28th Jan 2018 – record keeping

We’ll start with a long journey cross-country journey on the train. Whenever we do this journey, W likes to do some of her activity books and then play with her toys. True to form, she completed a couple of pages of her numbers workbook (like this one), where she had to count items and write the number. She also completed a page of her literacy book again. Then she enjoyed doing some activities in a CBeebies magazine including writing words, colouring-in, learning letters and where they fit into words, and spotting the difference between pictures. I do like some kids magazines for the educational value. I try to steer clear of the pink ones which just seem to focus on colouring-in dresses or reading about going shopping. The magazines that are not aimed at a specific gender such as the CBeebies magazines or Alphablocks are really good for having a range of different activities in that do not just focus on appearance or shopping.

Also, while we were on the train, W asked about the counties of the UK that we were travelling through and where they were in the country, so a bit of a geography lesson on the UK here.

While we were travelling through London, W asked how the Shard was built, how electricity is carried into underground trains, why the lights flicker, how a train becomes derailed and how they fix it. She also asked why the president of a country might say mean things about his own people (W had overheard adults talking) and so we talked about why it is wrong to discriminate. We covered quite a few subjects just in conversation alone. It’s definitely exhausting sometimes, but I do love following a child’s train of thought and getting to know how they think and helping them to understand the world. Being able to take the time to talk about these things and explore different concepts when they come up is a true benefit of home education. If we can discuss and learn things in an unhurried way, when they come up, W gets to explore a subject in depth at the time that she is interested in it, rather than when someone else says she should learn it, as she would if she were in school.

Later on, we had an appointment to go to. While we were there and talking about boring grown-up stuff, W decided to practise writing her name with a pen and piece of paper. Looking at it afterwards, I noticed that she had written her name in different sizes and slightly different styles.

I keep almost all of W’s written work as a record of what we are doing, just in case I have to show details of W’s learning to the Local Authority, who may want to come to visit us to see how W is being educated (more info on this here). Any colouring-in sheets, doodles, pictures or worksheets are counted as pen practise or artwork etc for the purposes of her education. I figure that if anyone wants to see evidence of W’s progress, we have a little record of how her writing, pen control or number work has changed over time.

Do any of my readers keep a record in this way? Do you keep records at all, or make notes of daily learning, or do you prefer to use a photo diary or secret Facebook group? I’m interested to know what others do in terms of evidence. Do let me know and we can update this with details….

We decided to go to a cafe after the meeting, for a treat and while we were there, W randomly asked to count my coins. This kept her occupied for a while.

The bedtime book that day was the same Science book that we have been reading over the last couple of weeks. This time, we learned about the elements. Over the next couple of nights, she learned about power and nuclear energy too (D, 7, read the book to her a couple of times). The General Knowledge book also included lots of science and history, which W found fascinating again. She later attempted to read some new signs that J had written for his bedroom door (‘keep out’ type stuff).

W bought a new toy this week which uses magnets to open and close items, so she learned more about how the magnets worked. This built on her learning with the fridge magnets last week.

Later in the week, we had a visit from the grandparents. All 3 children played board games with Grandma, which included counting and mental maths. Maths seems to be a theme with the board games at the moment because the pre-bedtime board games have all been number-related this week. The children also played lots of hide and seek and W is getting the hang of hiding so that people cannot see her now. It’s a shame really as it was very funny watching her hide behind her own hands when she was younger. I guess all these things change eventually, only to be replaced by new funny things….

Later that day, W wanted to help make dinner and then also learned how to make a fromage frais cake, so that would be her home economics lesson I suppose…

We did some work on the basics of telling the time – just through discussion and demonstrating on the kitchen clock, because W was waiting for something and was trying to work out how long an hour is. I gave her examples of things that take and hour, half an hour and a few minutes, so that she could get an idea of how long it is. She did well with her understanding, since it is a difficult thing to grasp when you are 4.

Later in the week, we also went to one of our favourite social / educational groups, where W played a lot with the other children. She made a couple of new friends and also played with children she knows from before. There was a lot of physical play such as jumping in and out of a ball pool and climbing on climbing frames etc. There were educational activities laid out for the children to do, but this time, W just wanted to play and socialise, which was fine by me.

In the evening at home, we had the house to ourselves – just me and W, so we spent some time playing silly games with her Lego and Playmobil minifigures, which wasn’t educational, but was good fun. And that is what life is all about, after all…

21st Jan 2018 – Pocket Money

Our learning this week began with a long conversation as we were travelling through London. W wanted to know how ice melts, so we talked about temperatures and solids turning into liquids (all explained in a way that she can grasp at age 4 and 3 quarters). We also passed by some celebrations for the Chinese New Year, so we had a long chat about what it means and how it is celebrated.

