Thursday, 29 November 2012

Back on track

At the end of last week, I was aware that Francesca was losing focus and starting to misbehave more frequently and I decided that the lack of structure was not good for her.

So, Monday morning, we reinstated some sort of timetable - at least with the stated objective of completing violin, Maths and English in the morning.

She took to it brilliantly, seeming even more motivated than before, getting the tasks finished in record time with suitable amount of concentration and the minimum amount of faffing about.

More on that later.

Elizabeth has done some lovely art work this week, which I wanted to share.

This is, a tiger, obviously.

And this is a collage that she spent ages meticulously working on. She has such patience and precision!

Now, to the academic progress.

Francesca has dug out an old English workbook that is far too easy for her. She is really keen to work through it at top speed and I am letting her. It gives her a great sense of achievement and we'll come to more demanding tasks soon, no doubt. This book will be finished in a matter of days, at this rate (9 pages a day sometimes!)

Elizabeth's reading and phonics work is coming on nicely - slowly, because she's been at Play Group a lot, but that's ok.

This week, I printed out all the phonic sounds that she knows so far and she carefully cut them out and stuck them onto card to make a game. We practise reading and making words by arranging the sound cards on the table. With daddy, she managed to sound out 'girl'! With me, it was more 'cat' 'hat' 'sit' 'sat', but hey :)

Sebastian's been quite good at amusing himself. Some mornings, this week, when I've wanted to do more in depth teaching with Francesca, I've sat Sebastian in front of CBeebies, which is something he's never done before. It's the first time he's sat, engrossed, and enjoyed the TV. Won't do him any harm to have his share(!) The girls have seen quite a bit of TV in their time, but I've cut right back on it now, for them, as it seems to result in horrible behaviour. Sebastian's been ok so far...

With Francesca, I've had a break from the Heinemann maths book, simply because I've had Francesca one-to-one and I wanted to directly teach her some skills.

We've been using a squared whiteboard to revise number bonds to ten. I'm trying to teach her how to add, by going via ten. It's kind of hard to explain at the best of times and, poor thing, she's struggled to get what I was on about(!) but today I think she understood. We'll have another attempt tomorrow and see if she can do it.

In other news, we had another fantastic French lesson.

We also had fun using some dried teasel heads to comb out the sheep's wool we'd collected on holiday. I think we might do some dying and felting with it although we haven't got much.

Francesca's been reunited with her sewing. "I LOVE sewing!" she said, and she's worked really hard on her embroidered cushion.

Ta da!

And pinning the two sides together...

She's almost finished the whole thing today.

The behaviour and motivation round here have improved greatly with the structure and 'pressure' (by which I mean, having things that have to be completed). Francesca has usually finished her set work by elevenses and has time to do some typing practise (which she loves) or listen to her story tapes.

In the afternoons, we've been learning some carols and dancing to the music from the play we went to see last week.

Now, I'm off to make paper helicopters and blimps from this site.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Busy week doing... What?!

Not *quite* sure where this week's gone or why it has gone unrecorded but, in an attempt to summarize, let's first say that we've gone a little bit off schedule. By which I mean, we've hardly done any formal 'school' stuff for at least a week and it feels weird.

We have, of course, been doing plenty of Great Things.

Science on Monday, with some friends: we went to their house and did loads of exciting things with ice, water, conductivity, floating and sinking, surface tension etc etc. I do plan to make some science pages on this site with more details of this sort of thing but not this week, apparently.

Tuesday, we went to a friend's house to learn French. She's a Real French Friend! I'm so impressed with her. She invited us round to speak French and she did a whole proper lesson with a Hello song and a Goodbye song and stories and games and songs in between. It was amazing! She even gave us French snacks!!

This is the second time we've done this. After the first time, I thought she might not invite us again. Not that it went badly but just, why? Why would she want to do this for us?

This time, she asked if we'd like to come back next week (Yes please!) and I asked if there is anything I could do for her in return. She said, "Just accept!" :) Which is great. I'm stunned, really, and glad. It really is a valuable experience for us all.


After that we went to the Life Centre, where Francesca was desperate to see the Cells! Cells! Cells! film again. We all loved playing with the sand turntables and the big fan that blows our paper creations high into the air. We made tiny helicopters that went nearly to the ceiling!

Sebastian loved the sound area, where he stood among the rotating arms that variously twanged or bashed different notes, pressing the green button every time the arms stopped going round.

They all enjoyed the under 7s bit and I saw some great turn-taking between Sebastian and Elizabeth, pulling each other in the cart.

