Simple things in life

Earlier in the week I had Sam plan a journey that involved a change of bus.  Today we followed the route.  It led us to a beautiful walk along Hill Head beach where it felt warm enough to be spring but everywhere was frozen solid.  Rarely had a prettier walk.  My Dad’s knees are improving now he’s living down here and he joined us and managed the walk better than we’d hoped.  We spent a happy couple of hours at Titchfield Haven walking in the woods, watching the river from the hide and having lunch.  Rubbish on birds so won’t embarass myself by naming them (swans and ducks I can do), but I will mention here is a marsh harrier as it is rare enough that it had drawn a crowd so I had to ask.

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20150123_41 20150123_40 20150123_38 20150123_37 20150123_3620150123_30 20150123_27 20150123_25 20150123_24 20150123_23 20150123_22 20150123_20 20150123_18 20150123_16 20150123_13 20150123_12 20150123_10 20150123_8 20150123_7 20150123_3 20150123_2 20150123_1 20150123_46 20150123_43 20150123_5And home via the library for books by the fire.  Perfect home ed day.  Even managed some studying myself – new FutureLearn course.


Arty stuff

Started off the day with looking how our ice mobile worked.  Kind of is the best answer.  Think you need to live further north for this one.

20150122_10 We’d collected some natural materials and arranged them in shallow containers, filled with water and laid a ribbon over the top before leaving in the garden overnight on a very cold night.


Art group was Picasso’s Girl with a Boat

20150122_18Started off as ever with picture study.  Sam’s memory is getting better, not sure if this sort of exercise is actually helping but will plug on as obviously not harming.

20150122_19We drew simple faces on paper.

20150122_14Cut them up into largish pieces.  Painting the pieces in bright colours.

When the paint was dry, drew over the lines with black sharpies and glued the pieces to black poster paper.  We rotated some pieces, left gaps and in Sam’s case went completely random as he discovered that using dark paint over the pencil hadn’t been a good idea.

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Reasons to love home ed no. 567

Sam has a cold and his asthma is playing up.  He’s not particularly ill but he’s not completely right either.  One of the reasons home ed has always worked so well with Sam is that it is so easy to tweak and adapt plans.  There is no ‘is he well enough for school’ dilemmas, no guilt at sending him in when he’s below par because that is what you have to do, or hassle from schools/ewos because you don’t and his attendance isn’t ‘good enough’.

There are very few days when it would be hard to find some evidence of education taking place – basically only days spent sleeping or vomiting.  On days where he may have been too sick for school often we can carry on more or less as normal (perhaps in pjs and blanket as a treat) as we don’t have to worry about the going out in the cold, passing on germs, energy levels lasting the day.  Sometimes when he’s really not great we end up retreating under blankets on the sofa for books and documentaries.

Anyway back to yesterday – the sneezes, wheezes and rain simply meant that we opted for an indoor day rather than the pencilled in outdoor one.

English was done efficiently, including looking at story settings.

20150122_9Latin and he’s finished Level 1 🙂

Spanish done curled up in bed.

Maths was some Timez Attack and Fraction pairs


We made a game to practice giving directions (needs some work!)20150121_3Looked at route mapping from bus maps.  I want the boys to be confident using public transport, I think it gives them such a huge amount of independence and self reliance.  We planned the trip we’d intended to take with a view to doing it on Friday.  Looking up times on the timetables as well.20150121_5

We then had a game of the London Game to practice using the tube map.  Confidence navigating London is another key aim for the boys, opens up so many opportunities.

20150122_1We finally got around to watching the first of the RI Christmas lectures.

Then spent the afternoon in front of the fire reading.20150122_7 Looking up where some of the stories were set.20150122_3Rest of the day passed in playing Minecraft with Jack, chess with Pete and an early night.

Not bad for a ‘sick day’.

P.S.  Sorry for all the positive posts at what for most people is the hardest point in the home ed year.  If it helps I will be miserable from May to July (always am – heat and hayfever make me grumpy and Sam harder work too).


Atoms and Molecules

Sometimes, just sometimes, it is possible to hit on just the right way to put forward an idea as to make it seem so simple.

Chemistry was not my strong point in school.  I was able to churn out what I needed for exams but as I’ve been reading with Sam I am aware I didn’t have the deep understanding.  So back to basics, a bit of reading, a bag of American hard gums, some marshmallows and cocktail sticks and not only does Sam understand molecular bonding but so do I!

We started off recapping structure of atoms.  Then took this a step further and looked at the arrangement of electrons into shells.  We made some paper plate models by folding the plate in half and trimming around the middle making sure to leave it attached at the top and bottom.  For the atom with 2 shells we cut another ring into the outer section of the plate.  Then we glued pompoms onto the plate for the particles.  Red for protons, green for neutrons and pink/purple for electrons.  This table is very handy.




