15th April 2018 – A birthday

W had her 5th birthday this week, so we had a great time seeing the grandparents and playing with new toys. She was lucky enough to get this Stephanie’s House Lego set (age 6+) and built it almost by herself. She showed good concentration and is now very good at rotating objects in her head to see where the Lego pieces might fit. A few days later, she built her new LEGO Minecraft set and then played with it afterwards, role-playing showing her minifigures around the new sets.

Building her new Minecraft set had spurred W on to play real Minecraft on her tablet, where she built some more of a house that she has been creating. I have to say that I am amazed at how quickly children can pick up the game and learn how to create things on it. I don’t let her use the multiplayer mode yet, but she is happy enough creating her own ‘world’ in the game so far.

I’m pleased that W plays with Minecraft Lego as well as Friends Lego. I need to point out that we do not do ‘boy’s toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’ in our house. Toys and clothes are not gendered here. The children are free to wear pink or blue or any other colour that they choose. They can play with any toys that are age appropriate (and are not guns) regardless of which gender they are marketed to (more information on this can be found here). I read a fantastic book, backed up by a great deal of research on the subject by Cordelia Fine, called Delusions of Gender. In it, she debunks ‘neuro-sexism’ and explores how society will have us believe that there are huge differences in male and female brains; and seeks the scientific proof to the contrary.

Another new birthday present that W received this week was this Disney Princess Heart Box, which she spent some time decorating. She then really wanted to paint this Galt Toys Tea Set. W enjoyed choosing the colours and styles that she wanted on each item. She liked it so much that a few days later, she went on to paint a couple of china chicks for us to have as Easter ornaments. They turned out great and are now part of the Easter box of plastic eggs and trinkets that we get out every year.

W, D and J all did some ‘work’ for me on my business when they wanted to. This is both educational and a great way for them to learn about the value of money. I have written more about the subject in my blog posts about pocket money and chores.

The next day, J, D and W all played together at a soft play centre. On the way there, W wanted to spot which bus was ours. She looked out for the correct numbers on the bus and found the right one in no time. She then spent a long time talking to J on the journey, and teaching him all she has learned over the last few weeks, showing that she has taken in a lot of information.

Later, all the children watched two videos together, as they needed to wind down after such a busy day. Whenever we watch a video, we have the subtitles on. The older one likes to read them to catch anything he may have missed (or to pick out inaccuracies), the middle one likes to read the words of the songs so that she can learn them, and it is helping W to be motivated to learn to read as well.
Three friends came to the house later in the week for an Easter egg hunt. My partner had set up clues for the children to follow to find eggs around the house and garden. D and J’s clues were written, and W’s were in words and pictures. They all did well to work out the answers and find their eggs. After much chocolate was eaten, they all played noisily in the park and the house and properly enjoyed their day! We had another social engagement later in the week when another friend came to the house to play and much fun was had again.

In addition to the planned play dates we had, there was also an impromptu social opportunity for W, when one of the trains that we traveled on this week was delayed, meaning a 3 hour journey for us. W spent the time playing with 4 other children (ages 9, 7, 5 and 3), sharing her toys and role-playing moving house, going to prison (!) and playing doctors, amongst other things. The other children loved playing with her and they all got on very well for the whole time we were travelling.

Back at home, W wanted to work on some activities in one of her magazines, so she read a few words of an Alphablocks story, even reading a couple of words without sounding them out first. She also matched some sticker shapes, followed dotted lines with her pen and cut out some shapes.

Since we are lucky enough to have all the children at home because of the school holidays, we visited Deen City Farm. There was lots to do and the children learned about what goats, sheep and cows eat. One of the goats ate a piece of the paper packet that the food was in and we had a discussion about what would happen to the packet and why goats eat things that they shouldn’t. They also learned the difference between herbivores’ teeth and carnivores’ teeth, since they noticed what shape the goats’ teeth were. We had a chance to pet rabbits and guinea pigs, and to ask lots of questions of the staff there.

