Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Paper-chain alkanes and the health hazards of soda bread

My list of resource links has been getting rather raggedy and cumbersome, and so today I tweaked and rearranged it.

I do hate putting resources into subject categories because: a) websites often cover a wide range of subjects and b) home education has made me realise how pigeonholing information and learning into 'subjects' tends to be a very limiting way to think about education. But, I concede that a few more headings will make it easier for blog visitors to find the resources they want. And it will give me the opportunity to add more links as and when I have time.

And, talking about 'subjects', we've been doing some more chemistry from that wonderful site Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop We completed The Elements a few months ago, had a break, and are now working our way through Carbon Chemistry .

Here's a photo of the kids making Alkanes (hydrocarbons with single carbon to carbon bonds) in paper-chain fashion. The idea was to make different length alkanes and then name them (Methane, butane, propane etc), but my kids had different ideas and ended up with a competition to see who could make the longest chain. [After years of home educating I've come to realise that where kids are concerned nothing ever really goes to plan and I just have to be flexible. I recommend that control freaks do not apply for the job.]

Often when we follow a set package or piece of structured learning it doesn't last long. A few weeks of enthusiasm, perhaps, followed by dragging of heels, stamping of feet, and worse, depending on how soon we abandon the project. But of all the structured things we've done, these chemistry packages have been by far the best.

Maybe it's because I'm a scientist by training (though I confess I was always hopeless at chemistry), but I'll continue to recommend Ellen McHenry's chemistry courses. Although they don't correspond directly with UK science syllabus I think they would make a marvellous pre-GCSE/pre-IGCSE foundation. And you can pick and mix what you learn, avoiding (as we do) the comprehension questions at the end of each chapter and simply sticking to the fun stuff - the games & experiments.

The other science I would recommend is The Happy Scientist. Great experiments that usually require few materials and can be done at home. Although many of the resources are free it is worth the small yearly fee so you can have access to all the experiment videos.

And in addition to Carbon Chemistry we are also dabbling in cooking. Yes, I know, scary. As I've said before our plan is to work our way through (some of) The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Posh Boy (Hugh Fearnley-whotshisname). We've made bread, and now, soda bread (see below). Sorry, no photos of the finished product - we ate it before I got the camera out!

(Read the recipe. I said READ the recipe. No, that's 2 teaspoons of salt. NOT tablespoons. Arrggghh!)

(No, don't look what's going into that soda bread mixture.

I try not to think of ds1's black fingernails as I taste the bread.


Monday, 29 August 2011

What do electronics, food, knitting and art appreciation have in common?

All are potential activities in a week home educating!

Making a radio transmitter with our 100 (1000?)-in-1 set (acquired many years ago from a carboot sale):

The Foodies festival. We got free weekend tickets for the family after entering a local competition. (which reminds me I must enter more). Of course we only went for the freebies. And yes, that is a giant cheese:

And photos of Sandham Chapel, Newbury, last week:

Sadly I couldn't take any photos inside, but the paintings by Stanley Spencer were really quite incredible.
Ds2 and dd in the garden, with the handpuppet I had knitted (intended to be one of many for the Christmas shoebox appeal, but dd got to it first!):

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Newbury Rock School, 2011, Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit

Seven new songs learnt in four days (three on guitar, four on drums)

Ds1 on drums here, at the final performance. (You probably can't see, but about half-way through he is grinning from ear-to-ear!)

Not bad for a self-taught drummer, who doesn't read music and only got his own drum set a month ago.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The perfect age

This week ds1 has been at Rock School from 9am-4pm. Being a long-haired cool rock dude (or whatever they are now in 2011) he has thoroughly immersed himself in the world of rock, borrowing one of the teacher's electric guitars, and their drum kit and er...doing his stuff. And I've been keeping well out of the way trying not to cramp his street cred with my motherisms.

In order to save fuel to-ing and fro-ing I have been left with the job of entertaining his siblings in the viccinity for 6 hours a day on a not-too-huge budget. So far this has involved a large park, a Nature Reserve, a town museum, a swimming pool, and today a bowling alley, a soft play centre and a chapel with WWI-inspired mural paintings. It's half-way through the week and I'm knackered!

