Saturday, 31 December 2011

Big cats before bedtime

Dd has suddenly announced that she wants to do a cat lapbook. It's half an hour till bedtime and yet I should make the most of this opportunity. I find a fab free lapbook on homeschoolshare here but no, she doesn't want that one. She wants pictures of cats.

What sort of cats? I ask.

Cat cats. Any cats. I don't know. She says.

I am trying to keep the last of my colour printer ink and do not want to spend the next half hour of my life trying to get pictures to print out in the right colour. I am too tight to buy the proper ink for our printer, but our printer doesn't like any other ink and with the cheap ink loves to turn perfectly natural shades into fluorescent pink out of protest. Life is just too short.

I move on enchanted learning, which fortunately has plenty of pictures of cats to colour in (here) . Dd usually hates colouring in. Well, perhaps hate is too strong a word, but she simply doesn't do colouring in. But she appears keen to colour in the - rather strange - outlines of cats that enchanted learning provides. (and they are strange - some of them are exactly the same outline, just different colouring instructions for the different species).

She wanders off to the next room with an outline of a panther or something and a brown pencil. I suspect the snow leopard may end up orange and purple, but such is the way of the spirited child.

And this gets me doing more time-wasting on the internet. I find National Geographic had a Big Cats week. I missed it, and besides, Freeview doesn't do National Geographic, but there are still resources online left here. It seems to late to start viewing videos, but I do anyway.

Who would have guessed that I'd spend New Year's Eve sober (so far) and watching conservation films about hyenas. This is what children do to you. Be warned.

Joy. Oh joy. Only a Siberian tiger and an Abyssinian cat to go before I can open the wine.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas 2011

More home-made mince pies (we ate the first lot before they got to the freezer)
Christmas hoodie
Hiding from the camera
Making a table decoration. (Mother realises why the oasis wont absorb water. Apparently it is oasis for DRIED flower arrangements - doh!)
reading a Christmas present

Plugged in

The Magic Christmas Tree

ds1 makes a new life form (actually they are Anzac biscuits but they went a bit different and ended up more like chewy cereal bars). Delicious, but unexpected.

Ds1's birthday cake

Christmas Eve traditional bonfire (bit hot for toasting marshmallows!)

Playing Uno after the potatoes have been peeled

Thursday, 22 December 2011

New Links I've added

As we think about what we're going to be doing in 2012 I've been browsing the web (obviously avoiding doing domestic things) and have added a few links to the right hand side of my blog.

Firstly there are some history/prehistory links in preparation for starting Story of the World Vol1:

A 'walk through a cave to see prehistoric cave paintings' site (I can't think of how better to describe it).

A BBC Scotland website on Scara Brae on The Orkney Islands (with slightly irritating childish graphics, but some good videos)

And The History Cookbook site with videos of cooking techniques of different eras, and recipe ideas. (thanks to Belzi on alittlebitofstructure for pointing me towards this site).

Then I've added a link to a free unit/lesson plan on oceans and climate here . Might be worth supplementing it with some more recent info, but as a basic starter it looks good.

And a free Design and Discovery 'curriculum' from Intel, which starts with redesigning the paper clip and moves on to...well...I need to print out another trees-worth to find out. But it looks interesting anyway.

I'm starting to think my link list is getting out of hand and that I might need to consolidate or relocate it to my resources blog (which is rather bare). Something else to think about in 2012

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

When you stop doing educational things... happens all on its own.

Matchstick problem solving (from "The Big Book of Puzzles and Games: over 200 Games Using Mumbers, Matches, Dominoes and Coins" by Treasure Press 1989)

Doing a Christmas wordsearch, (free from currclick here )

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Finally got around to...

the game 'Science Adventures in Antarctica' that I printed out free from Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop.

The boys were interested for all of about 20 minutes {g}. But we gave it a go.

Actually, with other children who don't have cabin fever and insist on antagonising or wrestling with each other every few minutes, it could be quite a good game.

I made the mistake of laminating everything (I was having a laminating frenzy) which a) makes the game more permanent so we will HAVE to use it again (it now has it's own folder to go in) and b) meant that I kept stabbing my fingers on the sharp corners of the laminated cards (which put me in a bad mood and meant I had to go buy chocolate and cola to make me happy).
I feel I can well and truly tick off the 'polar' theme now.

Have you noticed how we seem to be getting more 'structured' in our home ed projects/ activities? I'm not sure if this is the influence of alittlebitofstructure forum (great site, check it out), or if it is the age of my eldest child (very soon to be teenager), or the increased cooperation of my children to do structured tasks (probably related to the age of eldest child), or my desire to see a few more boxes ticked (always a nice bonus), or because I have been persuing my own creative achievements and have needed to instigate some routine into the learning in the house (rather than the usual fluid way things are able happen when I am less self-preoccupied) or (more likely) whether it is just a natural development of where we've been going and where we've ended up.