We saw owls and W asked why the owl was awake in the daytime. She learned about how owls are bred and tamed, and how they are cared for. We then watched a riding lesson and then pooped in to see the rabbits and guinea pigs being cleaned out.

After looking at all the animals, it was time to play in the playground. Even though it was the school holidays, we managed to find another home educated child there to play with. W chatted to him and played with him on the slides and climbing frames.
D and W played catch at the bus stop on the journey home and then D later read her book to both W and J while we waited. W just loves being read to and loves books in general, so having D read to her benefits them both so much. We had one of those perfect parenting moments at that bus stop. You know, one of those moments where all the children are behaving perfectly and doing something very sweet while people look on and smile. It was definitely one of those times where I felt all smug (before the children’s grumpiness kicked in a few minutes later, but I won’t mention that…..).

Subjects covered:

Economics (business), Maths (receiving wages for ‘work’), Spatial skills (Lego, Minecraft), Art (pottery painting and decorating jewellery box), English, Biology (mammals’ teeth and animal characteristics), socialisation (friends visiting, meeting a new friend at the park, sibling play, extended family visiting). Technology (Minecraft).

8th April 2018 – The Big Bank

W has been very interested in money this week, so we decided to visit The Bank of England Museum. I love it there and, although it is a small museum, it is free entry and they have great activities for children, such as Easter Egg hunts.

There was lots to do and we started with looking at the different security features of banknotes, since W asked last week why people don’t just print more money when they run out. She learned about the Royal Mint and why it is important that money only comes from there. She got to use a UV light to show patterns on bank notes, which she loved.
In the museum, you have an opportunity to hold a gold bar and to try to lift it. W had a go (but couldn’t lift it as it weighed around 14kg – the same as her….). She asked why it was so heavy when it was so little, so we talked about density. There was also a fabulous display on the properties of gold and why it is so valuable.
After that, W learned what people did before money came into use, and also about the history of the Bank of England itself. She found some of it fascinating and engaging, then had a rest at one of the tables where some crafts were set out. She had a great time colouring-in and drawing too.
Next, it was time for the fun (and still educational) part – an Easter hunt around the museum, following clues to find certain things and answering questions about some items. We filled in a quiz as we went and got a chocolate egg as a great reward at the end. The staff were all lovely with her, especially when we realised that we had left her beloved teddy somewhere inside the museum. We searched everywhere, but had no luck. Eventually one of the porters helped us, even moving some exhibits to look behind them.

In the end, to W’s relief, Teddy was found and all was well with the world!

On the train home, W asked about the UV light that she had seen: what is it and why did it show patterns on the bank notes? We had a good long conversation UV light – eg how it fades fabrics, what it is etc. At this point, I found myself reflecting on the fact that school children don’t get as much of the ‘follow-up’ learning that W does, in that there isn’t time on the way back from a school trip for a child to ask so many questions of what they have seen. Sure, there is some time, but it is very short, considering that teaching staff are focussing on getting so many children from one place to another safely. I don’t know if it is different for other children, but my kids tend to learn so much more after an educational trip, rather than on it. There are usually additional questions for days afterwards, after they have had time to process what they saw or did.

Later in the week, W was lucky enough to be able to go on the London Eye. It was great for her to see the city from a different perspective and to have a chance to point out her favourite landmarks, which she loves to do.

When we travel, W loves to help me to find the correct train and platform and this is currently her main motivator for learning to read. She really wants to be able to find the right train on the display and to tell me which platform to go to. Aside from being a sweet thing to do, it is also a valuable life skill to have and I’m sure she will get to grips with it very soon. We keep looking at the displays together every time we get on a train.

When we got home, we spent some time building a Lego set. She is learning now that, although a build can take a long time, when she perseveres with it and finishes, she gets a brilliant toy to play with afterwards. Her building skills are great, so it doesn’t take her too long to put them together and she does really enjoy the end result.

