Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Christmas is coming! (Apparently)

After weeks of nagging from dd I concede and get the Christmas tree out of the loft. The boys dont care either way. No, correction, ds2 is a willing participant once the 20 year old tree is assembled, but neither of my boys are quite the magpies us girls of the house are.

" Ooo shiny thing!"
" Ooo, another shiny thing!"

 It's no wonder three sets of our 'christmas lights' have remained hung in our house all year round for the past 4 or 5 years.

The shock of being removed from the box is, as usual, evident in the tree's response. I'm always surprised to find it still has needles each year I unbox it.

The gearbox on the van fails and I make Christmas decorations with dd. (There is probably some denial psychology going on there. )

Frugality (is that a word?) rules. Free fabric (from sample books thrown out of shops), buttons from our button jar, stuffing from an old pillow, ribbon from a tat shop at £1 a roll. Looking cute, even if I do say so myself.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Suli Breaks "I will not let an exam result decide my fate"

This was sent out on Facebook and struck a chord with me. So much so that I wanted to archive it here, on my blog, so I wouldn't forget it. If you search on YouTube for Suli Breaks 'I will not let an exam result decide my fate' you'll find several versions. But I love the graphic quality of this one :) Anyhow...I'll let you judge for yourself.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Biology: Eyewitness Science - Experiments on bones

We've been working through the Eyewitness Science Guide: How the Body Works by Steve Parker (Ours is  this edition from 1994). Like many of the Eyewitness guides it's heavy on the pictures and text-boxes, but we like that. 

Some of the suggested experiments in the book are ridiculously involved. I don't mind a trip to Wilkinsons to buy balloons, but I don't want to have to have to learn carpentry. At least not now. It's stuff like this that makes me balk at the more interesting books on my shelves. Was there ever a time when I might have attempted an experiment that required lengths of dowel and marine plyboard sawn to precise measurements?

Right now anything that takes a lot of prep, requires hard-to-obtain materials or requires a huge amount of parental input or time, is unlikely to get done. Sad, but we have slipped into the open-and-go-just-get-'er-done stage.  

We haven't done deliberate, intentional science for ages...For a science-focused household this is a bad state to be in. It needs to be rectified. 

To make the book more manageable I have scanned through, chosen one or more 'do-able' activities from each chapter for the first half of the book. I did draw out a rough schedule, but most importantly I put all the materials necessary for each session/activity in a zip-lock bag, labelled with the session number. Eight sessions' worth of labelled bags and a ready-to-go book with small text-boxes with lots of pictures has meant that for the first time in ages we actually get around to science.

 These are the photos of our 'bones' experiment, looking at how the tightly-packed, stratified inner of the bone adds to its strength.

When the inners (straws) of the bone are splayed, they are weak:

When they are tightly packed and linear, they are much stronger:

Friday, 19 September 2014

East Head Spit: Checking out the geography of the South Coast, August 2014

A few weeks back we took a field trip to the south coast to check out some seaside geographical features. Ds2 will be taking IGCSE Geography next year, so I took him to the same place we took ds1. East Head spit is a great place to see firsthand, a sand and shingle spit, salt marsh and sand dunes.

I confess it was nice to grab my old camera back from ds1 for a while and play with the black and white feature.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

THAT MAD YEAR. A long break from blogging and here we are again.

I notice that my last post was sometime in June and related to World Cup activities. The World Cup? Oh how long ago that seems! There we were at the start of Summer trying to fire ourselves up for some hands-on learning and hours of fun in the sunshine.

Well. Good intentions and all that....

Summer has been and gone and we don't seem to have made the most of it, but that's ok. No, really, it's ok. I'll keep telling myself that.  Truth is, by June we were totally. burned. out. Despite a faint glimmer of strained enthusiasm not a lot of anything happened after that. We ate from the corner shop. I put diesel in the car. I stressed over my credit card bill.  I put more diesel in the car. I apologised a lot for forgetting things and being late and for missing stuff that I was sure I'd made a note of, but that somehow in the chaos had got lost. I put more diesel in the car. I fell over the piles of stuff in the dining room. Piles of stuff fell over me in the lounge. I climbed over the piles of stuff in the bedroom. I thought about writing hate mail to The Fly Lady and telling her to stop sending me stupid adverts for her feather dusters and come and spend her time more usefully cleaning at my house instead. I drank the homemade wine I'd intended saving for Christmas.

