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!

Autumn Leaf-Rubbing Art

We had such an excellent time making this lovely, autumn art.

After collecting a bag of autumn leaves of all different shapes and sizes, we arranged them on a huge piece of paper. I used some wallpaper backing-roll, which is a super-cheap way to buy excellent quality paper. If anything, it was slightly too thick for this project and I might try again using thinner paper, next time.

We chose some autumn-leaf coloured wax crayons.

Here's our final leaf arrangement - quite pretty in its own right.

Then we put another layer of paper over the top and began to make leaf-rubbings with the wax crayons.

I've taped the paper down so it doesn't slip too much during the colouring process.

Everyone joined in!

Then we used diluted food-colouring to make a colour-wash over the leaf rubbings, giving a lovely wax-resist effect.

Elizabeth said this was her BEST part of the day.

Francesca had fun with it too.

I haven't got a photo of the finished article just yet, but it's a gorgeous mass of autumny colours and leaf shapes. It would make a beautiful wall-hanging or some very posh hand-made wrapping paper.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Smart Art

This week has felt great! We've been properly back into 'school' and I think we've done a lot.

Today's agenda was:


Then Abuelita came round and we did some impromptu Art. More Art followed after lunch, too, which was great.

Francesca also had a violin lesson and both girls got chance to watch TV before going to a friend's house for tea.

Francesca's 'Minute Maths' was worse than yesterday! She only got 4 questions done. I guess that's why we're practising...

She did a couple of pages in her workbook about 'Making 10' which was quite easy for her, although not as easy as I would have thought. Perhaps we need to revise/reinforce things (like number-bonds to 10) more.

For English, Francesca wrote her Plans For This Afternoon, which were:

"I will wath TV because it is a Friday. I will doow my tiyping practis. I will doow sum art."

Then she added some more homophones to her list.

She did doow sum typing practis, actually, as well as the Art, so that list was all ticked off.

Abuelita brought round a book which showed how to draw all sorts of things using squared paper to get the proportions right. They all enjoyed getting straight on with some pictures.

Later, when Francesca showed Abuelita the typing tutorial, Elizabeth did a big jigsaw in the lounge.

Then, because Sebastian was asleep and the coast was clear(!), the girls decided to do some painting. Francesca delicately mixed pink to over-paint some rose wallpaper. She even mixed dark green and used her brush to create the texture of the leaves.

Elizabeth blended orange and pink too, and made some splodges, very carefully.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Minute Maths

This is an excellent way to increase mental maths skills at any age. I am using it with my Year 1 child, aged 5.

The idea is to do as many sums as possible in just one minute.

I made a sheet of sums today and was very over-optimistic about Francesca's mental maths speed, even though all the sums were "plus 1".

She paused to rub out a mistake for a few seconds, which reduced her score, but even so, I overestimated her by a long shot(!)

Never the less, I praised her efforts and said she had managed to do "SEVEN WHOLE SUMS! In just 60 seconds!!!"

No doubt she'll be quicker tomorrow without the rubbing out, and quicker by the day as she:
a) Becomes better at mental maths
b) Learns more about the passing of time and the merits of speed (we wish!)

I'll no doubt be making more mental-maths sums along the way, so keep an eye out for resource-updates.
Meanwhile, you can download your own copy of these sums here. Happy adding!

French with Ben Le Chien

We've had a lot of fun learning some basic French vocabulary this week with Ben le Chien.

Ben is a puppet dog who speaks French. I had originally called him Claude, but the girls insisted that he was 'really called Ben', so it stuck.

Anyway, Ben greets everyone with 'bises' and "Bonjour" or "Salut" and asks how everyone is. He asks their names and ages, then we move onto other things.

Yesterday, we learned the names for some of our rooms.

I labelled each room with a bright piece of card:

Ben le Chien led everyone round the house, showing them the labels and telling them the names of the rooms in French.

Then we went back to the table and matched up pictures of the rooms with the correct labels:

Et, apres ca....

We did une chasse tresor, with les indices in French.

This culminated in the finding of some chocolate and the end of French. Elizabeth asked to do French again today, and we went through the clues again, in a different order, with a new prize. It was a very popular way to learn and Ben le Chien is a big hit too.

Best and Worst

Daddy set the task for English today. He asked Francesca to write her 'best and worst' from yesterday.

Best and worst is a tradition in our house. At bedtime, we all say what was our best thing and our worst thing from the day.