We then read the sections in the book and encyclopaedia about molecules.

To show how the bonds were made we took an American hard gum to represent an oxygen atom nucleus.   We broke a cocktail stick on half and stuck the two pieces into the gum.  This was the first shell which can have a maximum of 2 electrons.  We then stuck in 8 sticks for the second shell which can have maximum 8 electrons.  We checked on the periodic table how many electrons oxygen has, 8, add added these (mini marshmallows) to the sticks filling the first shell before starting on the second.

20150120_110Can clearly see the outer shell is missing two electrons,  So we made two hydrogen atoms.

20150120_67We then joined them together to show how the atoms share pairs of electrons.  A water molecule.


This was obviously too much fun to only do 1.  So we made ammonia and carbon dioxide too.

20150120_7220150120_75We then decided we preferred to eat the rest of the sweets.  So we looked at the chemical symbols for some common molecules.  We sorted out some Lego to represent come elements.


Then we built limestone, quicklime, sodium bicarbonate, water and a few others I’ve now forgotten.

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On a cold and frosty morning

The sniffles and wheezes are back but everyone remains cheerful so life carries on as normal.  We’ve had a few near to home, busy but relaxed days.  We’re managing to keep ticking stuff off my rough guides while at the same time following random threads of interest.

Weekend had a relaxed Saturday.  Lots of computer time.

Sunday was much fuller.  Started with lots of Surrealist art – was Jack’s homework but it sounded too fun for Sam to miss out.

20150118_4Games and airfix also featured.

20150118_3 20150118_1Both boys had Gang Show rehearsals.  Afterwards we had a rare evening in front of the television.  Jack had dug out the Robin Hood dvds for a blast from the past.

Monday. English was done very quickly and efficiently as was a bit of Mathletics.  But then we decided to look at shapes and the rest of the morning vanished in playing with tangrams.  Turns out I struggle to solve my own designs.  Need to do solutions for the website I think.

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After lunch we got outdoors, although seem to have missed the sunshine.  Then there were a couple of teenagers in the skatepark ‘who might swear’, so Sam had to be coaxed in.  He insists on leaving places if he hears bad language and I’m still reminded about the time I swore (about 2 years ago!).  Not quite sure where it comes from, Pete and I very seldom swear – comes out when there are stubbed toes or cramp involved.  Just find it rather vulgar, but aware in minority.  Sam though is grossly offended!  Do wonder what it will mean for friendships in upcoming years as he and his friends reach teenagerdom and boundaries get tested.  Think there will have to be lowering of moral standards! 🙂

20150120_2020150120_22 We stopped in to see Grandad and then headed home for Minecraft.  While I was at Guides there was chess practice, finishing plane and reading about Romans apparently.


Tuesday and we knocked off English.  We’ve moved on to character descriptions opposed to physical descriptions.  Spanish and Latin followed quickly.  Then determined not to miss the sun this time we headed to the park.  Just one of the many, many reasons I love home ed.

Sam is definitely my child in many ways – hates the feeling of falling – means that slides, monkey bars, fireman’s poles, going high on swings doesn’t happen… usually!  So attempting and enjoying the zipwire (even such a small one) is a huge personal milestone.  So please forgive the lots of park photos but it was a lovely morning.

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We also had fun playing with icy puddles and collecting bits for an art idea.


Home, lunch, science (separate post), City of Zombies for Maths and some playing with the calculator, few chapters of Around the World in 80 days, Minecraft and First Aid session at Cubs made it a full day.

The windy week that whizzed away

Week seems to have gone in the blink of an eye.

Besides the usual we’ve been exploring some new resources. There is a teacher that donates loads of good stuff to a local Oxfam, sometimes I can get some really good stuff.

20150116_9In creative writing we’ve been working on descriptions.20150116_13

Mapwork has been writing directions and following them.
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There has been a fair amount of getting cold and wet.


We’ve received quite a few postcards via postcrossing so we bought a new big map and have been tracking them.


Maths wise we’ve been exploring a resource based on Maths comic strips.  We’ve played various versions of Maths pairs, City of Zombies and other games (inc awful Beano one).  Mathletics and Timez Attack have both featured and he’s been rereading some of his Murderous Maths books.20150116_1There has also been a fair discussion of financial matters as we had a day spent in banks dealing with new accounts (for boys), standing orders and other bits.  Perhaps not a full day but considerably over an hour so it felt like a very long time.

We’ve had new resources to explore and plans to make.
20150116_2With the weather (and a new cold) keeping us indoors we’ve dug out the Kinect and had fun bowling, boxing and playing football.

Social wise there has been board games with Grandad,  lunch out with friends, laser quest, art and Spanish and a friend over for X-box play as well as Cubs and Gang Show.