Actually, thinking about it, quite a lot happened.

So...needless to say we didn't get far with those World Cup activities. Was I really that optimistic? We did manage to get the world map up on the wall and find some of the participating countries before they got knocked out, so I guess that's geography ticked for 2014.

September 2013 to June 2014 I think should be known as That Mad Year by our family. A combination of having a child studying for IGCSEs (the international equivalent of GCSEs), alongside all three children doing competitive sport and two doing competitive robotics was the sort of 24/7 crazy life that you really shouldn't sign up for. Add in working part-time, running home ed workshops and trying to keep some sort of home and family life and it's not surprising we were all a bit loopy by the end of it. I now understand the term "work/life balance" more than I want to.

But...some good things have happened. Just in case I don't get to post about them in more detail, here's a summary of achievements. Please excuse me just a little bit of smugness.

  • After a humungous amount of work, Ds1 achieved two more IGCSEs with good (one was ridiculously good) grades. He now has 4. This is the boy who two years ago couldn't write a sentence and had to seriously concentrate to even sign his own name. He can now spell photosynthesis, though I'm not sure how useful that's going to be.

  • Earlier in the year Dd won the girls under-11 England Youth Championships, an amazing feat, particularly as she hadn't fenced for 3 weeks prior to the competition due to an injury. She's holding the coach to his previous year's promise of a year's worth of Haribo if the unlikely event of her winning.
  • Ds1 and ds2 with their LEGO robotic team won the regional LEGO League competition, came in the top 8 of the Nationals (winning an award for innovation) and were one of only 4 UK teams invited to the European Championships in Spain. It was their first year doing LEGO robotics, their first year giving presentations in front of large groups of people, the first year ds2 typed, not just one, but three (three!) whole sides of A4 (for the research project) and the first time my boys had been on a plane or abroad :) Lots of achievements there!

  • And as for my achievements...I spent the year running regular workshops at several home ed groups, got some lovely feedback, made new friends and learned a lot from all the children I've come in contact with. That's pretty good, I think :)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The World Cup as a geography project: Part 1 Resources and Links

Not being a fan of football, I've resigned myself to the fact that for the next few weeks I will be bombarded by football-themed *everything*.

But...a nifty home educator would never let an educational opportunity slip past them.

Here are some educational links which we are planning to use to turn the World Cup into an educational geography project. (Thanks to Sarah from alittlebitofstructure for some of the links)

World Cup chart (free download) 
(There are lots of these on the internet to pick and choose from, but this one seemed fine.)

If you want the poster larger than A4, save the PDF file from the link (click on the little floppy disc icon in the bottom right hand corner). Reopen the file in Adobe from wherever you have saved it. Click on print and under the heading page sizing and handling you should have the option to print it as a poster. Click on the 'poster' option. You can fiddle with the settings, but basically you'll end up with four sheets, each with a part of the poster on that can then be stuck together.

World Cup Group bookmarks from Activity Village
We wont be using them as bookmarks, but they make great headings for displays. We'll most likely use them alongside a world map (see below)

Megamaps - world maps to print out - poster size if you want
If you don't have a world map, this is a great place to print out outline maps. There are lots of options for different sized maps - from a single A4 sheet to maps spread over 64 x A4 pages!

World Cup for Kids (Activity Village)
Lots of football and country-themed activities and printables. We wont be using the football ones, but there are plenty of different things to choose from.

Country Passport (Activity Village) and My country passport study printables
For writing basic info about the countries studied

Alternatively, to save time, you can download Activity Village's World Cup flags bundle for the small price of £3.95 here which has all the 390+ free PDF files in one zipped file.

Brazil-themed activities for World Cup
Click on the link on the page above and it will download a PDF with lesson plans. Links within the lesson plan take you to various resources, including a powerpoint presentation about Brazil.

