16th Sept, 2018 – Project Based Learning

Last week, I was reading a brilliant book called Project Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert. In it, she talks about making all learning and creative materials accessible to your child at all times. I thought that I had done this, but when I looked around, I realised that there were a few things that W had to ask me for as she couldn’t reach them. The books says that, although this is a tiny barrier to fully child-led learning, it is still a barrier nonetheless.

So W and I set about rearranging W’s learning area so that she can reach everything she wanted or needed straight away. W was great doing this. She loves categorising and really enjoyed tidying her pens and workbooks etc. She even helped to throw some things away that we didn’t need. The difference was remarkable. She was so excited that she could use whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, that she ended up doing all sorts of things with paints, pens, glue etc. It has been fabulous to see her enthusiasm for creativity this week, after such a small change to a corner of our kitchen.

The rearranging of the learning area coincided well with a visit that we had later in the week, from the EHE (Elective Home Education) Officer from the Local Authority (more about why I accepted a visit here). The visit went very well; W showed the officer her encyclopedias on bats and dinosaurs and chatted confidently about what she does day-to-day.

I then showed our visitor W’s file of work (all worksheets and also colouring sheets are kept and placed in a folder in a vague chronological order) and certificates that I have been keeping for a year, since the date that W would have started Reception class. The officer was very happy with what she saw and went on her way, promising to return in a year’s time.

The aforementioned book says that it is important to show a child that you keep their work and that it is valued, however, I realised that I have been squirrelling W’s work away without telling her, so I will now make sure that I show her her folders more often. She was delighted to see the folder of work that I showed to the EHE officer, so I now see how valuable it was for W to see that all her work is important.

Maths: At the Post Office later in the week, W wanted to spend her pocket money on a toy, and did well at calculating what she could buy with what she had.

She also used a lot of maths when we played Monopoly Junior. She was excellent at adding and subtracting to work out what she needed to buy or sell to pay rent etc.

W later spent some time doing a bit of my work with me, categorising some items for my shop by type and colour so that they could be sold (more on categorising here and here). She enjoyed doing it and loved getting paid for her efforts!

She then started categorising her clothes in her bedroom. She wanted to sort everything by outfits instead of by type of clothes, so we are going to do more on that.

W got a board game about shopping from a charity shop and played it with her Nanna and Granddad, using toy coins to buy items.

Religious Education: W asked me one day why some women wear headscarves (hijabs) and some wear burkhas. She knows that the headscarf signifies someone being religious, but wanted to know more. I told her that the burkha was a different type of headscarf, but for the same religion – Islam. I said that religious people wear them and I told her about the women I knew who wear burkhas.

Geography: After school, W’s older sister, D (7) did a jigsaw of a map of the world and we all talked about the geography of Ireland, Asia and Australia, and also tigers!

W asked about the seasons of the year and what season follows which, so we chatted a bit about that. Later, she asked why clouds are different shapes and also where rain comes from.

Literacy / English: We went to the library and W chose some more chapter books, in the series that she likes, and she also chose a couple of books on big cats and a couple of books on caring for pet cats, which she had really wanted to look for.

On Thursday, W did lots of colouring on the train, which I always class as pen practise…

Play: W and D played with their animal figures and Shoppie dolls. As they often do, they took them all on a journey: got them all ready, got on a bus, got on a plane, got home and put them all to bed individually!

The next day, they played with the dolls house, setting up home for their toys.

Socialisation: F (2 years old) came round to play (with her two Mums). W was very good at sharing her toys: even giving away things that she’d just picked up so that F could play with them. She is showing a real understanding of how a 2 year old can’t yet be expected to be patient.

Science / Nature: W and I watched two episodes of her favourite vet show, which we both enjoyed and learned from. They sometimes show images from court and people being fined for animal neglect, which W asks about, so we have talked a lot about what fines are and how they are designed to help people to learn to do the right thing.

On the train, she asked about flying vehicles; what flies higher: planes or helicopters? What is the tallest vehicle on the land? How do planes and helicopters land?

W specifically requested that we make triple chocolate muffins this week, so after shopping for the relevant ingredients, W then helped with all the stages of baking (and eating).

Arts: When watching some of the X Factor on TV, we talked about what it means to be singing ‘in tune’. W is now starting to hear which people are singing in tune, and which aren’t.

PE: Went swimming to burn off the huge amount of energy that W has lately…

The next day, we went to a soft play place. She can go around the course with ease now, so was inventing new challenges for herself – like how fast she could do it or how many things she could climb in a certain amount of time.

I was so glad that our visit at the beginning of the week went well, although I admit to being nervous about it beforehand. It was all so positive, though, so once she had gone, I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to hear that we can carry on as we are for another year..

