Wednesday 30 November 2016

Best Books 2016

This is an idiosyncratic list of the books that I have enjoyed most or found most useful, this year. The complete list is here. This post concerns the personal reading list. At a later date, I may post about the best read alouds.  Books which have not reached this post are generally still a worthwhile read. Books where I gave up, and there were a few, didn't reach my personal list. 

Links are to my reviews.

Christian Books
  • JC Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. This are helpful, clear and applied. Each section is short and so it isn't too difficult to fit in a section per day.

  • Fitting in with this, I have recently read Iain Murray's biography of Ryle: Prepared to stand alone. This is thought provoking. Ryle's life wasn't easy in many ways. It is interesting to contrast the views of Ryle on separation with those of his contemporary, CH Spurgeon.

  • His love endures for ever is a much more modern book, recommended by my co-leader in the home education group. This book is about God's love and has some awe-inspiring thoughts about how love is defined by God's love rather than by our definitions.

  • Teaching from Rest is a book that I was reluctant to read. It is written by Sarah Mackenzie whose Read Aloud Revival podcasts I enjoy but she is a Roman Catholic and I wasn't sure how this would affect her views on home education. Yes, she does quote RC theologians but the nitty-gritty of the home education advice is excellent and there is plenty for me to implement. An 80% full rather than a 120% full timetable would be a start!

  • Mathematical Mindsets gave me plenty of food for thought although how to implement the ideas is more challenging. It has certainly made me think more about the way that my children learn maths.
Children's Books

These mainly been books that I have preread for the book club.
  • Number the stars is historical fiction about how the Jews escaped from Denmark in the Second World War. 

  • The family with two front doors is another book about Jewish people, this time in prewar Poland.

  • Bleak House was a reread and I appreciated the extensive foreshadowing, in this book, on a reread and was, again, left puzzled by John Jarndyce.

Over the next month, I hope to post about my lack of success with reading lists and some vague plans for reading next year. Please let me know about books that you would recommend for me to read, next year.

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Monday 28 November 2016

Awesome Lego Creations with Bricks you already have

I have been reading Sarah Dee's blog, Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls, for some years. There are so many  clever, fun and frugal ideas so I was delighted that I was able to review Sarah's book, Awesome Lego Creations with Bricks you Already have. 

Like many other people, we have a collection of Lego pieces and it always seems disappointing that often Lego is sold in sets which only make one item. It has been great to have a book to inspire us to  use Lego in more imaginative ways.

The book has two types of projects: Step by Step and No-Instruction Creative challenges. The first type of project has a precise list of parts and detailed step by step instructions while the latter type of projects list the key elements needed but then provide pictures and some less detailed instructions. Altogether there are fifty projects covering robots, knights and dragons, vehicles, Lego town, animals, games and seasonal ideas. My own favourite section is the games section which includes instructions of making a Lego chess set, a lovely and simple brain teaser, table football and more.

Vet Office
The creative challenges have been most popular here as we have been able to substitute for blocks that weren't in our collection and also, because Younger Son likes to take a project and make it his own.
This photo is Younger Son's take on one of the no-instruction creative challenge mini vehicle.

This book has been fascinating, partly, because of insights into how Younger Son likes to play with Lego. The book led to a flurry of Lego building and precipitated Younger Son's own projects which he was very anxious not to take to pieces and decided to display. 

This is an ideal book for young Lego enthusiasts. It is available in the UK, on Amazon and on in the US. It would make a great Christmas present.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review. I was not required to give a positive review. The opinions are my own and those of my family.

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Monday 21 November 2016

Starting to Home Educate an older child

This is the last post in my series about starting home education and in many ways, it is the most difficult to write.

These are the links to the other posts.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

A friend posted this comment, after my last post, about starting home education and this certainly fits with my experience. 

Starting home ed at the beginning is like paddling into the sea, a little bit at a time, laughing at the waves, playing in the sand. Taking a child (esp over 11) out of school is like jumping off a cliff. You may end up in the same part of the sea, over time but it is sooo much harder to jump off that cliff than it is to drift into the sea.

I have only taken one child out of school, towards the end of year four. I have no personal experience of taking a child out of secondary school nor of taking a child out of school because of bullying or health issues. This  post will deal with exams but not with bullying or health issues.

