Maths 14/15

Maths is an area that has come together at last.  One of those just keep going subjects from last year.  All I have needed to do is photocopy, write out the problems and patterns, and  make and gather resources.  Taken several days but all prepared until February – I hope!

We are using Saxon.

20140731_22It is expensive (we’ve bought second hand though) and American (deals in imperial measurements, US money and annoying scripts) and I think the level is considerably below that expected in the UK (do not expect Grade 3 to anywhere near cover the UK yr 4).  Also the paper of the workbooks is horrible, thin and scratchy so I end up photocopying it all which is costly and takes ages. But for us all those negatives are outweighed by the positives.

The gradual introduction of ideas and repetition works for Sam, the lower expectations help his confidence as he is generally within his comfort zone and the hands on/short tasks work well as he doesn’t get frustrated/lose interest.

Each session starts with a ‘meeting’, where the date and temperature is recorded, practice on reading the time, working out patterns and skip counting and a ‘problem of the day’ is covered.  We don’t use the meeting book/strips that come with the course, we have a door!


Calendar and temperature charts.
20140730_7 Patterns are printed and in the maths folder.

20140731_16 Skip counting is done running round in circles (backwards when counting backwards obviously).  Problem of the day is written in a little box – I wrote 70 of them on Monday so they will definitely be used all the time this year. I got fed up of writing them last year and we stopped using them but as they often introduce a new idea first I want to use them hence the mammoth writing session.

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After the meeting comes the lesson.  This is usually only about 5 minutes and usually hands on.  I refuse to follow the script so I skim read and pick out the important bits.  Sometimes we’ll skip altogether if he obviously understands or it is not relevant/doable in some way (try getting gallon/half gallon containers easily and cheaply in the UK).

Have been making or printing the resources that we need for the lessons up until February,  Here’s just a selection.  Really pleased with the ordinal cars 🙂


The lessons round off usually with a practice of some simple Maths facts.  We use an online bomb timer for the fact sheets which appeals to Sam.

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Then there is a practice sheet (we only do 1 the course has 2, one for later in the day) which brings together some of the things from previous lessons to practice and jog memories.


Maths resources.

Over the years I have bought and got rid of a lot of resources, these are the ones we do use.


Pattern blocks – far and away the best ‘manipulative’ I’ve bought.  Useful for maths (and used a lot in Saxon although we had them for a long time before) and great fun for making pictures and patterns.

Snap cubes – close second to the pattern blocks.  Fantastic for adding, multiplying, volume, area, perimeter, building guns….



Balance scales – lots of fun to be had comparing weights that just can’t be had from standard kitchen scales.


Base 10 – we don’t use much any more but Sam still likes to play with it and as the base 10 system is so important we’ve found them very useful for adding and carrying etc.


Geometric shapes – tbh these are mainly used for playing in the sink and mixing potions, but they are used a lot and we do talk about the shapes/edges/vertices sometimes so I hope some unconscious learning goes on 😉

20140731_4Newest addition.  Not anticipating a great deal of play value from this but saw it on a blog and thought ‘more fun then flashcards’.



Collecting Resources (Free Stuff)

With the new academic year on the horizon I, like so many others I expect, keep getting distracted by sparkly new resources.  However, there is not much we actually need.  We are still mid book with Maths and English having started in January with the current set of books, and having bought several years ahead when they have popped up second hand on the lists.

So I have distracted myself by tracking down free resources to support project work (actually got distracted again and started looking at more…).  All the links below provide free resources inc free delivery.




The British Legion produce a fabulous schools pack.  We received the 2013/14 pack but later in the year they sent through the 2014/15 pack off their own steam.

20140731_15Booklet from the OU.  One for older children probably.

Not received these yet as only ordered this morning.  DVD’s from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.



Teaching pack, posters and recipes on grain farming.

20140731_7Masses of resources ordered from various places on the FACE website.


20140721_620140731_8 Posters and teaching pack from the RNLI


Posters and leaflets on road safety



Free sample storystarter kit from Lego Education.




If ever Sam is put on the spot baking soda volcanoes are the activity of choice so we rounded of the term with some volcano fun.  Also I picked up a book from a charity shop that was begging to be turned into a project, full of information and hands on projects.  We didn’t do as much as I wanted and never even really made it to earthquakes but it ran it’s course and I’m trying hard at the recognising when enough is enough thing.

Where we went

Short of an actual volcano to visit we settled for a trip to the Earth galleries of the Natural History Museum.

Touching the Eath's inner core and saying ouch - a lot!
Touching the Eath’s inner core and saying ouch – a lot!