When the girls went to watch the film with daddy, guess what we did?

Also this week:

A party for Elizabeth
Tumbletots for both girls
A trip to Northern Stage
A violin lesson
Observing a burning candle (Elizabeth had made a Diwali candle stand at play group) and talking about ways to extinguish fires
Planning a new book - following the theme of "Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose" (we're composing our own rhymes - more on that later if it comes to anything)

Francesca's been in a strange, defiant mood this week and I think it's because we've let the structure slip, a lot. I think she finds it easier when we have a (loose) timetable and do violin, maths, English every morning. Thus, on Monday, we will reassert the timetable and get more of a regime going for a while.

On the plus side, I've seen her work hard to make a big lego model, showing concentration and tenacity that wouldn't have been possible a few months ago. And she's listened to loads of story tapes, which I presume is a good thing!

And that, briefly, is how our week has been filled.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How To Preserve Leaves Using Glycerine

Here's a quick 'How To' for the glycerine leaf preservation experiment.

I bought some glycerine from the supermarket, quite cheaply. It's with the baking things.

Glycerine wonderfully preserve the gorgeous colours and suppleness of autumn leaves, preventing them from going brown and crispy, so you can keep them for ages. I think we might make some pretty pictures with ours.

Anyway, here's what you do:

  • Choose the nicest autumn leaves you can find.
  • Spread them out in a shallow dish or tray.
  • Mix enough glycerine solution to cover the leaves. You need a ratio of 1 part glycerine to 2 parts water.
  • Weigh the leaves down so that they stay submerged. We used marbles for this.
  • Cover the tray with a lid or clingfilm to reduce the amount of evaporation from the liquid.
  • Leave for a few days.

Some leaves respond well to this treatment, while others don't. If the colour seems to be seeping out of your leaves, or if they begin to disintegrate, remove them from the tray.

Once a few days have passed (I read "2 to 6 days" so that's not very specific!) take the leaves out of the solution and let them dry. They will be pliable and retain their colour.

PS I took my leaves out of the glycerine after 3 days and they are pliable and quite a good colour. They have changed colour since I put them in the solution, so I think, next time, I'll use some fresher leaves that haven't started to change colour much, and let the colour develop over the course of a few days in the glycerine.

How To Fill A Week

Either I'm getting gung-ho about this whole schooling business, or I'm relaxing nicely into it, depending on your viewpoint.

This week, I didn't quite have the momentum for sit-down Maths and English so we've mostly been - er - playing.

On Monday we got up early and decided to head up the A1 to a garden centre with the most brilliant adventure playground.

Much fun was had by all, despite the dull, damp weather. It was mild, at least.

Tuesday, I had a lovely morning with Francesca and Sebastian, while Elizabeth was at play group. We looked through some of my old stuff - scrap books and stories that I had made when I was little older than Francesca.

When we collected Elizabeth, at lunchtime, we decided to buy some sandwiches at the supermarket and go to a soft play place for the afternoon.

Three hours later and I had three sweaty, glowing children, skipping home through the autumn leaves.

Today we went to Seven Stories all day, where we played at being Vikings, read lots of stories, did some craft activities and played with their model railway.

Sebastian loved his Viking costume.

Here's Elizabeth training her dragon (as per the book of almost that title):

Here's Elizabeth dressed as a fox:

So, not much academia this week. Violin practice continues unabated and even that has seemed quite fun, when I got to play a few duets and rounds with Francesca.

The rest of the week doesn't hold much hope of straight-up Maths and English either, but, as I said, I'm relaxed about it. She's only 5, for goodness sake :)

Friday, 9 November 2012

How To Make Your Daddy's Christmas Present

I didn't feel like school, today. The whole violin/English/maths schedule didn't appeal. Once we'd dropped Elizabeth at Playgroup, we kicked through the autumn leaves and wondered what fun we could have.

Then I hatched a plan for Francesca to start making her daddy's Christmas present, since he was away this morning. And we already had a brilliant idea in mind... More on that in a moment.

Basically, we ended up doing a morning of baking. My friends commented that it still 'counts' - think of all the maths and English involved in following recipes. They were thinking of all the specific mathsy tasks you could tick off whilst baking.

Home education is like that - the learning takes place during all the activities, even if it's not actually designated 'maths' or 'English'.

But there's more to it than that.