Initial issues
When taking a child out of a state school in the UK, the parent has to inform the school who will inform the local authority that the child is being home educated. This means that at some fairly early stage in your home education journey, there is likely to be contact from the local education authority adviser. It is important to answer their letters but also to be aware of your rights and responsibilities. Fiona Nicholson has information about this on her site Ed Yourself.

Deschooling. This is the concept of avoiding formal education after a child has left school. I have heard people suggest that this time is for a month for each year that the child has been in school. Of course, this isn't something that can be subjected to a randomised controlled trial! We didn't deschool: I was too worried about my child falling behind their peers; was worried about the local authority and about never being able to get into a pattern of home educating.

Would I do the same again? Yes and no! Yes, I think that I would have put in an early structure around morning time, English and maths but in retrospect, it would have been better to have had more time to go on trips and explore interests. Being over anxious didn't help and we would have had a happier first year, if I had been more relaxed. It is very easy to say this in retrospect!

Spending time to deschool may be more important when a child has faced difficulties in school or is unwell.

 Leaving school usually means not seeing schooled friends so often. Some school friends may drop off whereas others may remain. It may be difficult to make home educated friends. Home educated children often have established friendships and it may be difficult to break into this. Having a three pronged approach may help:
1. Keeping up  with old school friends.
2. Keeping up with other old friends, for example, at church.
3. Making an effort to make friends with other home educated children both in groups but probably more usefully, by arranging to see them at home. 

 These aren't too much of an issue when taking younger children out of school but for older children, the Home education exam group is invaluable, both for advice and support. 

 It takes a while to work out which resources and approach to use. Several home educators showed me the resources that they used and this was particularly helpful. Do read round and beware of spending vast sums of money! The initial resources may not work for you. Even amongst families who home educate for the same reasons, one woman's meat may be the other's poison! Just because your friend loves Sonlight or Apologia or Galore Park doesn't mean that it will work for your family!

Particularly, beware of resources designed for schools. In the UK, we talk about home education not home schooling for a reason. Educating at home isn't running a little school. Some school resources work well but others just don't.

It isn't necessary to follow the National Curriculum although when taking exams it is necessary to follow the exam board's curriculum. It is wise to look at the National Curriculum, from time to time, particularly for maths and if you are looking toward exams.

It isn't necessary to teach everything yourself. There are plenty of options for different subjects

  • online learning,for example Skype lessons for languages, groups with meet on line, distance learning with emailed assignments, self paced on line courses and more
  • group learning-this may involve a parent teaching either informally or via a structure such as Classical Conversations or parents joining to pay for a tutor.
  • individual tutor

Home education isn't mainstream and it is important to have support. I think this is the case for all home educators but particularly for those who have just taken children out of school. The reasons for this are manifold:

  • advice
  • emotional support
  • friends in the same situation
  • chance to look at books and other resources
  • professional development-yes, being a home educator is a profession!
Support comes in various guises
  • spouse. 
  • local home educators 
  • national email and Facebook groups.
  • national and international blogs and websites.
Ultimately, as a Christian, I need God's strength start and carry on home education. There will be challenges along the way but He gives strength and will give us wisdom when we ask.

Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
Joshua 1 v9

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
James 1 verse 5

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Wednesday 16 November 2016

Branch Out World: Tom's Midnight Garden

We have enjoyed using three of Branch Out World's picture book explorers: The Mousehole Cat; Stone Girl, Bone Girl and Katie Morag and the New Pier. I was excited to have the chance to use the chapter book Explorer for Tom's Midnight Garden.

Branch Out World produces unit studies based on books. The unit studies come as a download. The study for Tom's Midnight Garden is longer and more detailed than the shorter picture book units. It runs to about 150 pages and is aimed at children aged between 8 and 12. The introduction states that younger children will need help whereas older children may be able to work independently. Each chapter in the book has its own section in the unit study. Each chapter includes

  • at least two activities
  • comprehension questions
  • Ideas for discussion or writing
  • extension activities including trips and art activities.
The download states that the study can be completed in six weeks if a chapter is done per day but can be extended to seven to eight months if every activity is used. It is suggested that students keep a log book of their learning.

The unit study starts with some learning about the setting. We particularly enjoyed the links with pictures of Ely.