What we did

We made a lap book!  Have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them.  Hate the cutting out and the lack of engagement needed to complete many of them but fancied producing a finished product – nice to have something keepable sometimes.

I was going to get around some of the negatives by producing my own bits to stick in but ran out of steam. So it is a cobbled together mix of home produced stuff, a Hands of a Child download which I had forgotten about and really he’d outgrown and free printables from HomeSchoolShare

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We played about with thick pieces of card on oobleck, investigating the movement of tectonic plates and pushing the card together to see the plate boundaries.

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Home made jigsaw of the tectonic plates.


We investigated how magma forces it’s way through cracks to the surface.



Making a playdough volcano.  Exploding vinegar and baking powder in the crater.  Sticking on more playdough to cover where the ‘lava’ ran to show how the volcano changes shape over time.

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Volcano art – using pipettes to drop vinegar coloured with food colouring onto a tray of baking powder to make mini coloured explosions.

20140714_20Julius Caesar with his blood flowing out (he’s sideways if it helps).
Investigating new ways of making volcanoes.  A tray of baking powder mixed with a couple of sachets of koolaid (contains citric acid).


Spray with water.20140714_30I will never use vinegar and food colouring again.  This was so much easier and cleaner and nicer smelling.

Making the lapbook cover by dripping paint (lava) with pipettes.


We read

(pics are links to Amazon)







Can’t find the last one on Amazon but this is by the same author so may well be a reissue from the sound of it.


We watched

20140730_21We played



Bubble Fun

Yesterday was a glorious noisy, messy, house full of kids, summer day.

Jack and friend spent a while searching through the massive pots of change we have in search of penny falls money before disappearing for most of the day.  Returning when they were just too hot to the shade of Minecraft.

Sam and friends had an impromptu, loud music session before I sent the instruments, inc the annoying plastic guitar that I have always hated, home with a friend.

Afternoon was spent in a water fight, playing with tubs of shaving foam and whisking up soap flakes, playing with touchable bubbles (which are fab if sticky), putting each other inside person size bubbles and making castles from sand clay. Lots of fun, noise and mess 🙂

20140723_1 20140723_2 20140723_3 20140723_8 20140723_10Bubble is actually stuck to his head!


End of Term

It is a week of ‘lasts’.

Last home ed group meet we will join in with for the summer (there will be meets and we’ll see friends but we need the break).  Was a coffee morning at the local scout hut.  We enjoyed it; nice people, kids enjoyed the activities, venue suited well but a lot of people who said they were coming didn’t show and I ended up out of pocket so will be the last one unfortunately.

On the positive got to see some wonderful creative beach sculptures from the children and test mine (a very sweet 4yo was giving my big eyes as she wanted a swan – I did refuse the follow up request for a cow!).

20140721_16Time to get home, tidy away everything from the morning and sort out stuff for Guides.   Been a bit of a roller coaster year but glad I made the switch.  Waved my oldest two off and welcomed four more.  We were doing the organ workshop that I’d done with the home ed group the week before.  Nice end to term for me as all I had to do was turn up with forms and badges.

Being in Gosport though led to me having 1/2 hr to kill at the time all shops bar the supermarket was closed.  Ended up in the library, leaving with 25 Geography/Weather/Ethics books.  Really good haul, but not helping with the clear out.

20140721_30Tuesday was a drag the boys out of bed very early for a 7.30 bus to the opticians (seemed a good idea when I booked it to just do it before the waiting room reached boiling temperature – less so on the morning).  We got out in less than 2 hours with 4 pairs of glasses on order between us.  Sam still perfect vision, Jack’s stable, mine improving – so good results.

We had Thorton’s ice cream as a treat afterwards.  Before picking up some shopping and home for lunch.

20140723_2Jack headed out, Sam played Skylanders, I caught up with admin.  Then we walked over to a friend’s to deliver some books and toys, have a cup of tea and run around yelling a lot and brandishing weapons.  Home and more friends dropped in to collect books.

Busy day ended with Sam’s final Cubs of the summer.  Laser tag and fire lighting, happy boy.






Summer Evenings

School is out, and Jack is about.  This is obviously the year he is really spreading his wings as he is off down the beach swimming at any opportunity and there are plans for bike rides and picnics.  Test of nerves as a parent, feel that I am not so much voluntarily letting go of the strings as having them pulled away from me.  But am doing well at keeping my panic to myself and letting them go rather than desperately grabbing at them.  When it comes down to it he’s a sensible boy and I trust him.