What about the whole (Science!) conversation we had on the way to Playgroup, about why the autumn leaves don't just pile higher and higher? What about the songs we sing as we play? Or the music we listen to? We did singing lessons in the car on the way to Tumbletots yesterday and we listen to Vivaldi at breakfast (sometimes!) I'm just saying: learning takes place much more subtly and much more continuously than people imagine (or, indeed, than I had envisaged before we started down this route).

So, yey! It's going well.

Now, onto the daddy Christmas present.

It was something that Francesca was able to get on with pretty much unaided. Alas, she was hampered by Sebastian's 'help' so I mixed him up some cookie dough to play with, which occupied him very well while Francesca got creative.

So, if you want an easy home-made Christmas present idea, it's here but I'll have to hide it under the jump.

Important: Don't tell Seymour
Seymour: No peeping


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Home Education Resources

In an attempt to tidy up this blog and sort out the genuinely useful from the frankly rambling, you may notice some changes.

I'm rounding up my teaching tips and resources for every subject and making a page for each (see top tabs and sidebar links - ok, I know there's only Maths so far).

These will be added to and updated as we go along so keep watching and hopefully you'll find a lot of stuff you can use.

Meanwhile, the rambling is likely to continue, sorry ;)

Getting Into Routine

These last few days have been quite samey and a bit un-bloggable - only because we've been in 'routine' and doing the same sorts of things that I've written about before. It's good for us to be in a routine, though, and I feel as though we're achieving a lot, especially with Elizabeth who is ploughing through her key vocabulary and learning to read her Kipper books.

It's been daily violin, Maths and English every morning and then general fun in the afternoons.

We've done baking, listened to story tapes, visited relatives, played games etc.

A particular favourite of the last fortnight has been the marble run. It's really great to see all three of them collaborating on a project. Often, Daddy builds the run and then the girls maintain it, where they might not be able to actually construct it so well themselves (they can make small runs perfectly well) and Sebastian might be a bit clumsy with it - with all three of them there, it works!

It's been nice having Daddy at home more:

Francesca's been enjoying her work. She's been enjoying violin practice and so have I! Imagine, we've been playing duets and rounds together - me on recorder and her on violin!!

She loves Maths too. The 'Minute Maths' idea is a great success. I had to make a new sheet yesterday. You can download a copy of Minute Maths - Adding 1 and 2 here, if you like. She's not so fast with this sheet - it's more challenging using numbers up to 100 and having to add either 1 or 2, but she still enjoys it. She's loving her Heinemann Maths book too.

English, she's not so keen on but she was enthusiastic when she set her own task, yesterday, to write a thank you letter to her grandparents for having her to stay over at the weekend:

She also really loves practising her spellings, doing the 'look, cover, write, check' method. In fact, I'm amazed at her motivation lately. She's been helpful, efficient, enthusiastic, happy, relaxed... With the occasional bout of shouting and the odd tantrum, obviously(!) We're all loving the home-school and I almost wish I'd started earlier :)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Better than expected

We've had two very productive days. By 'productive' I mean that we have 'done school' both mornings and have managed to cover all the things I thought we 'should'.

Having just read this post about unschooling, I'm not so sure that I 'should' be concerning myself with any sort of curriculum or mummy-driven targets, but that's a whole nother debate. I, currently, feel better/more organised/more in controlled/more justified in my approach/more comfortable if we all have some sort of routine and structure.

I like to have targets (quite flexible ones, but targets never the less) and things ticked off lists. Maybe I'll have to learn to let go more but that's how it is for the moment.

I feel best about home educating on days when we've done some English, Maths and violin practise in the mornings, and fit in some art, French, Science or whatever in the afternoons.

It's not that I want the afternoon activities to be like desert after you've eaten your greens - the 'fun stuff' after  the 'boring stuff' - more that I'd like the children to have a good grounding in basic literacy and numeracy and I think we can achieve that with a directed, consistent effort and that other things can be learnt indirectly, in a less formal manner.

Oh well, the pros and cons of this approach can be argued but this week, I feel good because we've done a lot of literacy and numeracy.

Better still, Francesca has developed a WHOLE new work ethic. She actually gets on with things faster, rather than procrastinating. She finishes all her school work before lunch, rather than dragging in out until late afternoon. She is proactive about moving onto the next activity, even if I am waylaid elsewhere.

I've tried to lay the praise on really thickly today, in light of this productive streak. I feel as though we (she!) is really starting to reach her potential, whereas previously I was frustrated by the day drifting by and wanting to put a rocket under her but not really knowing how.

Perhaps my unerring, "You take your time but then miss out on X" approach is paying off. Or perhaps she's just growing up. Or maybe she's settling into the not-school way of life. Who knows.

