29th April, 2018 – Mail

W had a busy week in terms of learning this week. As I follow her interests and we learn as we go, I find that some weeks are far ‘busier’ in terms of learning than others. Some weeks, she is a sponge and wants to take everything in, and others, she is happy to relax and observe the world instead.

So, here is what we did, arranged by subject:

Logistics: W asked how parcels are sorted by Royal Mail and how the postal service knows where to send the parcels. We talked about how this is done (I have a had a few postie friends in the past and know a bit about it). We then watched a video of a cargo plane being loaded.

W also learned about TV aerials and satellite dishes because she noticed ours while we were out in the garden. She asked how a TV signal is brought into the house and to the TV, so I showed her where the cables go and what they do.
Science: While enjoying her ‘Gelli Bath’, she learned about density and we spent quite a while working out what different materials would float or sink in the jelly. We also then spent some time trying to get the jelly to drain through her old stacking cups with small holes in the bottom. W was trying to work out how big the holes needed to be before the jelly would start to drain through.
We then sprinkled the dissolving salts into the bath afterwards to dissipate the jelly. W watched this, fascinated, while I explained the process to her.

We found an old chicken bone out in the garden and W asked why it was so light and hollow after being outside for a long time, so we talked a little bit about decomposition.

When we went into our town centre, W watched a skip being unloaded and loaded again. She absolutely loves watching them, so we had an opportunity to see hydraulics at work.

Later, W asked how our waste water is recycled into drinking water, so we watched 4 little videos on how that happens.

Two days later, we watched a large area of crazy paving being laid and levelled near our house. She also saw a digger / ‘grabber’ move the rubble from the ground to a lorry, which built on her understanding of hydraulics again.
Play / Socialisation: W played a lot with D and J over the weekend. They played Charades, hide and seek, and role-played with Lego. In the Lego game, they collected together all their Lego vehicles and minifigures and took them on a long journey to the Lego house and to the new Lego playground, which they had made.

We went to our local social meet-up and W played with a few of the children. She also chatted confidently with some of the adult visitors, who had come to find out more about home education.

On another day, a friend came to visit, so W had an opportunity for lots of playing, including role play, charades, hide and seek, and small-world play.
Materials: J, D and W (mainly D and W) spent a long time preparing and painting the railings and gate outside our house. They learned why surfaces need to be prepared first and how the paint sticks to surfaces. They were absolutely brilliant at following instruction and putting only a thin layer of paint at a time onto the metal. They are very skilled at painting, since they have done quite a lot of it in the past.

Our neighbour was breaking up their tarmac path in order to lay tiles, while we were painting our railings. We watched him physically break the tarmac into pieces, saw what was underneath and then W later watched how the path was leveled with concrete as a foundation.

W randomly wanted to watch a Youtube video of someone putting some doll furniture together, to see how it was made and she enjoyed seeing how it was done.
Biology / Nature: At the dinner table, we discussed how snakes eat, including how they kill prey and how they can swallow such big animals, by dislocating their jaws.

D and W did some gardening and gave some snails some water since it was a very hot day. They put them into a shady spot in the back garden where they would be more comfortable!

Over dinner the next day, we talked about what Praying Mantes eat and how they mate. We then moved on to spiders and snails too.

W also asked what a tiger’s roar sounds like, so we watched a video on that and also listened to recordings of other big cats such as the ocelot, lion and sand cat. We then looked at what other sounds the cats make, including the sound that lions make to locate other lions and the tiger’s ‘chuff’.
Spatial skills / sorting: W played with her Lego minifigures, putting them together according to the instructions from their respective sets, so that they would be ‘correct’.
Arts: W watched a CBeebies Shakespeare Play again, which she loved.
Geography: W watched the London Marathon on TV. She learned why people do it, how long it is, why there are different races for different people, and what the route is. When she watched it, she pointed out various landmarks too.

W asked about time zones around the world and which places are the furthest away in terms of geography and in terms of time difference.
Maths: W also learned about money and we have discussed how money is a finite resource and she is starting to understand that, if she buys items for a certain value, she has less money for other items.

Literacy: W decided to read one and a half books by herself, practising the sounds ‘th’ and ‘ou’.

W also did a few exercises from her workbooks and magazines, including: cutting-out shapes, colouring in, putting stickers in the correct places and answering questions about a story.

Her final bit of literacy learning this week was finding my notebook, writing her name in it and then writing ‘poo’ lots of times on various pages. I discovered this the next time I started work…. It made me smile during a very mundane work morning!

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).

4th Mar 2018 – trains

This week, we had a transport theme. W wanted to know all about trains; how are trains made, where are they made, how are tracks put together, what do freight trains do, what does freight mean….. the questions went on and on. Of course, as is usual with these things, W asked all these questions while we were out and not near resources. That was all well and good, since I am a slight train nerd, so I covered most of it with her. I do find, though, that when W is asking so many questions on a crowded train, I feel like I am being watched and like I am under more pressure to get the answers absolutely right… I’m sure people are just chuckling because of the relentlessness of a 4-year-old’s quest for knowledge and not because I am floundering right in front of them….

On a different journey on a different day, W decided we would do maths in the car. She asked me to give her simple numbers to add or subtract from each other and worked out the answers on her fingers. The night before, we had played a board game involving addition, so I think she was just expanding on what she learned.

Then more questions: what are factories for? She wanted lots and lots of examples of things that are made in factories, which was fairly easy as there are so many things to choose from. W was surprised that things that are so different from each other can be made in similar factories. She then asked exactly how things are made, and once we had talked about that for some time, she decided she wants to own a factory when she is an adult…

On the next journey, maths was no longer the favourite – W wanted to practise phonic sounds instead. She likes to do this because I put on silly voices with each sound. It has helped her to learn, though does make my vocal chords sore after a while…

The conversation then turned to prehistoric amber, of all things. W asked if I knew how insects from the time of the dinosaurs were so well preserved. I said I didn’t and she explained how insects got trapped in tree sap a long time ago and how it turned to amber. I have no idea where she got that from.

When we got home, W  wanted to count her money in her money box to see how much she had. She needs help with this as she is not yet confident with adding multiples of tens and hundreds together, but she did do well at sorting the coins into piles of similar sizes and shapes and telling me the numbers on each coin.

On our final journey of the week, we travelled cross-country on a fast train. We played a game where you had to roll a colour dice to collect cards with train carriages on, to make a complete train out of them. W knew how many she needed to collect in total, so I asked her at various points in the game how many more she needed, so that she could practise her new maths skills. After that, it was a game of good ol’ Snap (with cards with pictures of trains on, to carry on with the theme), which she did really well at.

How do you keep your kids entertained on long journeys? Do you have any go-to toys or books that you keep especially for travelling (aside from tablets and magazines)? Do let me know. We travel a lot and some fresh ideas for entertainment in a small space would be welcome!

On top of all of the above, W also made cupcakes and managed to do most of the process herself and in the right order. She had help with the oven etc, but managed almost all of it herself.

She also got to do a lot of her favourite small-world play. We have been building furniture, including shelves and bookcases (yes, still completing the house move) and W decided, along with D, that they would turn our shelving units into giant doll’s houses. In the time that the furniture was just built and waiting for our books and ornaments to go onto them, the children had filled the units up with furniture from the doll’s house and were playing a very complicated game of houses together. It was great to watch and we actually left the shelves like that for a few days as they enjoyed playing with them so much!

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.