiastic blind leading the blind who are, amazingly, also enthusiastic. Anyway, delving for meanings and literary analysis are distinctly at the border of my skill set so when I heard about Deconstruction Penguins, I knew that I had to read this book.

Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone is subtitled Parents, Kids and the Bond of Reading. The book is the product of several years of book groups for parents and children (I object to the word kids which refers to baby goats) in the US. Using children's literature for examples, the Goldstones teach about protagonists and antagonists, setting and the climax of these books as well as showing us how to detect a contrived ending. There is a chapter about poetry with examples and some chapters including more books. The main question that they are trying to answer is why the author wrote the book.

Is Deconstructing Penguins useful? I think so although there were times when I thought that I wouldn't be able work any of this out for myself and I was left wondering whether many books don't have a classical antagonist and protagonist as well as trying to fit this model round a couple of Dickens' novels. 

 Have you ever been annoyed by worthy books which don't really have a story to tell or by twaddle from the library?  Using these techniques also makes books with a thin plot more obvious.

It isn't always easy to see whether a book is a suitable read for a child. Sometimes, it is obvious that it passes or fails the Philippians 4 verse 8 test:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

But sometimes it can be more difficult to peel away the layers to what lies behind a book. At this point, Deconstructing Penguins and its principles becomes helpful.

Recommended for parents who want to understand the literature which their children are reading and want to provide recommendations for them.

Disclaimer: I purchased Deconstructing Penguins for my own use. The opinions are my own.

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Tuesday 24 May 2016

Nature Parcel

Today, we had an exciting parcel arrive in the post. We had been linked to a Scottish family in the Nature Pen Friend's Swap and our parcel arrived this morning. It contained all sorts of goodies. There was a long letter talking about all the wildlife that the family see- even an otter in the river but also deer, oystercatchers, swifts and nuthatches. They had also thoughtfully sent an email with photos of where they do their nature walk and a bonus, for me, a photo of some typical John Buchan country.

I must say that my only concern about this swap had been about what to include. We had gradually found some ideas and were able to put our parcel together although my plan to send to send some London plane tree seeds was scuppered when we realised quite how itchy they are! Our swap family sent us an inspirational parcel.

In the parcel, we received,was an amazing twig covered with lichen. We had sent a twig with some London lichen but ours was nothing like this.

There was also a spruce cone, a red twig from a Scots pine which has a reddish bark, a little cone from a Scots pine, sheeps' wool, a pheasant feather and a black feather and more lichen.

There were pressed flowers: dog violet, a broom sprig and leaves from a rowan.

They also kindly sent seeds, a Field Studies Council card and a postcard.

Our nature table has expanded but so have our thoughts about the variety of nature in the UK and of course, why our lichen doesn't grow so well!

Thank you so much to the kind family who sent this lovely parcel and to Lynn from Raising Little Shoots for arranging this swap. 

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Monday 16 May 2016

Free Internet Resources for Home Education

Home education is expensive. Many families only have one income. The children are at home more and so there is more wear and tear on the house plus additional heating. Of course, the educational resources themselves aren't cheap. The fact that one of my most popular posts is 14 ways to save money on home education reflects these pressure.

This is a short list of free resources that we either use or plan to use soon. I hope that you find something helpful and new on it. These resources would also be useful for schooled children especially if they are bored in the long summer holidays!

  • Classics for Kids. This is a site from the US with short podcasts about classical music. We used it some years ago with Middle Son. More recently, I have been looking round at music appreciation resources, some of which are really quite expensive and remembered this site which is ideal for our needs.

  • Seterra is a geography site. This, again, is something that we used some years ago and have started to play again. I find it a little frightening to find the holes in my geographical knowledge!

  • Librivox is a free audio book site. Buying audio books is not cheap. Librivox books tend to be older and so out of copyright. The narrators vary in standard and obviously, there is a complete mix of books not all of which will be suitable. 

  • Project Gutenberg is well known and similar to the Librivox but for ebooks. It is worth checking here for older books before buying them. Do make sure that you load the correct format for your ebook reader. I've learned by my mistakes!

  • Unlike the previous resources, I haven't used this yet but hope to use the art lessons and ideas from Concordia Experience.

  • From time to time, we use Poetryline for new poems or to hear poets read their own poems. Some poets read their poetry brilliantly but certain poets are a little disappointing. 

  • MEP (Mathematics Enhancement Programme)is a complete maths curriculum. Strictly speaking, it isn't free as worksheets need to be printed. MEP didn't really work for us but that was more a function of our circumstances than the programme itself. Worth checking out.

  • We have used the Khan Academy, in the past, for explanation around maths concepts.

  • Nrich Maths is something that we use from time to time, often around the end of term. The best game that I have found for adding and subtracting with negative numbers was on this site and involved a hot air balloon!
Obviously, there are many more resources out there. Please do leave a comment about those that you find helpful.

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Friday 13 May 2016

May Learning

This isn't really just about what we have been doing in May but also covers our learning since Easter. Yes, I meant to post this before!