Well Jack is revelling in it Sam and I are really struggling with the heat so staying indoors out of the sun.  Seems sunset is our going out time 🙂

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Cramming it all in

Felt a bit like we have been against the clock this week counting down to Jack finishing school yesterday.

After Monday’s get things done day, Tuesday was a day to catch up with friends.  This often goes by wayside in school holidays as more difficult to get about with a grumpy preteen in tow.  On the plus side I think we’ve passed the worst of it as preteen is generally happy and old enough to be trusted to do his own thing, plus I like his friends so if I’m taking Sam out for the day to meet friends, will just take preteens enmass – less trouble to take 2 or 3 than 1.

Anyway back to Tuesday and we had a pleasant morning drinking coffee, gossiping and playing iPad at a friend’s before meeting another friend at the Dockyard for picnic and Action Stations.  Think we’ve long since exhausted any educational benefit but to the boys it is a large playground and they love it.

Wednesday we rounded off our Volcano project with a trip to the Earth galleries at the Natural History Museum.

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One of the things I love most about visiting London is all the discussion and debate that arises, can barely walk 10 yards in London without coming across something interesting and if we can we always walk or bus if possible so we can see stuff.  Weds had us walking an hour through Belgravia looking at the big houses, landscaped squares, playing spot the embassy and discussing the potential pitfalls of socialism and why communist systems haven’t really worked.  Should have only taken half hour but I got distracted by Sam explaining how he would radically reshape the political systems of this world by dissolving all country boundaries and having a large, central, elected, representative council to make decisions.  Bit of a radical socialist my younger son!

Did have a laugh on the way there.  I was reading about volcanoes and obsidian came up, so I asked Sam if he knew that volcanoes made obsidian.  His answer was ‘yes, of course’ followed by explanation on the use of obsidian in Aztec culture.  The lady he was sitting next to sat there looking at him open mouthed  😀

Thursday we had a group trip to a local church where they have a recently reconditioned organ that had been played by Handel.

Information about the church.

Was a lovely trip, opportunity to do something different.

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They also had a chance to go inside the organ to see all the pipework.

Friday, we worked on Sam’s volcano lapbook before he went to a friend’s house and I took the opportunity to crack on with the big end of year clear out.  Far from tidy yet.

Clear Out

Time to declutter a bit – offering these locally first to avoid postage issues.  May struggle to bring to coffee morning as don’t drive and suspect my granny trolley will be full of the craft stuff.  But I only live around the corner so can nip home and bring them to the park at lunch or you can drop around an collect on way home.  Anyone not coming Monday we can sort something out.

Mix of KS1/2/3 level stuff plus some instruments and toys tagged on the end.

For Sale

All are used unless stated but in decent condition

Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography – £2

Workbooks brand new – KS1 – £3 for the 5 listed below

WH Smith’s Grammar and Punctuation book 2

WH Smith’s Handwriting book 2

Collins Handwriting Book 3 Age 5-7

Collins Times Tables book 3 – Age 5-7

Collins Multiplication and Division Practice – Age 5-7

Workbooks most new – KS2 

Collins Handwriting books 1, 2 and 3 – book 1 half used others new – £1 for the 3

Logical Learning Number Shape Magic Explorer – £1

Rising Stars Study Guide English Yr 6 – £1

Galore Park So You Really Want to Learn – KS3 Level these were all bought second hand for Jack before he went to school and are bit battered and the science at least is quite an old version hence price

French Book 1 + CD – £8

General Books

Spelling Made Easy Introductory Level (word lists, dictation, teaching points only A5 size) – £1

Collins Grammer and Punctuation Pupil Book 1 – £1

Whole World inc CD – £2

My Daddy is a Pretzel – £1

Read and Wonder Animals- 4 story books with info about Penguins, Pigs, Eels and sharks – £5

Festivals, Family and Food – Guide to Seasonal Celebration – As new condition except some of the pages have the top cut off, doesn’t interfere with content and came like that – £5

How to Make a Universe with 92 Ingredients – new, pages too busy and bright for us – more chunks of text people – £3


Space Lines – 3D Connect 4 basically – ended with a dublicate copy – £1


Wonder Book of Would you Believe it

Natural Disasters

Paperjamz guitar





Encouraging Reluctant Writers

Inspired by a thread on a forum.  I often find myself writing a similar response to questions on the subject which seem to arise quite frequently, seems that I am not the only one to experience reluctant writers! So here’s my two penneth worth.