This time, Francesca had to write two best things and one not-so-great thing from yesterday, with reasons.

This is what she wrote:

"Yesterday's Best and Worst
The frog race and that was because I won.
Doing my piano duet, 'Sea, sea, big waves on the sea.' I liked it because the sound sounded good.
I didn't like it when I did violin cos mummy was too bossy."

How Many Letters Are In The Alphabet?

Francesca's friend had made her a fun multi-choice quiz, which we completed together today.

My favourite question was, "How many letters are in the alphabet?"

"Hmm," said Francesca, and went off to work it out.

She laboriously wrote out the alphabet, in a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters (some backwards) and carefully wrote the corresponding number underneath each one for a while, until she mercifully forgot about the numbering and continued, unhindered.

Then she started to write all the numbers underneath, until 7, after which she was distracted by an error in the writing of '6' and continued to count by pointing, rather than labelling.

A fascinating process, and she got the right answer.

Maths Addition Game For Year 1

After the frog-race, we played this game in Francesca's Maths workbook.

Coloured counters were required, of which we had none, so we used dried beans and chick-peas to be our counters.

Again, two dice were required, and players had to add up the total then find that number on the grid and cover it with their counter. The aim was to make four in a row.

Luckily, the other sister won this time(!)

Frog Race Maths Addition Game

Francesca's been saying that she doesn't like Maths, which is a shame because she used to love Maths and I happen to think she's good at it. Anyway, I devised this game to make Maths a bit more fun and interactive for a 5 year old. Hey, and a 3 year old happily joined in too.

So, here's "adding two numbers" with a pair of dice and a pair of frogs. Ready... steady... go!

The girls placed their frogs on the start line. Luckily, we have a chequered table cloth and two suitably-sized frogs but I did consider using larger toys on floor-boards, or even using the girls themselves and asking them to take small steps. Anyhow...

The girls threw the dice to see who would start: highest number goes first.

Then, they took it in turns to throw the dice and add up the two numbers. Francesca did the actual addition, Elizabeth counted dots. Then, you hop your frog that many squares along. Simple :)

"It's getting tense!" (From Elizabeth!)

I had made a finishing line out of string, taped to the table, and guess who won?!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Maths - Y1 - Adding and Subtracting 10

Maths. We finished the "adding and subtracting 10" objective. More on that in a moment.

In other news, we had a more productive morning - violin practice, maths and English all completed (just about - I hadn't heard her read but we fitted that in later) before lunch. Progress!

The maths was really just the final touches to enable Francesca to add and subtract 10 in her head. She can, now 'see' that she just needs to add or subtract 1 from the 10s column, but she struggles if she has to work round the 100 mark - say adding 10 to ninety-something, or subtracting 10 from one hundred and eight.

So, we made this: 

It's a number line from 89 to 111, and an accompanying piece of card that is 10 units long. Thus, you can check your answers easily, or find out what the answer is, easily, and work out how to get to the answer. It worked well although Francesca isn't comfortable with that stretch of numbers at all. That's something to come back to in the future.

At least I know she can now add and take-away 10 easily and quickly with the sorts of numbers she'll usually be dealing with (less than 100). I've had enough of that topic now, so we'll move on to something else next week.

Lovey the rabbit helped with the maths today :)

For English, we thought up some more homophones, then Francesca read Mr Snow, which was quite tricky and took about 15 minutes! She coped admirably but the wording is quite verbose and complicated.

Both girls enjoyed some computer time. Francesca continued with her typing tutorial and Elizabeth played a maths game on her auntie's iPad.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Motivational Issues

I took no photos today! That's a shame - but it was just more of the same. It would have been shots of the children sitting round the dining table. Jigsaws would have featured, as would have maths work.

We started with violin as usual. Francesca is MUCH better at getting on with it, on her own, this week. She even shuts the door to keep out the little ones. However, there was a long period of inactivity before we heard the first notes of the scale. Goodness knows what she was doing but it threw her whole morning off schedule.

I had told her she could have my phone to watch something on YouTube as a treat, if she got her violin, maths and English done before lunch. Alas, she was only part way through maths by the time my tummy was rumbling and Sebastian was crying for his dinner.

Francesca had a cry about not getting her treat but at least she has experienced the real consequences of her inaction. I really need her to see for herself that procrastination doesn't pay off. I should know - I'm great at procrastination myself(!)