We have had few weeks of reasonably steady work which is useful as we are about to embark on trips to an exam centre for Middle Son. 

This academic year, we have used the Maths Enhancement Project for Youngest Son's maths. In principle, I like this project but it has been difficult to use. I spent some time wondering whether to change and, if so, to what, and decided to start using the Galore Park Junior Maths book one. Using this programme has worked well for our other two home educated children and it seems to be a reasonable fit for Youngest Son. 

The other programme which was causing us some difficulty was All about Spelling. I was using this with Younger Daughter. I do think that, in many ways, this is an excellent programme but finding time around an intensive maths programme; two phonics programmes and carers who need to be let in and who have questions or requests, just wasn't happening reliably. We have changed Younger Daughter to the Schofield and Sims spelling workbooks. These 
  • cover one digraph at a time
  • can be done independently
  • are cheap
Younger Daughter enjoys this programme and loves that it enables her to work independently. 

Poetry Tea continues to be a highlight of the week. Younger Daughter has taken over much of the preparation. We have also started to write out our own family anthology of favourite poems. 

Our nature walks have continued although we failed to find a caterpillar despite much hunting. We did find this creature in the soil in the garden. It may be a moth chrysalis.

We seem to find something new most days.

Horse chestnut candle
Is this soap wort or is it something else?

Cow slips

Egyptian goose

This has been quite a learning curve for me. I've needed guidebooks and the help of friends, on Instagram, to recognise some of our findings.
We are also in the process of putting together our nature swap and have had fun finding objects for it.

We had a trip to the Bank of England Museum with other home educators. Again, an educational experience for me. I think the children learned too! This Museum is child friendly and interactive. We were able to check notes to see if they were frauds; try to keep inflation stable with a sailing game and lift a bar of gold.
Model of the Bank at the time it was founded.

In the home education group, we have moved on to Oceania. Today, we looked at Papua New Guinea. Sadly, I have failed to take any photographs. Last week, was New Zealand with sheep and kiwi craft, thanks to Lizzy of Peaches at Home.

Our book club continues with plenty of recommendations from the children and a read for this half term about John Paton, South Sea Island Rescue.

Thoughts and Books
I am working on planning our next year. In many ways, I am not planning major changes but there are always tweaks to what we do, as well as, books to order. 

A copy of Deconstructing Penguins  arrived in the post, today. I'm hoping that this will help me to improve the book club and also be more equipped to talk about books with my own children.

A review of Big Bible Science  should be coming soon.

Other books in the pile are
  • The triumph of Truth: a life of Luther by Merle D'Aubigne. This has been a bit of a marathon but I'm reaching the end.
  • His love endures for ever: Reflections on the love of God by Garry Williams. Only a quarter through but this has been helpful and an enjoyable read thus far.
  • Home Education by Charlotte Mason. This is the first of the Charlotte Mason series. It was time for me to read what she actually said.
The next few weeks are due to be busy so I don't know how much reading will actually happen. I need to remember that God's grace is sufficient in our weakness and tiredness.

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12 v9

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Thursday 12 May 2016

May Morning Basket

This May is a complicated month for us. Middle Son is taking some exams and will need to be driven to his exam centre. Obviously, this involves a bit of creativity around his siblings' education! Nature walks are likely to take place in different places and poetry teas may have to be adjourned to coffee shops. Maths and English are a bit more complicated although they will be prioritised in the time that we do have at home.

Our morning time may be a bit of a casualty of this. I plan that the Bible component will continue although possibly at a different venue on some days. The other components may be dropped on days when we aren't at home. It isn't a disaster just a change!

Anyway, for the days when morning time happens as planned, this is the rough outline:

  •  Prayer
  •  section from A Child's Story Bible. We are currently reading the New Testament volume.
  •  memory work 
  •  a hymn. 
  • Younger Daughter has finished the under 10s section of the Trinitarian Bible Society memory work and has now devised a scheme for memory work. This involves five Old Testament verses so far from the Psalms and then five New Testament verses. This sounds a very reasonable plan so this is what we are doing. Currently, we are learning some verses from Psalm 103 so we are also singing a metrical version of this. 
Read aloud-Daily
 Later in the year, we would like to visit Beatrix Potter's home, Hill Top, and so we are rereading her stories. As the children are older than when they were first introduced to these, we are looking particularly at the detail in the pictures and the precision of the language. I love reading these books!

Art Appreciation-Weekly.  
Last month, the book 13 Buildings every child should know went down particularly well and we ended up reading it daily until it was finished. This month, we are reading 13 Bridges every child should know. I'm learning from this and it fits in well with a K'nex bridge set that we have been using intermittently. Really, I'm not sure whether this is art appreciation or a STEM activity. It probably doesn't matter!

Music Appreciation-Weekly
We are singing our current hymn to a tune by JS Bach. This fits in well with our reading from the Ladybird Book of Composers. We add a short listening session to this. Today, was Toccata and Fugue in D minor. 
Once we finish the Ladybird book, I am hoping to use the short podcasts from Classics for Kids. Each podcast is about six minutes in length so ideal for this slot and it is easy to play them on my phone.