2nd September, 2018 -a bike ride

Socialisation: When we were on our street, we spotted a children’s bike with a sign on it saying that it was free to a good home, so we took it for D (7) as it was just the right size for her. We then bought some chocolates for the family that gave the bike away. When we got back to their house, they would not accept the chocolates and told us to keep them for the children, so all the children learned about doing good deeds for others and how they can benefit everyone.

W was excited about D’s new bike as she has wanted to go on a bike ride for a while, so we made plans to go together soon.

The next day, we went to visit Grandma and Grampy and had a lovely time at their house, playing board games and going to the park.

On Wednesday, D’s friend, B (7) came over for a playdate. They all played well together and also helped to cut down the grapevine at the back of our house. The children took it in turns to pull on very long branches while I cut it. They found it hilarious that the branches were so long and often stumbled backwards as they were pulling on them. It was like a scene from “The Giant Turnip”.

One of the kittens then arrived home without his collar, so my partner knocked on a few neighbours doors to see if it was in their garden. In the process, W and D ended up making a new friend that lives a couple of doors down (T, 6 years old).

Literacy / English: At the grandparents’ house, we played a board game called Sorry, in which is a little like Frustration, but with cards. W had a go at reading some of her cards and played well.

Science / Nature: We visited the local lake for a walk. W was very good on the walk and enjoyed all of it. There was a nature trail and loads of wooden animals to spot, which we identified. We also saw dragonflies, learned the difference between butterflies and moths, and then stroked every single dog on the way round (asking the owners first, of course).

On the way home, W asked about twins again and how they are created, so we built on the learning about this from last week.

The next day, W was looking at D’s (age 7) dinosaurs, which were ‘hatched’ from an egg that you put into water. They are exactly the same toy, but one is bigger because it was in the water for five days and the other only for two days. This led to a discussion on osmosis and how the toy dinosaurs absorbed the water over time.

We watched two vet programs over the next couple of days, with more learning about animal care.

Numeracy / Maths: W showed me again how she can count in twos and then counted backwards, which I didn’t know she could do. She now knows her numbers up to 100 very well.

When we played Monopoly Junior, W was adding and subtracting amazingly well. She has come up with her own method of how to do it on her fingers and was correct every time.

Politics: At the dinner table, we have had more discussion about politics and Donald Trump. W asked why people voted for him, so we had a discussion about the American voting system and why it was that Trump became president, even though more people (2.87 million more) voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump.

Geography: We talked about countries – J (9 years old) asked if Jersey is in the British Isles and whether states are countries. W was listening as we chatted about what a country is and what a state is etc. She has said that she wants a globe for her bedroom, so I might get her a little one or a poster.

Play: W played again with her Lego – she is really into her vehicles at the moment. She then got all of her Sylvanian Families, My Little Ponies and Peppa Pig figures and took them on trips in her buses and cars around the house. They all had a specific purpose and a particular thing that they were doing and I sometimes wonder how she keeps track of it all….

All the children also played hide and seek many times this week, with W now able to hide without giggling!

At tidying time, W was really, really pleased that her room has been categorised in the way that she wants, because that means that it now takes only 10 minutes to tidy away and she knows where everything should go.

Art: W decided to do lots of colouring-in. She tried to stay inside the lines and was careful to choose the colours so that they were the correct colours for each Shopkins character in the book.

Later, W asked to paint her doll’s house, so we got out all the paints to check that we had the right ones. I asked W what colour she wanted each part to be. We had to go out and buy some white paint and then W got to learn about what happens to paints when you mix them with white. We spent some time mixing the black and white paint to make the correct colour grey that Violet wanted for the roof. She and D spent ages painting the roof, chimneys and floors, which they loved.

Board Games: We played cards: Go Fish and Chase the Ace, during which, W wanted to mark down how many turns each person had had, so she got her own pen and paper and wrote each person’s initial and a tally of their goes.

Music: W wrote some musical notes and tried to compose a song.

PE: As W had asked to go on a bike ride at the beginning of the week, we went round the block on our bikes together very slowly. She was initially very reluctant to make her bike move and we spent a very long time indeed getting to the corner of our street. After a bit of a chat, W explained that she didn’t want to make the bike move by herself because she was scared of going too fast. I explained that I would be right next to her all the time and I can slow her down any time, and also it would be more fun for her if she rode her bike herself (I knew she could do it as she has previously ridden it herself). After that, she was much more happy to ride her bike herself and only needed help when she had got stuck in a dip on the pavement.

I’m glad she managed to do it in the end as she had so wanted to go out on her bike. Hopefully we can soon go for a ride all together.