There is no 'one-way' of doing home ed. I try to encourage others, particularly newbies, not to get hung-up on a certain method or routine, but to be flexible and to seek out the way that works best for their family. It's very easy to get stuck in a rut, or to insist on 'seeing out' a particular curriculum or project, just because you have started it. But in the end, home ed works best when you are going 'with the grain' of the child, not against it.

So this is where we are now. And it's ok.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fail to plan and plan to fail (or some other b******s)

Of course, having an assignment deadline, and a house that desperately needs pre-christmas attention, I am focusing on home education instead.

I like to have plans this time of year, just as I like to start after Summer with a sort of 'Autumn plan' (years of schooling have instilled strange seasonal behaviours into my neural networks - like the desire to buy stationery in September). We never stick to these plans. They just give me some reassurance that we are organised and have direction. And they give me a damn good excuse to spend money on Amazon.

So my plans are...

To 'do' Story of the World Vol 1 with ds2 and dd. In my enthusiasm I have already written out a schedule for the first three months of 2012 with lists of weekly SOTW activities and possible outings...let's see if we get past the first fortnight, shall we?

Attempt the Intel Design and Discovery curriculum with ds1 and ds2. As always, when I discover a new resource on the internet, one that is free and comprehensive and hands-on I cannot resist. I give this one 3-4 weeks. That's if we get past 'design a new paperclip' without rolling eyes and groans. It could all fall at the first hurdle. If so that rainforest may have been pulped in vain.

Something Shakespearian or Tudorian (yeah, I know that's not a word). There's a Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum from summer 2012. It's a possible. Or I could just drag the kids to Stratford point at a few 'Ye Olde Barde livede here-e' and be done with it. But if we're doing ancient history with SOTW, then jumping into the Tudors might confuse things. But then we EVER do anything in chronological order? Dinosaurs next then.

I downloaded this biochemistry module which we might start. Or we might not. We should, because I paid for it. But that's not always a good enough reason. I'm not sure how much it crosses over with Ellen McHenry's Carbon Chemistry. Perhaps we've already done too much chemistry and there will be mutiny among the troops. It'll be one of those 'suck it and see' things I think. Or a 'can I be bothered?' thing. Jury out.

And apart from that...

Er well of course my children will be knuckling down to their daily regime of hours of literacy and numeracy and latin and French, German, Spanish, Mandarin and Swahili, while studying for IGCSE's in performance arts and political history, and winning awards for essay writing, spelling, ice skating, dance and gymnastics. And then after breakfast...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Free 'A Christmas Carol' audio on BBC Schools Radio Website

Not sure how long it will be up on the website, but a nice precursor for Christmas.
Find it here

There are also accompanying notes for follow up activities (might be a bit schooly, I haven't checked them out).

You'll also find Hans Christian Anderson tales and Wind in the Willows on the same site.

Great for lazy bedtime stories :)

Friday, 16 December 2011

When the relatives are coming it's time to...

Make mince pies for the freezer...

...and then eat them all up straightaway.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Easy Peasy Christmas bunting

We were in need of some new Christmas decorations and were shown how to make these by another home edder at a home ed group. Really really easy bunting!

First cut squares out of scraps of material. We used pinking shears to reduce fraying, but ordinary scissors are fine too (and the fraying just makes them look authentically rustic!).
The squares don't have to be a particular size (2-3 inches square works fine with thinner fabrics, you can go larger with stiffer fabric (light fabric tends to flop a bit if squares are large, as we discovered!). Vary the sizes and don't worry about making the squares precise unless you are totally retentive.

We used mostly free fabric swatches (checked and silk furnishing fabric samples) so the material was stiffer and worked well.

Use an ordinary running thread to sew diagonally across the square. We used our hand-cranked sewing machine which is evil, but easier for the kids to control than my equally evil electric one. Don't fasten off, just keep going.

Sew a couple of stitches after you come off the diagonal point and then tuck the next square in and carry on going. Having a couple of stitches between squares helps them to twist and spin a little.

We found some shiny fabric and popped that in as well to make it look a bit more Christmassy.

When you get to the end of all your squares just do a few stitches back the other way and fasten off.

You can choose to have short bunting strands and hang them vertically, or do like we've done and make a super-long string of them to go across the room in a zig zag.

The photos don't do them justice, but you get the idea.

Like I said - easy peasy! (And a good way to use up those not-so-nice fabric scraps that you can't bear to throw away)

(Spot the lovely hanging paper Christmas tree we got from Wilkos this year only £1!)