Picasso – Girl Before the Mirror

We’re loving doing Picasso.  It’s the colours.

We took the activity directly from this blog

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Rethinking Maths

Maths was my thing at school, loved it!  When I went to university it was to train as a Maths teacher.  Despite this Maths is the only subject that I have always used an ‘off the peg’ curriculum for.  Reasons being;

a) I believe Maths knowledge is very much like building blocks.  If you come to try to add higher levels without firm foundations below then things will collapse.  It worried me that I’d leave gaps.

b) As a child (or most adults actually) you really don’t use a great deal of maths in everyday life.  Decent ability to add/subtract/multiply and divide covers most things.  However, maths is interesting on a purely abstract level and if you stick to what you come across you miss out.  I believe Maths differs from most subjects in that is easier to learn and make sense of abstract concepts and then apply it to the real world rather than the other way around.  Most people with a decent grounding will easily apply higher topics, the sort that people say they never use, without realising that they are.

Over the years I have tried a number of curricula with both boys.   I eventually settled on Saxon for Sam (although thinned down as it is rather longwinded) and it served us well for 15 months.  However, a few months ago it started to seem a chore and he was complaining about not liking Maths.  Well that simply won’t do.  Maths should be enjoyable.  Routine and repetition were getting to us both.  Changing curriculum didn’t feel like it would work.  At about the same time I came across this blog which inspired me to say we can do it.

My hope is that we’ll come back to using Saxon, maybe in a few months but if we stay ‘freerange’ for the rest of KS2 I don’t think it matters, glancing through the NC I am pretty confident that anything on there can be built in easily.  We don’t stick to the NC (and Saxon is American) but will do GCSE at some point so keep an eye on it.

First stage was to litter the book shelves with books.  Sam likes learning by reading to himself.  A number of Murderous Maths, Sir Cumference books and the Number Devil have ‘appeared’ and been read.

We then researched and tried out some online sites, settling on using Timez Attack (we have free version) more and a subscription to Mathletics.  Shine is going off the latter though as I think we’ll probably reduce use of computer.  It was a quick fix to grab his interest.

The stage stage was to add more games to our collection.  I bought 3 varieties of Maths snap cards and a set of Maths board games.


We added City of Zombies at Christmas which is brilliant.

Maths for the last few months has been a bit of computer time and a game.  Not always one of the specific maths games mentioned above as we have loads of games the majority of which cover some maths.  Interest is waning in computer based maths and we’re ready for bit more variety.

As we settle into the no curriculum thing I am hoping to make use of more hands on ideas and puzzles in some of the books we have.  Particularly Think of a Number and How Maths Works.

Will also aim to introduce a bit of written maths again on an occasional basis using some of the many Math’s puzzle and extension downloads I’ve bought from Scholastic’s Teacher Express over the years when they have their dollar deals.  Perhaps diverge into a bit of logic study as I’ve had this book lying around for a quite a while.

The idea is that we will incorporate some maths every day into our schedule without really worrying about what.  I’ll keep a mental (or blog) note of what we’re doing to make sure we’ve some variety.  But main thing is to keep things fun and interesting.

We’ll just have to see how we go.

How Semi-Structured Works for us ‘now’

I was linking this post into a Facebook comment earlier and realised that actually it is rather outdated.

We’ve had to reassess the social side a bit, we had lost the group I spoke of in the post but found that our time had filled up far too much with seeing individual friends.  Lovely of course, but I was starting to feel that my time was never my own especially after my Dad moved down, there was always someone we should call, somewhere we should be…

I jokingly said to another home educator that we don’t do the group thing any more we tread our own path and occasionally collect passengers for stages of the route.  I have planned our curriculum and some subjects (art and science) which are more fun with others we have another couple of families join us for.  I am conscious of Sam being the only one at home and while you definitely learn more one to one it isn’t always as fun, so we do like the variety of working alongside others.  I organise activities and trips which suit us some properly organised but some just ‘we’re doing this if anyone wants to join us’.  Not deliberately avoiding group trips or activities but little about that really works for us.

So here is our plan, to condense regular activities into fewer days.  Means we get a couple of really hectic days but more flexibility on the others.

Monday is a flexible day.  Would like to stay close to home as Jack finishes school early and sometimes I need longer than others to prep for Guides.  Also feel it’s important to get a good Monday morning’s work done.  Sets us up for the week.  But happy to have casual meet ups with friends for coffee or play in the park or spend some time with Grandad after work is done.

Tues is one of our hectic social days.  We should have time to get our morning core work done first though.  Fortnightly we have friends join us for Science late morning.  Afternoon is then free to see other friends or work on project stuff or see Grandad or anything that takes our fancy really.  The other weeks we make use of our Dockyard pass either to coincide with a group laser quest session which he loves or to catch up with his best friend.