Maths-daily (this isn't our only maths time but a time for fun maths and a little revision!)
This is where April didn't go so well. We did do some maths games but not daily. I'm hoping that we will be a bit more consistent about this in May.
There is a new podcast on Edsnapshots about maths in Morning Time which has many ideas including living books about maths.

Practice capitals of Oceania and look at maps.

I am delighted to have suggestions for our Morning Basket especially around science in this slot.

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Monday 9 May 2016

Bluebell Woods

Last week, we, almost accidentally, visited the most beautiful bluebell woods. Wanting to make the most of our National Trust membership, we decided to go to Emmetts Garden with those of our children who weren't revising! The Garden is near Westerham so quite accessible from London, for half a day. When I looked up the details, I found that the bluebells were one of the attractions at this time of year and well, that was definitely true.

We had been having long discussions about Spanish and English bluebells over the previous week and these bluebells seemed to be the real native British variety.

I've been impressed at how child friendly the National Trust has become and a wild play area kept one little boy very happy although using the stakes provided to help with a den was not on his agenda! He took the sticks out and built his own!

Younger Daughter loves taking photos and the photos in this post are all thanks to her.

There were formal gardens.

The best part were the gorgeous bluebell banks.

End of the magnolia blossom.

More bluebells:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I sayb unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like on of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith.
Matthew 6 v 28 to 30
View out over the Weald of Kent. Not shown in the picture but we were able to watch a couple of buzzards which seemed to be hunting, in the distance.

Definitely worth a visit in bluebell season and ideal for children as well as adults. This was a very informal nature walk but certainly not the least!

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Thursday 5 May 2016

May Inspiration

  The summer may have arrived. We squeezed in an enjoyable trip to the bluebell woods before they finished, for this year.. 

Picture by Younger Daughter.

Last month, was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and to fit with this, and a child who is desperate to study Shakespeare, I listened to this podcast about enjoying Shakespeare with children. There is a helpful list of resources including some play specific resources on Simply Convivial, the blog of Mystie Winkler, the speaker.

Claire, from Angelicscalliwags, is one of my go-to people for resource ideas. Her recent post, on resources which support learning chemistry, has left me wanting to add yet more books to our home.

For anyone interested in submarines this diagram is a must.

Kondwani and her husband have recently adopted a new baby. She has written some helpful posts about adoption. I realised, reading these that I haven't known anyone, in real as opposed to virtual life, who has adopted for about 15 years and that I hadn't a clue how to support a family with a new adopted child. This post bridges the gap.

We have recently started reusing the free programme, Seterra, again. Seterra is an on line geography game. I had used it with Middle Son, previously, and recently have started to use it with Younger Daughter. Both children have enjoyed the programme and like to challenge me. 

Hope you have a happy May whether you are ferrying children to exams; finishing for the school year or plodding on!

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Wednesday 4 May 2016

Children's Chapter books set in Europe

In the autumn, the home education group, that we attend, is looking at Europe. In preparation for this, I am looking out a couple of chapter books about Europe for the book club. An excellent excuse to read some more books and quality children's literature makes for relaxing reading!

I realised that there are far more books than I can use. Some I won't use because several of the children have already read them and others are slightly more difficult to obtain, sometimes because they are out of print and one, strangely for a book about Europe, because it has to come from the US.

Anyway, this is an overview of some of the chapter books about Europe that I have enjoyed. There is another waiting to be read and another waiting to be ordered when I have read them they may be added. 

Heidi was one of my favourites as a child and my daughter loves the book too. A beautiful story with themes of the Prodigal Son. Sadly, this won't make the cut as too many of the children have read the book.

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St John, is another beautiful book set in Switzerland. It has a disaster, peril and a strong Christian message.

When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. This book could also includes France and England.

I have written about The Good Master recently and this book will probably be one of my selections for the book club.

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong is a Newbery Medal winner. This book tells the story of a tiny school in the Netherlands and the attempts of the children, and ultimately, the whole village to attract storks to nest on their roofs.

Piet Prins was a post Second World War Dutch politician who also wrote children's books. These books are rather difficult to source in the UK but the Shadow series and particularly, the books When the morning came and Dispelling the Tyranny from the Eighty Year War series were popular here.

United Kingdom
It is difficult to know where to start! 

The Family at One End Street The hilarious story about a dustman and his washerwoman wife and their large family.

Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine series is set on the Welsh border and in Sussex.

Children of the New Forest is historical fiction set in the New Forest. 

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is set in the Lake District. This book is iconic but I have to be honest and say that my family is divided between those who love the book and those who find it tedious. My personal view is that people who love the book are lovers of sailing and outside living.

Milly Molly Mandy is iconically English although set about ninety years ago.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrrailler. Strictly speaking, this also covers Germany and Switzerland.

Detectives in Togas is a detective story set in Ancient Rome.

The Endless Steppe is an autobiographical account of life in the Second World War,

Please do add your recommendations. I realise that the Balkans and Scandinavia are unrepresented. It would be great to remedy this imbalance!

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