Today, resorting to bowling and soft play seemed a cop-out, but it was a mighty bargain: kids bowl for £1 and buy-one-get-one-free for soft play - how cheap am I? That is, a bargain if you exclude the copious amounts of diet coke I drunk...and the hot dogs...I figure as we're not off on our hols this year, splashing out on cheap crappy entertainment for one week is a sort-of substitute for a wet week somewhere grey under canvas. Besides, I know people with kids in school spend more in a weekend entertaining their kids than I spend the whole summer. See, I can justify anything, me.

But I confess it did make a relaxing change to sit and read and let small people (actually not-so-small anymore) get on with running themselves stupid for 3 hours. Just as they get almost too old for soft play centres it becomes the perfect time to take them. None of that nappy changing, wet pants, lost socks, breastfeeding, rescuing toddler from high-place and finding you can't squeeze your bum through the hole to get him/her, none of that irritating 'Look at me! Look at me!' or 'Mummy help me' stuff.

Oh yes, 10 and 7 years old. The perfect age for soft play. This is the life. (However if I was planning on many repeat sessions I think I'd have to take ear plugs to filter out the high-pitched child-squeal-screams that rebound surprisingly well off of something that is supposed to be 'soft' play equipment. )

And tomorrow? Hmm...maybe more bowling...another museum...another park...another book and a gallon of diet pepsi.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

World War I letters from the trenches and our Home Educating plans

[for WWI letters see the end of this post]

It must be that time of year.

The desire to purchase books, stationery, new shiny shoes and scented rubbers (that's erasers if you happen to be in the US), is overwhelming. All these years out of school and I still can't quite shake off that 'new school year' habit.

To ease the addiction and avoid spending a fortune on books at Amazon marketplace I've been putting together a bit more of a plan for our home ed. At the moment ds1 is looking at WWI and has been for a month or so. I've posted the WWI resources we are using here.

It's on a new blog I've created and called Home Education Themes and Resources . I'm hoping to use this as a basic website to post infrequently the resources that we are using and/or have found helpful for various themes.

Sometimes it can be hard work finding, for example, children's fiction on a particular theme and if someone has trodden that path before you they have a small responsibility to help out others behind them. Hmm...that sounds very rightous and do-gooding, but in essence what I'm saying is that anything that makes HE a little easier is a good thing. Been there, done that, here's what I did in case it helps you.

As most of you may know we aren't terribly structured in our approach to home education. We have long periods of something close to autonomous education, interspersed with brief periods of panic and then usually followed by more structured periods of involving projects, outings, activities. A sort of eclectic mix of whatever interests us. At the moment it seems the right time for us to lurch into something a little more organised. (Please Note: organised doesn't mean imposed or taught. We don't do lessons and I am not my children's teacher. )

So...our plans.

Ds2 is currently 'doing' Japan, particularly ancient Japan and Samurai. No post for that on my HE themes and resources blog yet, but when I get a chance I'll add the one with the resources and links we've found useful.

In addition to this the boys are doing a rifle proficiency course so we are gently working our way through the handbook in anticipation of the final exam in a few weeks time. (Yawn...but they are enjoying it)

Handwriting. Well we try. Peridically. And usually give up. But it's on the list. And we all know that lists look good on walls. Maybe the fairy godmother of literacy will arrive and give my children the gift of neat writing one day. Until then I'll keep writing lists.

Chemistry. Having completed the fab course The Elements from Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop, we are now starting the Carbon Chemistry course from the same website. These are our attempts at constructing allotropes of carbon from sweets and cocktail sticks:

(the above is a totally new allotrope designed by dd

and then promptly eaten afterwards!)