Maybe Elizabeth's academic progress is spurring her into competition?!

I've noticed a real maturity in Elizabeth this last fortnight. She's got a real desire to do what Francesca can do. I've even bought her the Reception level Heinneman Maths books, which she's very excited about. Here she is showing daddy, on the day they arrived:

A few months ago, Elizabeth couldn't/wouldn't have sat and done maths (as such) and I wouldn't have suggested it but now she's ready. She's keenly working through the Heinneman Maths and is very enthusiastic about having her maths time when Francesca does.

Here they are today, both working away keenly:

Francesca has just been reunited with Heinemann. I'd bought her a Colins maths book in the summer holidays, when we were just trying home-ed for a few weeks. She didn't enjoy the Colins maths much and has finally reached the end of it (hooray!)

Now, she is finishing off the pages that were not done in her Heinemann maths books from school, prior to starting the Year 2 books that I have bought her for this year. She loves the Heinemann maths! She was so keen, she didn't want to break for lunch and she never once asked for my help - not because she wasn't challenged but because she was happy with the level of challenge.

I'm looking forward to doing some starter activities on whiteboards, involving both girls, then setting them off to do some of their own work books. Hey, I even got to hang out washing today, while they were both beavering away!

Francesca has done some minute maths every time we've done maths. She's definitely improving. Today I gave her some really easy sums (plus 1, only using numbers up to ten) and she did 19 sums!!! (versus a high of 9 when working with numbers up to 100). Anyway, it gave her quite a confidence boost, which is great.

For English, Francesca wrote an email to Grandma and Grandad, yesterday, which was a bit of a cop-out literacy-wise because her typing and IT skills slow the process down so much, but it's all good experience.

Today, wearing her blue princess dress, I asked her to write a description of herself, which she did willingly, with the usual creative spellings ("phonetically plausible" as they have been described!) and none of the usual procrastination.

On the basis that her peers at school get spelling tests, and the fact that her spelling is so - err - creative, I have decided to try getting her to learn some spellings of her own. This is the list for this week:

It's a rather arbitrary list, chosen from among the common errors in the work that she has done. I'm going to encourage her to work with the words on her own, in time for a test on Monday. I'll remind her about the 'look, cover, write, check' method for learning spellings and see how she likes it.

I will not, as the Y1 teacher at school is alleged to have done, threaten her with detention if she doesn't learn them(!)

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is making great strides with her reading. I've made her a word wall with the key words as specified in the back of her level 1 Oxford Reading Tree books. I've broken it down into two sets of 12 words each - some happen to be on yellow card and some are on orange. The orange ones are harder. Elizabeth plays with her word wall (and me) every day, reading the words and putting them on the wall, or taking them off the wall (anything to interact with the words and become familiar with them). This is going to become her sight vocabulary and already, I am noticing increased confidence with her reading books. There's less of the 'stare out of the window and guess' type reading and more pointing to the words and sounding out. She must have done an hour's literacy this morning, what with word-walling, reading two books and then moving onto learning the next few phonemes. She listened to the Jolly Phonics songs and did 4 more phonics worksheets. Wow!

As I say, a most productive few days! 

In other news, we baked hallowe'en gingerbread biscuits:

Actually, we made rice crispy cakes as well.

And this afternoon we had a brilliant, brilliant time doing fireworks art with friends (their HE diary is here), who let us loose with glitter, shiny paint, glitter glue and even a salad spinner to make some special spun-paint effects. The children loved it and I wished I'd taken a photo.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Project Day Again - The Rocket Complete

Francesca had so enjoyed Project Day last Monday that she remembered to remind me that it should be Project Day again today.

Time to finish the rocket. (Previous rocket-building details are here, in case you missed them!)

As luck would have it, it was a dry, warmish autumn day, so we were able to take the rocket outside for painting. I marked out stripes, the width of my kitchen foil, and we used the purple paint from the playhouse to paint horizontal stripes.

Then we made alternate stripes of kitchen foil and the rocket was finished.

Here it is! (To be viewed in conjunction with these count-down/blast-off sound-effects).

Monday, 22 October 2012

Build Your Own Rocket

We made today 'project day'. That means the children get to decide what we do - one big project - all day.  Francesca chose to build a rocket.

We did it! Well, we got as far as building the structure, ready to decorate it. I'm envisaging some red paint and some kitchen foil silver stripes...

Anyway, I haven't got time to go into the details right now, but here's how we did it, in pictures:

Please note the door-closing mechanism, designed and implemented by Francesca!