Chapter one gives information about measles and making scones along with discussion questions. The ideas for writing are around the pros and cons of vaccination. The extension ideas are a letter to home from a trip away; pictures of Ely and a suggestion for making a private device for signing letters and art.

There is so much to do in this download. It isn't necessary to do everything provided but if everything were done, it would take most of each day.

Suggestions include science activities,
visiting a stately home garden,
 cooking, healthy exercise, learning about the periodic table and far more.

What did we think?
The download and suggestions were brilliant. There has been a phenomenal amount of work put into this guide.The book Tom's Midnight Garden really wasn't a hit with the children although they enjoyed the activities, making scones for a cream tea was particularly popular! Not liking Tom's Midnight Garden, of course, isn't a reflection on the quality of the unit study and wouldn't put me off doing another chapter book study from Branch Out World. We used the Explorer over the first half of the term studying about a couple of chapters a week. Using the guide to its fullest extent and doing a chapter per day would take several hours a day. I suspect that it would be better to use the guide more slowly and work over several months.

Another great product from Branch Out World!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Tom's Midnight Garden for the purpose of this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are mine and those of my children.

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Friday 11 November 2016

Starting Home Education when your child has never been to School

This is part of my series on starting home education. 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I actually plan to split this post into two:

  • starting home education when your child has never been to school
  • leaving school and starting home education
From personal experience of both scenarios, they are very different and should be treated separately.

This post is about the child who has never been to school. 

For the child who hasn't been to school, reaching formal school age is just a continuation of what has happened before. Often new home educators are keen to start formal education very young but, as far as I am aware, there seems to be little evidence that this is beneficial. This doesn't mean that structures can't be put in place.
  • Morning Time. Starting the day with God's Word, singing and memory work is a routine which can be put in place from very young. Children can learn to memorise short Bible verses and nursery rhymes from about two. When the children were little, we added picture books to this. Starting with picture books for the youngest, and working up to books for older children, seems to keep attention of wriggly little ones for longer. We  started reading aloud from when the children were babies and haven't regretted this especially with our most active children.  It is always worth choosing high quality picture books. The Five in a Row lists are worth considering as are the lists from Branch Out World. Authors that we particularly enjoyed were Shirley Hughes, Lynley Dodd (Hairy Maclary), Julia Donaldson, Allan Alhberg and Mick Inkpen. I have a list of 70+ picture books here
  • Spending time outside. 
  • Playing while talking with an adult
  • More reading aloud.
  • Making friends with other home educators. This is important for both mother and children. There are home educators to be found all over the UK and there is both a Christian yahoo group (Deut6v7) and facebook group.
It is very easy to add to this some phonics and maths. Much of our early maths was informal and involved weighing ingredients, working out numbers of people at meals and number of pieces of cutlery. 

Hands on science is also popular and easy to manage with kitchen ingredients. I recommend the Usborne Big Book of Science things to make and do.

When the children were school aged, we found books about starting home education. I know of two: My Mommy, my teacher by Johanna Bluedorn which seems to be out of print and Who's Not in School by Ross Mountney. The latter is currently in print. We also made a book of our own for one of the children with our own photos and words explaining why we home educate and what this means.

At this age our children particularly enjoyed the Five in a Row curriculum which allowed us to extend our enjoyment of high quality picture books. Branch Out World produces similar UK based materials. 

Trips are always popular. We found that this was particularly the case where they could be linked to a picture book that we had read. 

Rites of passage
Children sometimes miss certain rites of passage. One of our children felt rather left out because there was no school uniform. A trip to the local supermarket remedied this and led to a happy child. Several years on, the uniform has been dropped but I mention this as this topic often comes up in groups. 

We take beginning of school photos and try to do something special to mark the beginning of term. A picnic and enjoying an almost empty playground is appreciated.

Starting home education in this way is an easing into a learning lifestyle. 

Legally, there is no need to inform the local authority that you are home educating although there is a duty to provide an education that is suitable for the child's age, aptitude and ability. 

Have you home educated your child from the beginning? How did you find the initial stages?

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Tuesday 8 November 2016

The Positives and Negatives of Home Education

This is part of a short series about starting home education.