Brazil- issues about homelessness
More geared towards classroom activities, but might have a few useful ideas for discussion.

Brazil in the school
Brazil resources, PDFs and photos.

World Cup Project book (choose World Cup Project Book from the page of downloads)
Word document to fill in for each country.

A big year for Brazil
Not listing this particularly for the memorisation of maps, but rather for the mini videos that are here and because (if you scroll down) there are some good starting points for discussion about advertising, moral issues around the World Cup etc.

I'll be adding to these if I find any more geography-related links that will be useful. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Kids discover - Free 'infographics' educational posters

Have found some lovely mini-posters to download and print on kidsdiscover here

Topics include the water cycle, cells, the rock cycle, the heart etc.

Well worth a look.

(You might have to register/sign up to download the posters, but it's free)

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Rainforest, with links

A while back I was trying to tie in dd's desire to do more science, with ds2's ongoing geography learning. I came up with rainforest (and soils - see previous post) as suitable topics that I could engage them both in. Dd has more of an interest in animals than anything else. Below is her rainforest layers poster: 

The rainforest layers printable (top left of the top picture) was the nicest and simplest one I could find. It can be seen here.

I printed out Rainforest food chain items which we laminated and velcro'd onto our felt board. I think I got more satisfaction from laminating than the kids did from the 5 minutes they spent arranging the food web, but that's kinda how it goes sometimes :)

[For info: This is the link to the food chain printable, which I found via this resource here. The latter has other Rainforest printables, worksheets etc. that might be of use if you happen to be doing Rainforesty things.]

In addition to all the rainforest stuff, ds2 did a mini-poster on The Nile and the Aswaan Dam, which was a spin off from the geography book he is using. He will be starting IGCSE geography in September, so I'm trying desperately to do the more projecty stuff now before we get to the hoop jumping.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Bees n beans project and soil experiments

Back in April we sent off for the Bees n Beans free kit as part of a research project by Sussex University. 
The kids dutifully planted their beans. 

It was a slow start, but the broad bean plants grew a little like children do some slow and squat, and some skinny and tall. Finally, after a few days of hot weather last week, the plants have suddenly burst into flower. Not all are fully blooming yet, so we wont be able to do the hand pollination bit until later in the week. Bad timing considering half of us will be in Spain, so poor dh will be left with 'pollination' instructions along with a long list of dd's busy social schedule :)

A while back, when I had a chance to think of things other than IGCSE exams and robotics championships, we did some hands-on things.

One of them was to do with soil samples. It was inspired by an experiment from this old book that we picked up from the swap shop, along with other old textbooks.

The kids collected soil samples from different areas of a local nature reserve/woodland and followed the above instructions

Watching soil settle is a bit soil settle.

Three days later...

 and we compared our bottles of the different soils

This is what they should have looked like:

Our results were, um, not quite so well defined...

We planned to do pH testing of the same samples, but the pH paper is still in its packet on the windowsill and the soil samples are bagged up and going slimy in the greenhouse. Perhaps that will be next month's project?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Packing: Three days until C14 Robotics Team go to FLL European Championships!

You can build anything out of LEGO, right? (Toothbrush...passport...)

And they have the hats to go in style

You can follow them on Facebook 

Or check out their website 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Ellen McHenry Brain hats and St George's Day dragon puppets

Tomorrow I'll be running a session at our local home ed group on The Brain, so today we ran through a prototype 'brain hat', just to make sure everything will go as planned.

You can print the free brain hat templates here at Ellen McHenry's Basement website 

Meanwhile, I was trying to get around to doing something - *anything* -  for St George's Day. 

We're not great at doing anything for special days or festivals. I always have good intentions, but the date comes and goes and even though I know lots of great resources for all these excuses to do a themed something, somehow we never get around to it. 

Finally, today we had a brief stint on St George. Of course, being an independent-minded child, dd did it *her* way. She flatly refused to colour in the wonderful picture from Activity Village here and barely skimmed a read through the Scholastic St George's Day resources here . But she did get excited about making a dragon sock puppet here 

These were once my favourite pair of stripey socks, many years ago, and I can't think of a better way to reuse them :)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Rearing and observing tadpoles

About a month ago, dd took this photo of our pond frogspawn.