She wanted to know again how an underground tunnel is built, so we talked a bit about that too, and I made a mental note to take her to the Transport Museum in the future, so that she can see some examples of how it was done. While we were on the underground, W wanted to count the steps whenever we went up or down some, so we did that, checking her knowledge of numbers over 20.

Once we were on a train, W asked to do some colouring-in (good pen practise) and then did a page from a workbook on rhyming words, which she enjoyed. I find that, if W does ask to do some work on paper, she will often only do one sheet or two maximum. As I said before, I am not pushing her to do any at this stage as I want her to enjoy it and not see it as a chore.

I give W a small amount of pocket money to help her get used to the value of money and to hopefully learn about the benefits of saving versus spending. At the moment, she likes to spend it as soon as she gets it on a small item. She wants the bigger items and is slightly disappointed that she can’t have them because they cost more than she has. When this happens, I do explain about saving and the fact that she could afford bigger items if she waited a week, but W is still at the stage where she would rather have a little item now instead of a bigger toy in a week. That is fine by me, but hopefully she will learn delayed gratification in time.

On the subject of pocket money, I don’t give money for routine chores around the house as I believe that chores are for the good of the family and none of us get paid for them. I worry that W will grow up not wanting to do chores if she does not gain from them, whereas the true gain from chores is simply living in a tidy house where we can relax. The Washington Post had an interesting article on the subject…. So, an allowance it is! W counted her money (with help) while we were out to see if she could afford a particular toy or not (we are at the ‘is this a bigger or smaller number than this?’ stage so far) and was delighted that she had enough!

Readers: at what age do you think children should get pocket money, if at all? Do your children have an allowance or do they work for money? I’m keen to hear your opinions on this one.

On the way home from our shopping trip, we walked through a park and W asked what breeds the different ducks were. I knew a few, but we also had to look up a few on my phone. We both learned something then!

At home, W played with the fridge magnets and asked how they worked and why they stuck to metal. We tried them on different materials to see which ones they would stay on to and which they wouldn’t. We touched on the science of magnets a little also.

Later, we had a conversation on politics… W wanted to know why people would vote for a president who is not nice to everyone. It was a hard question to answer, but we did cover the subjects of democracy and majorities and also the media and people’s own beliefs. In the end, I don’t think W understood why people would vote a certain way, but at least she learned a little bit about how democracy works (or sometimes doesn’t….).

This week, W asked us to read more of the Lift-the-flap Science book and she really liked the sections on evolution, energy and electricity this time.

As with almost every week of our lives, Lego construction featured heavily, with all the educational benefits and opportunity for valuable playtime. Another brilliant game that featured this week was all three children (current ages 9, 7 and 4) setting up a ‘museum’ together. They brought toys to their museum to use as exhibits, made written signs and collaborated together to decide how much they should charge people to visit and how that money should be spent in the museum!

Whilst we were out on an errand, we spotted an engineer working in a hole in the ground, fixing communication cables. We stopped to have a look and he very kindly chatted to W about what he was doing and why. This was an excellent spontaneous lesson for her – the type that we can never really plan for, but are a welcome surprise when they do happen. I’m always grateful to those people who take time out of their working day to talk to an inquisitive child. It not only helps them to learn, but increases children’s confidence and social skills too.

On that note, I had to do some work on my business myself, as I do every day when W is happily engaged in something, or asleep. W decided that she wanted to help me, so I asked her to count items for me and add them together. She did very well and managed about 20 minutes. Any work that the children do on my business is paid work, but they never have to do it. They can choose to do real work at any time and they also choose when to stop as well. They usually do a maximum of and hour and a half per week each, if they do any at all and I think that is fine. They are paid for the work that they do and can choose to do it at almost any time.

We had our usual board games before bed every evening and the children chose mainly games with numbers in, like this Orchard Toys Bus Stop Game.

One day this week, W wanted to learn to count backwards, so we had a go at that.

We also went to one of our regular social groups this week. W had a great time playing table tennis, building towers with blocks, matching numbers with dominoes and playing chase with the other children. When we had finished there, we went to a cafe and W started counting things again. She had a go at counting in twos at one point, so we spent a bit of time on the two times table.