3rd June, 2018

Another busy week in terms of learning this week, which involved a birthday party and two family visits:

Play / Social: We visited our favourite social group as usual and W played with four friends in the sunshine.

The grandparents also visited for a while, so the children enjoyed lots of imaginative play with Grandma.

And then, more family: the children’s cousins, who are 13 and 9, came to visit later in the week.  W loved playing with them and the children all get on very well together. We went to the park, fed the ducks and squirrels together and also played silly games there.

The next day, it was time for a birthday party for both D and J’s friends. The children had a great time there and W played with four children that she knows well, on the bouncy castle.

Spatial Skills: At the social meet, W enjoyed completing a puzzle where she needed to fit geometric shapes into a pattern.

When the grandparents visited, W got the chance to watch me and her grandfather build a wooden step for the garden. She was very interested in how it was put together, and even helped us for a while.

Later in the week, the Play-Doh came out, which was surprising as W has shown little interest in it lately. However, she was very keen to make cupcakes and various creations out of it this time. It was actually great to see how differently she plays with it now, compared to when she was tiny.

W spend a lot of time with me in the mornings (before the others got up) building the Lego Disney Castle, which is a Lego set for age 16+. It is a huge set and very difficult to put together, but W needed minimal help, possibly because she builds Lego so much already. I must say here that this was not our Lego set – it is far too expensive for us – we were putting it together for the purposes of a photograph later in the week…. A great educational opportunity!

Literacy / English: On our train journeys, W attempted to read the train signs, as usual. She also read all the tickets that we had collected from the station for our forthcoming journeys. She wanted to know the seat number and carriage for each one and I let her go through all the tickets (there were loads- I like to book in advance…) to check all of them.

The Local Authority sent us a form to fill in about W’s education (more about this in a later blog – coming soon), so W answered a couple of questions that were relevant to her and also drew a picture for the EHE officer.

While Grandma was here, W did a little writing and drew some pictures to show to her.

One of the cousins read stories to W and then also made up stories for her. W loves it when her cousin does this as she is very skilled at story telling. Although W was mainly listening to the stories and not telling them herself, it is a very important part of learning for her to be able to understand what makes a good story and why.

I read W’s new Great Women of the World book, which she really loved and seemed to remember details from the book a few days later.

History: At bedtime (I’m sure she was stalling…), W asked lots of questions about royalty and how Kings and Queens become so. She asked about our current Queen and about how many children she has and their titles and status. She also asked about previous Kings and Queens and royalty in other countries. We looked up a list of them online and she was very interested in the fact that the members of the royal family have historically married members of other royal families (or the same one….).

On a train journey, W wanted to know how trains can move onto different train tracks and go in different directions, so we looked at videos of train points on Youtube, which she enjoyed. She learned about how points were operated historically, compared to now.

Science / Nature: One evening, W enjoyed telling us all that she has learned about bees recently. She showed us how much she had remembered by describing how bees are kept and looked after, what different types of bees there are, how bees swarm and why etc etc.

We also observed a bumble bee when we were travelling to our social group. The bee was busy on a flower and calm, so we were able to have a good look at it, noting it’s different features.

W asked if there were any black flowers in the world, so we learned a bit about black tulips and how they get their colour. W is also learning a lot of flower names and types through her Nan, who is a keen gardener, and also from my partner, who is working on a ‘flower a day’ project at the moment.

W’s grandparents left a Nature workbook for her when they said goodbye, and W enjoyed completing a few pages of that on a later train journey.

At the birthday party, the children had the opportunity to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which W thought was amazing. The man helping the children to make the ice cream explained the properties of liquid nitrogen and described the process of the ingredients turning into ice cream too. It became a science lesson for them and it was also a really fun thing to do at a party, I must say.

Also at the party, W learned about generators and how they work, because the bouncy castle generator needed fixing while we were there. We watched people fixing it, filling it with petrol and starting it again.

Then there was a boat race. The children put together boats, which had been made on a 3D printer, and had the chance to make sails. We then put the boats in the water for a race.  During this, W asked why a boat would go slower if its sail got wet and also why it needs a sail at all.

W learned a lot about climate change one morning as D asked a question about it and so W started to ask questions about it too. We covered Solar Power, Elon Musk (!) and fossil fuels too. Obviously, we need to touch on this subject again many times in the future as it is such a big subject, but it is good to give the children a basic understanding to build on later.

Board games:  W played Monopoly Junior with D and one of the cousins, and had a great time doing so.