W also noticed that she had some mail today. The Book Trust provide free books to all reception-aged children, so that includes home-educated children. W’s book had arrived, so we read it together. It is always lovely to have a parcel in the post that you weren’t expecting, and this was a lovely example.

The evening board game this week was mainly Charades For Kids and, as usual, we had bedtime stories every day.

[Topics covered: Science (UV light), Maths (denominations of money; what was used as currency before money and how it was added together), Geography (London’s skyline), English (reading books and departure boards), Spatial skills (Lego building)]

1st Apr 2018 – Overcoming Fears

After seeing Tower Bridge in all its glory from a train window, W was desperate to go on a visit there, so this week we took a trip to The Tower Bridge Exhibition and experienced the glass walkway at the top of the bridge. I was scared to walk on it, but W was not nervous at all and even lay down on the glass to watch the traffic below. I didn’t mention my nerves at all and eventually convinced myself to walk on it too. Being able to overcome fears that I have is something I have only managed to crack since becoming a parent. I know that, if I show my (more irrational) fears to W, she gets the message from me that she should also be afraid. Obviously, for some situations, a degree of nervousness is needed in order to keep us safe, but in this instance, W was really enjoying herself and was completely safe. Who am I to take that from her by telling her that I am terrified and that, by default, she thinks that she should be too?

It’s so hard to face fears like that, but I can honestly say that I have done so much more than I usually would, just by giving my children experiences that I wouldn’t normally give myself and it has been quite liberating, to be honest. I would happily go on the glass walkway again.

Anyway, this is not a diary about me – this is about W’s learning, so….

We visited the engine room of the bridge and learned about how the bridge used to be lifted by steam engine many years ago, and how it works now. We also saw the tools that were used to build the bridge and learned how it was built across the river and why, by watching a video on it’s construction. W was interested in what people’s job roles were on the bridge and where all the materials came from to build it.

When we were on the glass walkway above the bridge, we spent a long time watching the river and road below. After that, we spent a long time playing in the fountains nearby with some other children and also walked through the gardens and tall buildings and looked at their different features.
When we were at the side of the river, we talked some more about the Thames and where it goes.

The next day, we did some work on telling the time, because she is keen to learn it at the moment. The main reason, I think, is wanting to know how long it is before her step brother and sister come home from school as they love playing together so much. She wants to be able to tell the time herself so that she doesn’t have to ask me how long it is until something happens. So, W now knows what the hour hand is for and knows what ‘half past’ means.

After that, it was time for a visit to the library for more chapter books that I will read to her at bedtime. W chose fiction books with an animal theme this time. She has one chapter of a book before bed (or one picture book, but she usually chooses chapter books nowadays), and D and J also have the same, so W actually gets 3 chapters read to her of an evening. She can also have unlimited chapters or picture books read to her in the daytime if she wants, of course, but at bedtime there is a limit of three, or bedtime would take even longer than it currently does…

I took W and D to the park and the children watched ladybirds for a while, to see how they moved.
J (9) and W made breakfast by themselves one day and W was proud of making it herself, so proud in fact, that she and D later wanted to put away all the shopping too.

I took W to the social group that we visited a couple of weeks ago. She played with lots of children, built Lego, played with a geometric shapes game and generally had lots of fun again. We stayed right until the end as she loves it there.

Just to squeeze in a bit more playtime, we went to a funfair, just for… well fun…. I can’t say much for the learning aspect, but they really had a great time there! After that, a friend came to visit and W had a great time playing with her, as usual.

Although it is great that we have so many opportunities for learning everywhere we go, I am still careful to not make everything we do educational. Its important to simply have a good time for the sake of it and this week was definite example of that – certainly for me and I hope for all the family too. Having children is a great excuse to be able to go to funfairs and be silly, in the name of entertaining them.