Now the tadpoles have 'hatched' and we've decided to make use of our enormous fish tank to observe the changes in the tadpoles over the coming weeks.

Previous attempts, many years ago, to keep tadpoles in small tanks were unsuccessful. I suspect the main problems were keeping a uniform environment and preventing build-up of wastes. However, there was also the problems associated with having other carnivores in the tank - for example great water diving beetles. If you get one of these in a small tank, they'll eat everything (including tadpoles). We know he was the culprit because one morning he was still chewing on a bit of tail!

There is some useful info on rearing tadpoles on the CLEAPSS website here and there are some suggestions for experiments/ investigations that the kids can do. I'm not sure I should tell my bunch about the 'how fast does a tadpole swim' experiment as it might bring out their competitive side and lead to weeks of tadpole-in-a-tube races.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Chain reactions

Ds1 showed me this video recently and it reminded me that my kids went through phases of doing a lot of this kind of thing, albeit on a much smaller scale!

If you search you can find a series of behind the scenes vids of how they made the video.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Make your own pH indicator paper

Using the instructions here at Wikihow, we made our own pH indicator paper.

We used the 'recipe' for eldeberries as we had a stash of them in the freezer. Ds2 defrosted them in the microwave and then crushed them in our metal orange juicer (a potato masher would have done just as well) to get the juice.

We cut up strips of art watercolour paper (acid free) that we happened to have in our cuboard and dipped them in the juice before hanging them outside to dry.

Testing them with lemon juice (acid) and baking powder solution (alkali) produced the following results. Acid = red, alkali = blue/green

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The crystals that time forgot

Dd found an experiment in a science book and declared that she wanted to do it and I nearly fell off my chair.

This is the child whose only suggestions involve eating crackers and playing on the PC or having friends over. She is the child whose favourite phrase is 'can I go now' and who constantly asks 'what are we doing tomorrow' (because obviously today just isn't floating her boat).

So, despite having no brain cells after all the stress of art exams (see previous post), and therefore resistant to anything that required my interaction or attention, I felt compelled to say 'yes'.

The experiment, thankfully very simple, involved pouring in loads and loads and loads of salt into a glass of hot water until no more of the salt dissolved. Salt is one thing we have in our house since I over-purchased materials for making salt dough just before Christmas.

Sing along
Ba Ba home edder have you any salt?
Yes sir, yes sir, three cupboards' full. 
One for the salt dough, and one for the crystals,
and one for the future when we come up with some other vaguely educational idea and I go 'I've got just the thing for that'...

I decided to label the glass on both sides. Two reasons.
1) So no-one was tempted to think it was fruit squash and drink it and
2) so we could display the experiment on our windowsill for all passers by to see and wonder at the educationally educational education my kids were getting that theirs weren't. (Not that I'm smug or anything. I just like to wind up the neighbours.)

For anyone who hasn't seen previous photos posted on here, our lounge windowsill is a bit like Emily's shop window in Bagpuss. Except that in all these years no-one has ever come and claimed their items back.

You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost and Emily had found and brought home to Bagpuss

Yep. The crystals are going the way of the potatoes. A few more weeks and they'll have climbed their way out of the glass and be half-way across the lino to the front door.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The potatoes that time forgot...

We have been far too busy here. 

Ds1 has been doing art prep for his art and design exam.

The dining room table - no, let's get this correct, the whole dining room - has been piled high with assorted art materials for two months. It has been near impossible to circumnavigate the table without being maimed by mirrored plastic, a sack of sand, piles of paper and paints and pencils, lamps (for late-night work), printed photos, sandpaper and saws, glue guns, boards and blocks and ,well, just about everything you could imagine doing something creative with. Or something ds1 could get creative with. Personally I'd just go with pen and paper, myself.


What you do when your prep board is the wrong colour

The Art and Design Exam. The dreaded Art and Design exam. It is almost a swear word (swear phrase?) among my fellow parent sufferers. Why? Well...