Reading all this, it seems that W learned so much in the course of a regular week. I am so happy that we are able to do this organically and at her own pace… and I hope that because of this, she will never lose her zest for learning…

14th Jan 2018 – Our learning diary begins

We begin at the start of the new year.

And we start with a morning bath. W wanted to play with the Foam Bath letters. She named them as she played and then we put them in alphabetical and numerical order. W is used to lower-case letters so far, but these foam letters are upper-case, so she asked me what some of them were and learned a few of these that she didn’t know before.

When we popped out to see friends, W asked if I had a pen and paper. I gave her an old leaflet to write on and she was happy to entertain herself with that for a while. When it was time to go, I realised that she had been copying the words on the leaflet. It was great writing practise for her, and although she doesn’t know what the words say yet, it was good for her to practise forming those letters and numbers.

I love the fact that learning happens so organically when you let it. I do not push W to sit down and learn, but I do try to take every opportunity that I can to assist her with her own learning. My hope is that she will continue to ask questions and be eager to learn, as long as I don’t force the issue. I may be naive in this and it may be that W stops wanting to seek information in this way. If that happens, I will have to re-think my plans, but for now, this is how we roll.

Every day, we play a board game before bed. One of them is this Snakes and Ladders game. Our board games teach various skills and this time, W was able to recognise the number on the dice without counting the dots. She also learned what some numbers up to 100 look like as these are displayed on the game board and we I pointed them out when she landed on them.

At bedtime, D (7) wanted to read her one of her fabulous Lift-the-Flap Science and General Knowledge books to W. These are great books with short sections introducing scientific concepts and interesting facts. The great thing about them is that they are lift-the-flap books, but for older kids. They are a real hit at the moment and W particularly enjoyed the parts on atoms and DNA.

We had to travel to west London later in the week and the conversation was definitely flowing during the journey! W asked about the seasons and which order they occur; how underground tunnels are built and maintained; what the safety features are on the underground; why tall buildings are built; how water pipes are repaired and how builders work. We covered all of this as we were looking at the things around us. I find that when we touch on subjects during conversation, we build on them later in more depth.

W has a collection of Shopkins at the moment, which she really likes. I wasn’t sure about them at first because I couldn’t see any educational value to them or a purpose other than simply collecting them. However, I have seen that W likes to categorise them and arrange them in different ways. This week, she wanted to sort them into colour groups. When she had done that, she decided that each colour group was a class at a school. She then ‘taught’ the Shopkins the alphabet – it was very sweet to watch and I see that most toys can have an educational value when children are just left to play in their own way.

As we had a family birthday coming up this week, I asked W if she would like to write in a card herself, or if she would like me to do it for her (she is having a phase of wanting to do things by herself, so I knew there was a chance she would try to do it herself). I wrote the words that she wanted to write on a separate piece of paper and she copied them into the card. We don’t work on traditional letter formation yet – I am just letting her form letters herself in the way that she wants to. I figured that, if her letters end up looking as they should in the end, then that is great, but if they are not legible in the future, we can work on the details then. I guess, at this stage, I am worried that I might discourage her from writing in the future if we focus too much on ‘perfection’ now.

W really loves her Lego sets and later wanted to set up a ‘world’ with some sets so that her minifigures could have an adventure with the vehicles and castles. I cannot express enough the benefit that W has had from her Lego sets. She has learned so much from simply building them (learning to rotate an object in space and to think logically in order to follow step-by-step instructions). There is also the huge benefit that is gained from the imaginative play with the figures, animals and small-world objects. Her favourite sets at the moment are Belle’s Enchanted Castle and Cinderella’s Carriage.

Another thing that W really wanted to do this week was to make some soap. After a bit of thought, I decided that we could get some inexpensive Soap Base to melt and pour into some silicone ice cube moulds that we already have. To make them interesting, we put a Shopkin into each one, so that as the soap gets used, a little toy appears!

We melted the soap in the microwave (it melts at a fairly low temperature) and talked about solids turning into liquids as they are heated. W picked her favourite Shopkins to go into the moulds and helped to pour the liquid soap in. This is a great activity for small children as the soap sets quite quickly and you can see the results in no time!

At the end of the week, I was quite surprised to see how much learning had happened as we went about our daily life. We are not doing anything formal at the moment (especially as W is not at compulsory school age yet), but learning is still taking place whether we plan for it or not, and before I wrote this down, I didn’t appreciate quite how much there was.

Any home educators reading this who also keep a diary: was there less or more learning happening than you expected? I’d love to hear your examples.