For what it is worth I believe writing legibly and quickly is a pretty essential skill in life and I feel I would be failing my children if they don’t master it to an adequate level.  They will need it for exams, and whatever my opinion of the system is, exams and the qualifications can open doors to the future.  I will be doing my children a disservice if I don’t help them gain the skills/keys to open those doors even if they choose not to.  Also life changes, often unexpectedly, there are a whole number of reasons why a child might suddenly end up in school and being able to cope with things like the level of writing would obviously ease the way.

Most of what I am talking here relates to the actual practical putting pen to paper rather than being able to convey an idea in text which is obviously still important but for it is the practical element that seems to cause most of the reluctance.  In a home ed environment I don’t think writing really has much importance until exam time or some sort of external course requires it.  If they aren’t in school there is less emphasis on them having to use writing as a method of demonstrating their learning – you can see it with your own eyes and hear with your own ears and you don’t need to demonstrate it to anyone else.  I firmly believe that children learn best when they are inspired and self-motivated and/or they see a point to it.  This is not always easy to achieve with regards writing, telling an 8 yo that in 6 years time he will need to write a 3hr essay or a 10 yo who had a bad experience at school that he may decide to go back in 2 years, won’t wash.  Therefore I think this has to be one of those things where ‘Mum (or Dad) knows best’ like brushing teeth etc and our role as parent/teacher/facilitator is to make it as low stress as possible by whatever method it takes (not above bribery).

Early years (under 8’s)

  • Don’t stress about writing at all at this age.   Pushing before they are ready can only ever be counter productive.
  • Work on motor skills to improve hand muscles and finger grip – use tweezers to pick up and sort items like pompoms, pasta, beads and natural materials like acorns and conkers (muffin trays very useful for this);  threading – beads, buttons, lacing cards; scissor practice – simple collages, random cutting of paper or wool, trying to follow lines; hama beads (we went straight on to the midi at age 3/4 ).
  • Model writing – children want to do what Mum (and Dad) does so let them see you writing.  In this technological age we communicate by email, make shopping lists on phones, word process essays etc.  Try and get in the habit of picking up a pen yourself to do some jobs.  Write a note with a card for example and encourage the child to add their name/a note/a doodle.  Write shopping lists, children can write or draw their own – we have had many fun trips round the village shops trying to work out picture lists 🙂  Leave notes around the house to one another.
  • Play lots of pen and paper games like hangman (when their spelling won’t drive you doolally), squares, noughts and crosses… Peggy Kaye’s Games for Writing is an excellent source of ideas (for anyone local I have one to sell on)
  • Practice pencil skills in other ways; tracing, dot to dots, colouring, and drawing; both freehand and learn to draw books and printables, the latter are a good way of introducing the idea of following particular shapes.
  • Make practising letters as fun and tactile as possible. Use finger or a blunt pencil to draw letters in flour, shaving foam, oobleck etc (buy cheap litter trays – I love cheap litter trays they are brilliant for messy activities), draw with a finger on each others backs.  Use sandpaper letters, magnets and letters made from play dough to practice forming words.
  • Encourage them to hold the pencil correctly.  Use grips and ergonomic pens/pencils to help.  Will mean that in the future they are unlikely to find that they are over gripping and the hand/wrist is tired.

Middle years (roughly 8 – 11)

Probably (hopefully) the trickiest time.  This is where we are, perfectionism and attitude I find are big issues now as they find independence and their own opinions, there is grumbling and huffing and puffing when asked to pick up a pen.  We as parents start worrying a bit when we see other children’s work, from school or on blogs and even though we hate ourselves for doing it we raise an eyebrow a little that even the 5 year olds seem to have neat joined up writing.  And the bigger picture of future exams or possible school attendance is so far off that is not a great motivating factor.  Things that appear to work for us.

    • Remove as much writing from other areas of the curriculum as possible.  I believe a lot of the frustration at this time arises from the fact that the brain works faster than the hand can write, and they have trouble expressing their thoughts.  We are in the lucky position of being able to interact on a very personal level, we can hear from their conversation that they have understood.  If you want something on paper, scribing for them or typing are options.
    • Keep the technicalities of writing separate.  We use a combination of handwriting practice books, copywork and dictation.  In short bursts, we have a 10 minute timer and never go over this.  For this time it is focusing on the formation of letters, spacing of words etc without the need to think on the content.
    • Don’t underestimate the value of working on motor skills in other ways, colouring, drawing, hama beads, knitting, loombands, Lego…
    • Correct the grip, posture… we have a tripp trapp chair to help with height, stabilo pens for grip, we tried and discounted a wedge – and I adopt a scheme of gently reminding aka nagging in the nicest possible way.
    • Encourage writing for pleasure – mine love new notebooks 🙂 By not asking them to write I am forever finding cartoon strips, notes, how to guides (Minecraft usually, but we’ve had owners manuals for their brother for example) dotted about.  They both love blogging (okay this is typing but all helps).  Keep meaning to find Sam a penpal, or possibly something like postpals.
    • Make use of technology.  Sam has an app on his Kindle that reads back what you type.  Again not writing but does help with spelling and punctuation.
    • Trust your gut. You are the best person to sense if the reluctance is due to negative school experiences, laziness, being a boy of a certain age (not that girls can’t be reluctant writers of course), in other words something time and patience will fix.  Or whether other factors such as dysgraphia may be at play.  If you believe there is a problem fight all the way for support.