Part 1
Part 2

Home education has many benefits but it is essential to count the cost before you start. There are plenty of beautiful posts around which make everything look lovely and yes, there are great advantages and joyful days. However, we live in a fallen world. Parents are sinners and children are less than perfect. There are days when the children are difficult and their mother is struggling with hormones or seasonal affective disorder or both; the washing machine breaks down; a toddler scribbles on the wall and dad is going to be out until late. Yes, we've all been there and home educating certainly isn't going to make life perfect or make our children perfect. It may be used for our sanctification but that may well not be an easy process. 

So these are incomplete lists of some of the major benefits and disadvantages. I'm not trying to put anyone off but being realistic. 

  • Being able to keep to educational aims.This is usually accompanied by other benefits such as
  • Seeing each new stage.
  • One to one working.
  • Individualised work for a child's needs. 
  • Individualised work for a child's interests.
  • Enjoying being with the children.
  • Many educational trips.
  • Time outside. 
  • Holidays in term time.
  • Family cohesiveness.
  • Parental learning. 
When I asked my children about home education, they had a different list of benefits. High on their list was home cooking,
Recent Roman themed meal
more trips and flexible term times so that they can take birthdays off and arrange not to be working when there are special visitors.

  • Cost-there is definitely an expense to home education. Even if you educate using library books, free trips and practice writing in the sand in the park there are expenses. The most major cost is the loss of a two income family. Other expenses include extra heating, meals, wear and tear on the house, educational materials and the cost of exams.
  • No peace!
  • Difficulty keeping up with housework.
  • Balancing home education with other responsibilities.
  • Managing home education with health issues. 
  • Managing opposition.
  • Home education takes time. 
  • Being counter-cultural. Christians are used to this to some degree but home education accentuates this.
Every family will have to balance the equation for themselves. Some of the issues are more weighty than others. Some issues need to be counted but are a cost willingly paid.

For example, home education takes time. This means that there is less time for other activities. We made a decision, after home educating for about eighteen months that the balance of home education, part time work for me, caring for an older relative and managing a household just didn't work.

There are stories around of people who home educate at night and at weekends. It might work for them but I know that our children are not going to manage their best effort at maths and phonics at night and that Saturday working is resented. We want to keep Sunday as the Lord's Day so working then just isn't on for us. Of course, learning happens in evenings and at weekends but this isn't the sit down and sort out a difficult concept type of learning. 

We decided that I would stop working and concentrate on managing the family and the children's education. It isn't a decision that we regret but was an important milestone. Other families manage this in a different way, perhaps, with both parents working part time or with a grandparent helping out. 

The perceived negative of lack of socialisation is usually a non-issue. Most home educators don't stay at home all the time and will meet up with other people both at home education groups, after school/weekend clubs, church activities, informal meetings and trips. Having had children in school and at home, I have found that the number of friends tends to be similar although children in school have more acquaintances. Home educated children also tend to have little regard for year group when making friends so may have friends over a wider spread of ages. 

What is important is to balance the all important reasons for home educating and other positives against the negatives. For Christians, this is a decision which takes much prayer and thought.

Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.
Romans 14 verse 4

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Tuesday 1 November 2016

November Inspiration

We've had a beautiful half term. Now back to work!

This post has several maths links, perhaps, because I wanted to re-energise our maths time!

Bedtime math is a site which produces books with bedtime maths problems. Very conveniently, they also have a free app. Each problem has levels of difficulty and the easiest is usually very easy. 

Se7en have a great post with loads of resources for making maths fun. I'm not familiar with many of these but already have some of the books on my wish list! These resources would be great for schooled as well as home educated children.

Kate has a post about what to do when your child hates math. This post got me thinking about what was going wrong with our maths and the reason seems to be another which we are working on.

On to other subjects! Lynn has written just one piece of advice for starting nature journalling.

We all have days when it is impossible to follow our best laid plans. Bookshark has a post about Plan B homeschool days. The first about Reading Days reminds me of one of the days when I was too unwell to do anything except read from bed. I finished reading a long book and had a long, unhurried discussion with my daughter about China and the cultural revolution. 

We possess a large number of books. We have more books than bookshelf space which is a constant challenge-yes,books are doubled shelved, in odd cupboards and in piles. Nelleke has written about minimalism for homeschooling book lovers and I'm going to pluck up courage to go through the picture books!

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