This year's bunting hung above last year's strings of pot pourri and little hand-sewn padded hearts:

Monday, 12 December 2011

Free Christmas Word Search (for non-confident readers)

Free wordsearch with a Christmas theme to download from the currclick here

Nice and simple, so ideal for younger children or non-confident readers. My dd (a just-started reader) has done two of the pages.

You probably need to make an account with currclick before you can download it, but after that it's pretty simple. There are other freebies on the site, plus they are having a sale at the moment, so you might just happen to be tempted...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Apart from exploding pressure cookers...

We've been

visiting a local archaeology & art museum:

making Christmas decorations at home ed group:

Christmas fencing:
enjoying late night 'Light Night':
eating candyfloss:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This is what happens when...

...the pressure cooker explodes:

I'd like to say it was an interesting home education experiment

But the real skill came in trying to clean it up. First the Jack-vac:

And then the sky-high mop (yes, that is the kitchen ceiling):

And in case you hadn't guessed from the debris, it was potato and vegetable soup. Or it might have been if it hadn't detonated in my very small 1930s kitchen.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

End of November Catch Up

Feels like a while since I last posted. Here's a quick catch up of the end of November.

Batizado (annual Capoeira awarding of belts):

Ds1 at the U15 team foil competition

Ds2 at U12s team foil fencing competition:

Ds1 decides to make trees:

and cook noodles:

More on our polar theme. Fake antiqued letters with wax seals. Despite the newspaper, my table will never be the same again.

Sewing up the polar explorer's recipe booklet:

Making Anzac biscuits:

Making 'hardtack'

And yes, they were hard (and, after a few weeks, rather mouldy). But the dog enjoyed them.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Educating the kids is the easy bit

When I tell people I home educate, often the response is 'Wow, you're brave' or 'That must be hard work' or 'I could never do that'. And what I want to say in reply (but rarely do) is that educating my kids (or facilitating their learning, which is more our style), is actually the easy bit. It's all the other stuff that is hard.

This term I have been doing three courses. On Thursday evenings I'm doing a 2-year part-time diploma course, on alternate Monday evenings I'm doing an online course and on Friday mornings I'm doing another course. This equates to five 'homeworks' every fortnight, and one 2-3000 word assignment every term, plus working towards a larger portfolio and an exam. That's without actually making uninterrupted space for thinking time. I belong to a writing group, which meet every fortnight. It's my turn to lead the session tomorrow.

Two evenings a week during term-time I work from 7-10pm. The money isn't just handy, it's pretty much essential.

I try to home cook. I try to home bake. (Though at the moment the kids are living on Cream Crackers and Pot Noodle). I grow our own veg and I ignore our almost-abandoned allotment plot and feel guilty about it and continue to ignore it. I sell stuff on Ebay and Amazon to pay my late-payment credit card fines.

I do housework. I clean. I wash. I mend. I tidy. I cook. I shop. I cut grass and hedges. I scoop poop. I nag. I do it all over again. And still this place looks like something out of the series 'How Clean is Your House.'

Agreed, there are no dead mice in the wardrobe or cat pee stains on the carpet (there is no room in the wardrobe even for mice and we don't have a carpet). But it is a good demonstration of why hoarding stuff is A BAD THING and why pretty much everyone I know, except me, has a cleaner or an obliging mother who lives nearby and who cleans and babysits their kids every week, and why there are moments when I hate stay-at-home women whose kids are in school all day and who moan that they can't fit everything in. What I actually want to say is 'What the **** have you been doing all day? Writing a bestseller using alphabetti spaghetti?!' But of course I don't.

So, where does this leave us? Well, the crockery cupboards are full of dog hair and crud, the fridge has something growing in it, and the leaning tower of art and craft materials is now topped by a leaning tower of tablemats and books and clothes to mend and clothes beyond mending and weird things that the kids want to keep that I can no longer be bothered to resist, and one day it will topple down and bury us all and no-one will find us until the council break down the door to investigate the bad smell.

So when I start thinking about the home ed side of things, that is actually the easy bit. Or it would be if I had nothing else to do. One evening a week the boys have home ed fencing club, and middle child has cub scouts. This has to be juggled between work and courses. And then there is the kids' daytime activities - weekly fencing, monthly home ed group, monthly geography group, weekly/fortnightly Explorers Group for the younger ones. (We keep the activities to a tolerable level, but when you top up with play-dates and inpromptu meet-ups it all adds up.) And there's the time we spend on projects, research, library visits, outings, workshops.