Later years (roughly 11+)

Have to say I have no real experience and therefore no truly useful advice.  Jack’s handwriting is the one area that really did improve when he went to school.  Now at 12 it isn’t the neatest you will see by a long shot (but better than his Dad’s) but he can write quick, legible cursive.  The key factor in it all was he needed to be able to do it to keep up with the class and therefore he had the motivation to really make an effort.  I’m hoping that at some point Sam will find his motivation, and we will manage passable.  There is always bribery to fall back on 😉

If you want more useful advice then I would carry on with all the earlier strategies.  Seek help if think it is needed.  Stress the need for quick, legible handwriting as a means to an end and try and encourage self-motivation.

This is the age where they need to learn to structure an essay.  I have a theory that you can pass any essay based exam with only the basics of subject knowledge as long as you know how to structure an essay, not well perhaps but baseline pass that knowledge will improve.  My plan is that at 11/12 we will move from project based/hands on learning to more textbook based and gradually increase the written content focusing very much on structuring ideas.  In English I am hoping we can move away from handwriting practice (which is our big thing to crack), spelling and grammar (which are reasonable) to focus almost entirely on producing literate pieces of writing.  I plan to adopt a modelling approach – his ideas, I’ll help mind map them, then I’ll model the answer.  Gradually we’ll had over bit by bit things like conclusion, discussing best way to go about it.  Good sentence starters etc.  We have some books collected from Collins over the years that I expect to draw on Collins Easy Writing and Collins Writing Aiming For Level 4 (one of a series obviously we will probably move through).

An online friend has mentioned that her reluctant writer 12 yo starts every day with writing the alphabet to jog letter formation.  I am anticipating this being something we do for some considerable time too.

This post was actually began in early May, not so much reluctant as just short of time and concentration here 🙂

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Wonderwoman mode (minus a few brain cells)

Today has been fantastically productive day.

I have –

    • Made vats of jelly for my Guides to play Mr Plod the Policeman.  With lots of cleaning up after I stupidly washed and reused the cups from last week’s water session, which were full of needle holes! Took me longer than it should to work out where all the spillage was coming from.


  • Drew and painted an owl for ‘pin the beak on the…’
  • Dealt with 100 queries from Guide parents.  Well okay exaggeration but my phone has been none stop today.
  • Printed off a gazillion forms for Guides.
  • Made a demonstration volcano for Sam to see how lava forces it’s way up via cracks.20140714_18
  • Did some volcano art – squeezing droppers of coloured vinegar on a tray of baking soda.  It is the assignation of Julius Caesar apparently.20140714_20 20140714_22
  • And then experimented with making volcanoes from koolaid, baking powder and water – definitely the way of the future.  They worked really well, no smell of vinegar (cherries instead) and pick a red one and no need for food colouring. 20140714_27 20140714_30 20140714_3920140714_40
  •  Then he had great fun mixing it all together and I had a big mess to clear up again 🙂
  • I booked his Art Award sessions for Sept.  More on that later in the week.
  • I booked tickets for Matisse exhibition at the Tate after a lot of chasing on home ed rates.
  • I booked tickets to go the Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition at the NHM.  No chasing on rates this time.  Simple phone call was all it took to get schools rate.  Even had all my details from the last time I booked an exhibition – 7 years ago!
  • I booked a trip up the Spinnaker for the home ed group.
  • After a lot of tooing and froing I also provisionally pencilled in a workshop at SEARCH.  Also on Britain’s prehistory.
  • Researched a few more trip options for the Prehistoric Britain project.
  • Tracked down links and ordered some free resources for farming/safety projects.
  • Got sucked into lapbooking with Sam for his volcano project.
  • Made arrangements to catch up with friends tomorrow.

In planning and clean up mode.  Jack finishes lunch time on Friday 🙂

20140714_43While I was sorting Guide paperwork Sam turned his bed into a boat.  The paper is an anchor.