...the stress associated with changing syllabus only a couple of weeks before starting the prep, not knowing exam dates until 5 weeks before the exam... the difficulties of following a very woolly syllabus, with even woollier exam instructions... having little tutor direction about the exam requirements (and zero knowledge of art or art processes myself)...

...has meant that our - ok, my- every waking hour for the past 10 weeks has been occupied with moderate and sustained panic. Panic is something you should do for a few minutes, sometimes up to a few hours. A day of panic is extreme. Eight weeks of panic is really not good for the soul. When you find yourself baking chocolate cookies at 5.30am because you've already been awake an hour staring at the ceiling wondering what 'a student's personal response to...' actually means, you know this is neither good for longevity, or hair retention. 

A neutral photo of one corner of the table. I would post up photos of artwork, 
but feel safer to wait until after the exam marking, just in case, you know.

Of course, like all these things they do eventually pass, and you wonder why on earth you made such a fuss. It's a bit like having a baby...all that stress and anxiety and 5 years later when you are so over it all, you wonder what it was all about. Yes, eventually the art exams came and went. We had a marathon session of clearing the table. i.e. redistributing the c**p to other areas of the house. I am proud to say that we now have a dining room.

Meanwhile, during THE LONG WINTER of art prep, all other things have been abandoned, deserted, gone unnoticed, left to...

...grow roots in cardboard boxes.

Our 'Grow Your Own Potato' kit, grew itself...through the netting...and out of the box. I swear it was heading for the front door.

We buried planted the sorry-looking specimens in the sacks provided. Over the next few weeks we will pay them some guilt-attention, lovingly water and watch them, before resorting to complete neglect, like last year's batch. 
No doubt, like last year's batch, they will lean and lurch all over the patio, occupying valuable space with their monstrous green foliage and smelly yellow flowers and tripping up anyone who dares to venture near the water butt. I will curse them many times, attempt to tame them, but secretly be please that at least something that's not a weed is flourishing in the garden.

Some time in autumn when I've blown the food budget because all three kids need fencing trainers, I will suddenly remember that we planted things in the garden five months previous and that maybe I should go take a look. 

I will hack my way through the patio jungle and pull out two sacks of soil and a lot of woodlice. I will nag the kids to Come! Look! Peter has fun! Jane has fun! And when they can't be bothered to come to  the much-anticipated 'unveiling of the potatoes' event I will say that either they come and fake some enthusiasm, or there will be two-week old aubergine on their plates for dinner tonight. 

Cameras will be at the ready, trumpets will sound. And at the end of it we will be seriously underwhelmed with a few miserly potatoes, smaller and more pathetic-looking than the ones we planted. Not even enough to make mash.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

C14 LEGO Robotics to go to the 2014 FLL Open European Championships in Pamplona, Spain!

Amazing news! C14 Robotics, the team of home educated Lego robotics enthusiasts that got through to the Nationals in Loughborough, have just found out they are invited  to the 2014 FLL Open European Championships in Pamplona, Spain! Very few teams have been invited from the UK so this is a real honour and a reflection of all the hard work they've put in.

The Championships is in May so C14 will need to raise a considerable amount of money in a short amount of time to enable them to go. Over the next few weeks they'll be looking for sponsors, donations and a bucket load of support.  

To find out more see their website  or if you wish to make a donation, however small, please check out their fundraising link (on the right hand side of my blog -->  ;)  ) [Note, by popular request they will be adding a paypal option soon!]

C14 Robotics introducing themselves to possible sponsors at The Big Bang Fair, Birmingham NEC, 2014

Taking time out to regroup and swap ideas, C14 at The Big Bang Fair, 2014

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

How you can tell you're a home educating family...

...when you're driving back from an activity with 3 teenage home ed boys (and one nearly teen) in the back of the car and they start playing 'I-spy'.

Teen boy1: "I-spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'C' "

Ds2: ...Car?

Teen boy2: ...Cup?

Ds1: ...Sign?

Everyone: Sign?!!! 

Oh dear.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

No words, only photos.

While sorting out my blog posts, I came across this post. It was written some time in July last year, but for some reason I never published it. No words, only photos.