Politics: W asked why there were red posters on our street, so I took the opportunity to teach her about elections. She is very interested in how democracy works and why some people would vote for someone who doesn’t want everyone to have equal rights. It was a difficult thing to explain as I’m not really sure why someone would do such a thing myself….. As with climate change, this is another example of a subject that needs further exploration at a later date, as there are so many layers of different issues involved, that it is impossible to cover it all at once.

So, watch this space…. I’m sure you will read here about many more discussions on the big issues of the world over the years to come….

27th May – nature

This week, the focus of W’s learning has very much been on nature, because that is what she wanted to do. I do love being able to be out in the sunshine in the daytime, just learning and observing.

This is what we did:

Science / Nature: We looked at how buds turn into flowers while at our lovely local park. We fed the squirrels there and watched them bury their nuts and then saw some baby squirrels. We saw that one of the squirrels still had part of it’s winter coat and so we discussed how some animals’ coats change according to the seasons. W also asked lots of questions about bees: why they sting people, their anatomy, what different types there are etc.

We used a free set of resources from the Woodland Trust which had worksheets on tree spotting. We identified the different types of tree in the park on the worksheet and brought an example of each leaf home to identify again at a later date. We then stuck them onto coloured paper to help us to remember them. We found lots of different types, just in the one park.

Whilst tree spotting, we also identified minibeasts such as aphids, insect eggs, bees and flies.

While we were out, it started to rain and W learned about why rain starts and stops.

Later in the week, there was a nature trail during the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in a different local park, where W enjoyed spotting various plants, vegetables, insects and flowers within the community garden there.

Whilst we were going home, we had  brief ‘lesson’ on genetics, since W asked why certain people have certain coloured hair.

Play / Social: While we were at the community gardens, W played with three friends and, of course, D and J too. They went through a ‘maze’ of plants, played hide and seek with their teddies and also played in the playground.

This week, W has also played a lot with her Sylvanian families. She has been putting them all to bed and deciding where each character fits into the family. They have been going on outings in her toy bus and also changing clothes and meeting up for meals.

On Thursday, she wanted me to take a video of her playing with them, so we did that. She really wanted me to put the video on Youtube, but I didn’t, for reasons I will explain in a later blog…

We went to our favourite social meet again and W had a great time. She played with two of her friends mainly, but also chatted to lots of other children.

On the train on the way there, we did our usual making up stories and W took turns with me to decide what should happen in the story next. We also played with her Magiclip dolls and role-played with them trying on dresses and having a sleepover.

In the evening, W and D performed a talent show for us in the living room, which was (intentionally) very funny.

On Tuesday, W went to Rainbows and really enjoyed it. She made salt dough with her friend. She really enjoyed the singing at the beginning and end of the session. The easiest way to get there was to go on W’s bike, so we spent time learning more about how to ride it for a while on the way there. On the way home, something had ‘clicked’ for her and she rode it by herself!

Spatial Skills: W played with her Lego and she built the fabulous Lego Gingerbread House with very little help. She also built her favourite Lego Hot Air Balloon as it had fallen apart from last time. She played with the minifigures too and there was a lot of imaginative play where the toys were all put in different scenarios.

Games / Board Games: This week, W has played many games of Uno and understands the rules well.

English / Literacy: On a train journey, W enjoyed reading the station signs and finding the correct platforms, as usual. She also read some of the signs on the train itself. She likes to find the correct carriage and seat for us also.

On Thursday, we went to a couple of structured lessons. W loved the relaxed learning environment and the fact that there was a café on site. She went to the English class first and practised her pen skills by  colouring in a difficult pattern. She also wrote her name and a few words to show to the teacher. There were 8 children in the class and the teacher was setting them different types of work to do according to their age and ability, along the same theme. After that, they had a card game where they collected a card for words that they had remembered from a poem he read to them.

Maths / Numeracy: After English and a break in the café, W went to the Maths lesson, which was facilitated by a great teacher who got the children to do bar graphs of how many times they had managed to get a water bottle to flip and then stand up, with different amounts of water inside the bottles. The younger children enjoyed the active part and counting the number of tries, while the older kids took part in the question and answer session about the graph.

We discovered that W’s friend from the social meet was in the lesson too, so W teamed up with her and was very pleased to see her.

During playtime with D, W learned about how to split numbers in half. This was because W and D wanted to make sure they had the same amount of toys to play with in a particular game, so they split each group of toys in half to make it fair!

Music: On Saturday, we went to a local mini-festival and W watched a steel band, which she loved.

Geography: Whilst at the little festival, W looked at some old maps of our area and we looked at where our house was on the post-war map and on the older 100-year-old map. We also looked at other places, such as the schools and parks, which were all there on the older map too.

Next week, we have some family visits planned and also a birthday party to go to, which we are really looking forward to!

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…