Elizabeth got loads done. Apart from the usual selection of jigsaws, she also opted to do another phonics sheet - phonemes o and c/k - and the corresponding page in her phonics workbook. Then she read a new reading book and I was pleased to see her really sounding out some of the words. Progress!!

Francesca continued with adding and subtracting 10 to the point where she can just about do it in her head, given sufficient peace and quiet. When Seymour tested her later, she got stuck on 90+10. We've not practised crossing the '100' border - only working with two- or three-digit numbers, separately. She's confident at reading three-digit numbers now, which is great. She's definitely come on this week and we know that we have to take the lesson a bit further to discover what happens at ninety-something plus ten. I'm thinking a number line might be useful, with a bit of card ten numbers long, to place on the line - where are the bottom and top edges of the 'ten'?

For English, at Francesca's request (mentioned over breakfast) she made a page of homophones. After I had mentioned homophones a while back but not succeeded in doing a formal lesson on them, she has been spotting many homophones in daily life. At breakfast she said she would like a special bit of lined paper to write down all the homophones she thinks of. And so, she made one in her English book. She's only added four homophone pairs so far, but more will be added later.

Francesca was excited to do more of her typing tutorial but didn't get much time on that, since the other tasks had taken so long. I pointed out to her that if she had finished her violin, maths and English in the morning, as requested, she would have had time in the afternoon to check her mould experiment, paint her Russian doll (another unfulfilled wish of today) and do more typing. I hope this is all sinking in, albeit slowly.

I feel ok about the amount of 'work' covered today and I feel great about the progress I can see over the whole week. At this stage, there's a lot of 'testing' going on between her and I. What can she cope with? What can she get away with? Once we work out a balance, things will move faster, perhaps.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Touch Typing Tutorial

This morning started with haircuts for some of us, so we didn't start 'school' til nearly lunchtime (perks of the job!)

With our happy new haircuts, we began with the usual violin practice which was completed in half an hour with minimal input from me and minimal procrastination from her. She is bribed with another book of mazes if she has a second excellent lesson on Friday AND she is feeling very pleased with herself, which is more to the point.

Then it was lunchtime already so the girls put on a story tape (Charlie and The Chocolate Factory) while I got lunch ready. After lunch, they hurried back to the tape, whilst I was busy with the plumbers working on the central heating system.

Eventually, eventually... we got to Maths. I had created another sheet of 'add ten' sums for Francesca to practise. She was allowed to use the online abacus too, but, I'm pleased to say, she barely touched the abacus and was quickly able to complete the sums, using the idea of adding one to the tens column. She even mastered a number over 100, so progress is definitely being made there.

We extended the lesson to taking away 10, too, and began to think about doing the same sums in our heads, which she found challenging. She's fine if she can see the number written down but I'm not sure what she imagines in her head when I say '32', or whatever. More on that tomorrow.

All through Maths, Francesca was pretending to do fast typing on my computer and I kept asking her to stop it. She said she wanted to type. So...

I found her a children's typing tutorial and away she went. She was so keen, she got onto level two. She'll be typing faster than me soon!

Elizabeth did more jigsaws and was pleased to surprise me by finishing the hardest one on her own.

Sebastian surprised us by having an afternoon nap!

I said the story tape counted as English, which Francesca was delighted about. She also did some reading aloud, which I'm pleased about. I thought I 'should' hear her read every day, like we did when she was at school, bringing reading books home. Luckily, she tends to read every day of her own accord, so it's something that happens naturally. Today it was Mr Men books that her auntie had brought round.

We also checked our mould growth - nothing yet. The girls are expecting everything to go mouldy. They predict that the cheese will go mouldy first. I predict that the ginger biscuit and the popcorn will probably not go mouldy - at least not for a very long time - so that'll be a great chance to teach them that advances in science are made, not by being able to predict the answers, but by getting unexpected results and having to search for better explanations.

So, I'm feeling quite positive about our school day, today. Particularly the increased work ethic. Francesca is realising that I mean it when I say she has to finish x, y and z before 'treats' and I am learning to recognise procrastination/manipulation tactics and how to deal with them (mostly by backing off!)

Many an "I'm NOT doing it!" has vanished into thin air, replaced by hasty productivity when I have simply left the room. Many an "I can't do it, I don't know how to..." has evaporated when I've gone off to hang washing.