But really, if someone - anyone - would step in and do the rest of the c**p, the boring, menial, essential stuff that is truly hard work, the home educating would be a doddle.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Woodland activities, polar craft, jelly, peacocks and leaf preservation

Last week (was it last week?) we managed to get some fresh air with friends in the woods.
Some of the kids tramped down stream and came to a mini waterfall

where the minerals in the water had solidified on branches and twigs and stones, giving them a hard casing. We concluded that it might be calcium carbonate (like the stuff that gunks up the kettle), but haven't looked into it yet. I'm thinking of putting some vinegar on it to see if it dissolves, but at the moment the mummified branch is sticking out of my jar of oversized kitchen implements. (We don't do houseproud.)

Of course a fire and marshmallows were compulsory. Ds1 had seen on Ray Mears that in survival cases where it was difficult to light a fire because of damp kindling it was possible to use plastic. So he took apart a blue connector rod pokey stick thing that for some wierd reason ds2 had brought along and set fire to it. Result.

Roasting marshmallows in molten plastic fumes...must be a bit like smoking bacon I assume.

More woodland activities on Monday this week, as we ventured to a local arboretum with a bunch of sweet little mostly-interested-in-what-we-were-doing girls and mildly thuggish feral boys (two of whom were mine). We discovered lots of clusters of hibernating ladybirds under the fern leaves (girls were interested; boys wanted to spear them)

Because I didn't want small child to fill my coat pockets with chunks of rotten wood and acorns, I'd supplied dd with a Tescos carrier. Thankfully the peacock was sensible enough to refuse to step into the bag.

and here she is with something she was determined to relocate to our garden.

After much negotiation I finally persuaded her that large unidentified fungi are probably more comfortable living in woods than in a back garden where a not-very-bright King Charles Spaniel will first pee on them and then eat them. And I definitely put my foot down when it came to taking the Fly Agaric home. Anything that looks like something a gnome would sit on it has got to be a BAD thing.

Ds1's culinary experimentations this week stretched to raspberry jelly with overcooked chocolate topping. Like me, he got impatient with the microwave and found out that if you heat chocolate high enough and hard enough, after the melting stage comes the solidified gunk stage (fractionally before the setting off the smoke alarm stage). I thought the fresh raspberries from the garden were a nice touch. I didn't ask how much he'd touched them before he put them on the top...particularly when I looked at his black fingernails.

At our monthly home ed group last week we made plaster cast fossils (which tied in quite nicely with our polar project fossil craft). Incredibly my kids sat through the whole of a geology talk, although ds1 was doing a good impersonation of a teen (it was the slumped body and spaced-out look that gave it away). I only had to hiss at smallest child once. I did have to hiss at a few adults who were chatting away, oblivious to the fact that their chatter made it impossible to hear the poor woman at the front who was doing her best to educate us about - er - rocks and things (I was listening, honest).

Meanwhile here are the decoupaged natural history boxes that the kids finished off this week for our ongoing polar theme thingy. It should look a bit like this and ours look like this:

Which I think is pretty good, don't you? I thought only ds2 would participate, so wasn't expecting to make three boxes, but the results are great. We haven't blown the eggs to go inside yet. I'm waiting for a good time to be enthused about egg-blowing. But perhaps there never is a good time to be enthused about egg-blowing...

The past few days ds1 has been taking weather measurements for his geography group. He's testing for wind-speed using a home-made anemometer, and rainfall using a home-made rain gauge (an empty lemonade bottle with bottle funnel and jelly in the bottom to make the bottom level). It's taken him two days to realise his anemometer is so stiff it wont turn even if he blows it. Or even if there is a gale. And particularly if he stands with one foot in the conservatory while sticking his arm out with the apparatus and says 'maybe I'm a bit close to the building, but it'll do'.

I suspect an over-enthusiasm for gaffa tape may have contributed to the non-turning design fault. But hopefully fixed now. But, like most science, it's all about experimentation, isn't it?

And today, after two hours of fencing classes with other home edders (that's the sword-sport, not the activity of trying to sell on nicked stuff) I persuaded at least one of my children to the cluttered conservatory table to try preserving some of the junk - I mean leaves - that we'd collected in our Tescos carrier on Monday. Following the instructions here on the ordinarylifemagic blog we bought some glycerin from the chemist and had a go. It was at this point I was particularly glad we hadn't brought home

a) the enormous fungi and

b) the peacock

as the glycerin was about £2.90 a small bottle and it would have taken a good few gallons to cover a peacock and a giant mushroom.

Apparently the leaves have to sit in the glycerin for two days, so watch this space...

As you may have noticed among all these activities, there's not alot of writing going on.

Or alot of maths.

Funny how the two main subjects that most home edders worry about just happen to be the two that all my kids do their best to avoid.

But, hey, who needs times tables and good grammar when you can rampage through a woodland stream, overheat chocolate in a microwave, start fires in damp weather, and preserve leaves - and potentially peacocks - in glycerin.