Weds is now the free day.  If I organise any trips and days out either just us or for a group Weds is the day.  Sometimes it will be stay at home and do project work.  On days we’re not going out we may even do the core work.  What I won’t do is sign us up for any regular activities or commitments to see anyone unless it is a temporary thing or so good that we will rearrange our entire week dumping other activities for it.

Thurs is the second hectic day.  Core work, friends round for art and a play over lunch before Spanish tutor arrives.  Get everyone out the door and either Sam is picked up for a play at a friend’s house or friend arrives here.  Then Gang Show!

Friday is Grandad day.  We’ll need to rattle off the core work if we didn’t get to it on Weds.  I’m not saying we’ll never do anything home ed group related on this day, talking to someone about drama workshops which will fall on Fri morning prob.  But will commit to nothing regular, the plan is to spend some time with my Dad.

In there I mentioned ‘core work’.  This is done 4 days but not always the same 4 days.  Monday, Tues and Thurs yes and then either Weds/Fri depending on other plans for those days, but not opposed to finishing off bits on the weekend as ‘homework’ as Jack often has homework to do.  Ideally it is done first thing but we have some flexibility.

Core work for us is literacy, maths, Spanish and Latin.  Literacy – handwriting, copywork or narration from Writing with Ease, spelling, grammar and a writing activity, the last is flexible to fit into projects/life.  Maths, we are not following a curriculum for now as we needed a break (separate post long overdue) but still do something that could be called Maths.  Spanish and Latin are very short exercises (5 min jobs usually) but I sign up to the little and often approach to languages.

Apart from the core stuff we don’t tend to have an agenda ahead but tend to go with the flow.  I tend to have a list of jobs in my head for project/badge/science I am aiming for in the day but don’t go as far as putting them into words/commiting to paper as then it causes no upset if they don’t happen.

Art we do as a group so has a set time.  Science we do at as a group once a fortnight so have a set time then, plus we find an hour or so on the non-group weeks to do reading and follow up activities.  Geography and History we do as projects, one project a halfterm is the goal.  We take a lot of field trips for project work, sometimes with and organised group, sometimes a friend or two or sometimes just us, whichever works best.  We often don’t produce an ‘end product’ for a project but cover it all out and about, by reading, hands on stuff and conversation.

This year I’m trying to incorporate some of the Cubs badges and stuff into our more relaxed time.

I walk a balance between being very organised and in control in my head, I have a head full of activities that I would like us to work through and I am organised enough to collect the resources together and being very laid back so we effortlessly slip from activity to activity but if he’s chosen an activity not planned or we really get in to something it never matters as the activities are just ideas in my head of how I’d like to go but Sam is driving so sometimes route is different.  Works 60% of the time now 😉 Rest of the time we’re grumpy/snappy and the core work which should be done by 10.30 at latest can take forever.

Only hard rules are that TV/Xbox/Tablet remain a no between 8.30-2.30.  But then there are exceptions, we sometimes use Minecraft for project work, Spanish is done on the tablet, we watch documentaries, when one of us is ill I know our limits and sometimes he plays with friends.   But the important thing is they are exceptions.

Pretty much knocked the hope of music and nature studies on the head.  Be nice, but the former doesn’t enthuse either of us and we have too many allergies to really enjoy the latter.

The Girl with the Pony Tail – Picasso

When I first really started to be interested in art, modern abstract art never appealed.  My favourite painting was Paul Deloroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey because it always fascinated me how realistic the fabric of her dress was.  I valued realism above all else.

Over last 8 years or so though I’ve developed much more of a taste for modern art – mainly due to the bright colours and the fun and creativity they inspire when working with children.

New term means new artist and one we couldn’t wait to get started with – Picasso.

As usual we started off with the picture book from the Anholt’s Artist’s series.  I can’t rate these highly enough.

Then we worked on two pieces of art.  The first was a simple pencil sketch of a live model (me).

20150108_20Then we looked at one of the more abstract pictures and discussed how Picasso had simplified some shapes and amplified others.

We took some photos of Sam and one out to A4 size.

Sam traced the picture on to tracing paper, simplifying the shapes.

20150108_10 20150108_13Then all the different areas we coloured in and the lines drawn over with black pen.  Very pleased with results.  We discussed the possibility of adding bolts as looked a bit Frankenstein like 🙂

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I had a go too.

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Rest of the day passed pleasantly enough.  He amused himself during spelling with daft notes :).  The writing activity was Thank you cards for friends who had bought him Christmas presents – others have long gone in the post but we’ve not seen anyone since Christmas really and these are ones to hand deliver.  We had a game of pairs for the first time in ages.


Afternoon was spent at a friend’s and then it was tea and Gang Show.