"Yes you can. Yes you have to. Now, I'm off. I'll be back in ten minutes to see how much you've done." Works wonders.*

*Works wonders today. Of course we all know that this could all be different tomorrow but I'm getting wiser.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Getting the hang of it all

I feel as if our home-school is getting into more of a routine this week. I suppose we have had a couple of weeks 'off' - what with Seymour being around and us having that trip to York.

This week, lessons have resumed.

Both days have started with a violin practice for Francesca. I was stunned - stunned! - to find that she was happy to practise independently - without me!!! - for about half an hour on Monday. I kept appearing to make encouraging noises but I tried to keep out, since that benefits us both. SO much easier if I can keep the little ones occupied and she can get through her exercises on her own. I think she does need me, a bit, to keep her right (sometimes she's playing the wrong rhythm, or not bothering to play in tune) but I'd certainly rather she was independent, and she'll get the technique in the long run, if she's of a mind to.

Today's practice went almost as well, but with some procrastination at the end, when faced with a new piece to learn. I've read that it's an oft-observed trait of first-born children, to be perfectionists. Francesca certainly procrastinates when faced with a task that she might not be perfect at first time. Do I have that tendency too?

She had a strop in the middle of maths, yesterday, because she'd made a mistake and my suggestion for a correction didn't meet with her approval. She drew a scribble right over the page with a felt-tip pen. I gave her time out then made her start again, which meant that maths took an inordinately long time and we were only just starting English after lunch.

The younger two had paper and pencils, the same as Francesca, and did their own 'maths' with shapes to draw round.

When Francesca got on with her maths properly, she got quite into it and I heard her telling someone later that she had been doing 'place value' which is true.

I've noticed that her concept of 'add 10' is letting her down. She can count in tens (10, 20, 30 etc) but when it comes to adding 10, she counts on her fingers and sometimes miscounts and it's all very slow.

Thus, we've been doing some more work on place value: tens and units.

I gave her some abacuses (abaci?!) to draw beads on. Each pair of abacuses was a sum. I gave her the first number, for which she had to draw the beads, then she had to add ten and draw the beads for the second number. In this way, she came to reinforce the idea that each time she was only adding one bead on the tens column. This was to be further reinforced with the computer-version of the abacus that I found online but we didn't get onto that until today, after the felt-tip pen debacle yesterday.

Today, I was pleased that she was able to predict (without counting on) the answer she would get if she added ten, when looking at the abacus online. Later, though, she was unable to apply the knowledge without the numbers in front of her, so more work is still needed.

I also ventured to use some numbers greater than 100 today and discovered that she is not confidently able to read them. We need to practise that too!

I love that I am able to work closely with her and notice exactly what lesson would benefit her next. I am enjoying tailoring her curriculum to her, day by day, as we go along.

On Monday, Elizabeth and Sebastian got to do painting whilst Francesca was taking ages over her maths. It's all part of the experience: actions have consequences (in that case, missing out on the fun of painting). Today, I mentioned that she wouldn't get to play with her friend after school if she hadn't finished her work. I hope the message is getting through.

After lunch on Monday, the English lesson commenced unbidden with a reading aloud of the new book "The Troll" by Julia Donaldson. Francesca was reading it to Snowy and soon gathered a bigger audience.

I used that as a starting point for some written work, asking Francesca to retell part of the story in her own words. She spent about half an hour doing a great piece of writing, complete with endearing spelling mistakes.

Today's English task was to write a letter. She chose to do it on the computer and it was to Grandma and Grandad. "What shall I write about?" she asked, and I said they would be interested to know what she had been doing, or what she was looking forward to doing. She, apparently, is looking forward to going back to Beamish one day and going on the carousel. That is what she wrote about. The typing took ages but was very nicely done, with plenty of "Oops, I need backspace!" and "How do I get back onto that line again?"

Grandma and Grandad replied very promptly, which was great, to encourage this enterprise (thanks mum and dad!)

We had no heating or water (of any sort) today while the boiler was being replaced so we took that as an excuse to go out to lunch. Sebastian thinks everything could be a steering wheel. Here he is driving his plate. You'll have to imagine the sound effects:

This afternoon we did Science. First we answered Francesca's question: "What is the difference between brown flour and white flour?" We sieved, compared, discussed and looked a pictures of grains.

That done, we put some bits of food in plastic bags in order to continue our investigation into microbes. More on that to follow, I expect!