And cooking. Yes, we will be cooking. Anyone who has read this blog for a few years will know how much I hate cooking with the kids. However....I have decided we will use Posh Boy's (Hugh Fearnly-Whatsisface's) book The River Cottage Family Cookbook as a basic guideline to a cooking course. It has heaps of background info to the ingredients and, well, it actually makes sense and the recipes are do-able. Starting with the topic of flour and yeast (see photos below)

(note: this is the best loaf of bread produced in our kitchen

for years - must be all the sweat off those 'helping hands')

we'll work our way through 'milk', 'cheese', 'eggs' and so on. There are masses of free resources and vids online to support these topics (lots of organisations whose self-interest it is to promote the benefits of a particular food item). We'll see how long it takes before I ban all small children from the kitchen again.

And going back to the theme of WWI...yesterday I found in a box, among old birth certificates, old photos etc) several letters written during the first world war, including one written from the trenches.

This morning the children and I opened up the letters and sat deciphering them at the table.

The pile of papers included a home-typed Northampton newspaper (First Edition) written several days after the great strikes of 1926 started, describing the situation and the ban (? I didn't know there was a ban) on newspapers. All interesting stuff.

I don't think these papers come from our family, more likely something we picked up at a car boot sale at some time and never got a chance to look at. Neither of us can face leaving 'house-clearance' photos or papers on a trestle table at a car boot. Something compels us to take them home. As it did with this selection of papers, bundled up with string.

Fascinating pieces of history, particularly the WWI letters, some of which the writer states were sent illegally to avoid censorship. Once we get more time I will transcribe the letters and post them somewhere online so others can read them too.

Above, the writer talks of being issued with a bayonet:[a] 'most bloodthirsty looking weapon and I fear I am far too faint-hearted to relish the idea of pushing it into a German.'

Breaks your heart, doesn't it?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Michael Morpurgo and the Imperial War Museum, London

Thinking of putting this photo permanently on my blog:

(It's a chunk of The Berlin Wall outside the Imperial War Museum, London)

Yes. I'm the nutter who takes photos on London buses.

Michael Morpurgo talking at the Imperial War Museum.

'Little Manfred' the wooden toy dog that inspired Michael Morpurgo's recent book.

A gun. (There were lots more).

First World War Trench Experience (obviously you can't tell by the photo but it was very smelly and a tad claustrophobic):

ds2 posing by a tank:

dd getting to grips with submarines

Perfect photo opportunity:

Ice creams by the Thames:


A wolf made of (?) straw:

Beach huts (they weren't there last time so I'm assuming they are part of something arty):

Yep. It's bigger than our kitchen.

'Rent a dog'. For a dog-mad daughter (on the side of a beach hut):

I think they call it dancing. Looks painful to me:

The end.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Samurai Warriors, Bucks County Museum, Aylesbury

Saturday last week. Ds2 is 'doing' Samurai at the moment and this exhibition/demonstration came along just at the right time.

Spot the odd one out...

Pick a weapon, any weapon:

Reminds me of something from a Right Guard advert

This is how you kill 'em:

Or you could do it this way:

Samurai in action:

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Belatedly, here are some piccys from this year's Home Educator's Summer Festival. We had a fab time. Ds1 turned feral (returning only to grab meals and disappear again), dd adopted several other families (we saw very little of her) and ds2 hung out with a few mates designing computer games (in a field with no computers).

A few of the marquees:

Bongo and band workshopping with the HESFES band (the HESFES band consisting of children from tots to teens, including about 13 drummers!):

Ds1 as one of the many drummers:

Why did you bring me camping?
Because I'm worth it:

But I've got more hair (ds2):

And I'm rougher and tougher than both of you (dd):

Making copper bowls, i.e. bashing a bit of metal for a very long time until it looks slightly more curved than it started off(note the hair wrap, patiently created by a member of one of her adopted families):

Ds1 with his home-made (tin can) drum kit before he got promoted to a proper drum:

Twirling home-made poi thingimagigs:

A demonstration of 'rocket stoves' (made from tin cans):

The result of our group effort and the dog eating an awful lot of king-size cheap dog food (our stove is the shiny one):

Lighting it wasn't so easy:

Hand-painted bandanas:

Beautiful sunset over our tent and van:

It's all been too much: