11th Mar 2018 – dinosaurs again

So, after all this talk of dinosaurs, we needed a trip to the Natural History Museum!

I asked W what she wanted to find out there and she said she wanted to see some dinosaur bones and to find out how the dinosaurs died. She asked lots of questions while we were there (far too many to detail here) and learned three different theories of how they died out. She also learned how people find fossils, how they are dug up and how they are made. There was a little bit of learning about evolution in there too and a tiny bit of learning Latin words. She was interested in finding out about Mary Anning too. W was able to name a few of the dinosaurs and explain how their bones ended up in the ground as we had discussed that before.

She was fascinated by the different types of crystals there and how they ended up being different colours. She looked at petrified wood and looked at the growth of crystals and coral. She spent a while learning how rocks can glow in the dark and we got to see the refraction of light through calcite, which makes things appear double. W had the opportunity to handle some different rocks with different surfaces and to categorise them too – one of her favourite activities right now.

We briefly walked through the mammals section of the museum, which W would like to return to another day. We had a fabulous time there and W learned so much. It is so good to be able to see actual examples of dinosaur bones and to be able to touch crystals etc. You just can’t replicate that experience with books or websites. The experience of going to see real examples is so immersive and much more memorable.

After leaving the museum, she played with lots of other children, who were chasing bubbles, which she loved.

The next day, W wanted to do some writing and number practice. She wanted to know how certain words are spelt, such as ‘Special’. She then wrote them down and looked at them to see how the letters make the sounds. W is now in a phase of wanting to learn to read and write. I find it comes and goes. Sometimes she doesn’t want to put a pen to paper for weeks, but then something will spur her on to want to learn again and she will be enthusiastic about it for a time. I think having older siblings who can read and write helps in terms of her motivation. She wants to be able to read the same things that they can, so has a drive at the moment to learn.

W has also been counting a lot over the last week; train seats, train carriages, stairs, people etc all get counted as she passes! When we get the bus, she has been trying to read numbers over 100 on the front of them and on signs etc.

At home, W counted her Shopkins and has been interested in trying to read the names of the Shopkins on her lists.

One morning, W started the day with a geography lesson. She had bought a toy online from Hong Kong and wanted to know where that was. We got out the big atlas and looked at the size of the British Isles in comparison to other countries, the distance to China, and the travelling time to get there. Then we looked at the location of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, New York, Cork in Ireland, Shetland, Jersey and France, at W’s request. We then looked at the geography of London and the river Thames.

Later, W and D (7) did some problem solving together whilst they were playing. They really wanted to play together, but were disagreeing about what to play. With a little help, they managed to negotiate together to find something that they both wanted to do. Once they had got over that hurdle, they played two board games together and were great with playing by the rules and allowing each other to add up etc without the other interrupting. I know that sibling disagreements are normal and a way of learning social skills, but when things become a little tricky, I often revisit this book: Siblings Without Rivalry. It’s a practical book with great examples. Maybe a little simplified in places, but the message is good.

What is your go-to strategy for sibling disagreements? Is there a book or blog that you have found helpful? Let’s share some ideas and strategies for helping our children sort out their conflicts below in the comments…

To let off steam, we later popped out for a visit to the library, getting out some interesting books and chapter books for bedtime, then W, D and J all played in the park, climbing a lot and generally running about and having fun together.

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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!

18th Feb 2018 – chores

I’m interested to know people’s opinions on chores for children. Do your children do chores around the house? Do they have to, or do they just do it if they want to?

Every day, our whole family takes part in ‘tidying time’, about an hour before bedtime. We tidy everything together and then have play a board game afterwards. It is something I’ve always done with W, even when she was just a year old. It was a game then and she loved doing it. She loved finding the right places for things and putting them all away and then she used to cheer and clap at the end. I must admit that I have always liked tidying up at the end of every day. The children have all said that they really like it when the house is tidy again at the end of the day and when they get up in the morning they like being able to start (making a mess) afresh. I really like the fact that we are all involved in it and so no-one needs to get resentful or cross about having to tidy everyone’s mess by themselves.

It has made me wonder, though, whether I am too strict in doing this, if the children will end up resenting me for making me do it every day without fail (long days when we arrive home late excepted), or if I maybe don’t ask them to do enough. Tidying is really their only big chore. The only other things they have to do is to take their plates from the dinner table to the kitchen after dinner and put their dirty clothes in the wash. That’s it. I must say, they don’t complain about it generally. Obviously, we have had times when one of the children really doesn’t feel like tidying that day, but I get those days too, and I think that is normal for all of us. I think the important thing is that we all pull together to do it and make sure that we help each other so that it only takes a few minutes with 5 of us working on it!

I also find that having the incentive of playing a board game in a nice tidy room is a great motivator. There’s not many things I like more than playing a game with the whole family together at the end of a long day.

So, tell me your thoughts: how much or how little do your children do around the house and how often?

11th Feb 2018 – moving day

We had the mammoth task this week of moving house, so W was mainly occupied with packing and unpacking boxes (or overseeing the packing and unpacking instead….). It is certainly tricky to entertain small children when there is a huge task to be done. With educating at home, there is no option to do the big jobs when your children are at school for a few hours. One thing I have learned with having W with me most of the time is balance. Trying to meet her needs while also meeting mine as much as is possible. It is a difficult thing to do and I find that it is not really something that can be planned for properly because, on the day that we are super busy, our children could also need us more (especially if they are coping with a big change such as a house move) and so the usual activites that they would be happy to do on their own are no longer wanted. Instead they are wanting extra reassurance, or even just wanting to ‘help’ with whatever it is we are doing. I find that the only way through it is to set aside more time. I have found that being in a hurry just adds to my stress and the children’s stress and so less gets done and so we have less time to do it…. and the vicious cycle begins. I personally hate being up against a deadline and much prefer to do things early to get ‘ahead’ just in case of disaster later on. However, sometimes this backfires and I start too early and have to do things later all over again…

What are your best coping strategies for moving house and big changes that require lots of time? What are your go-to activities for the children to do to entertain themselves? Any ideas are welcome in the comments below.

During the move, W kept herself occupied for a short time with one of my notebooks. She wrote lots of random letters, pretending to write words and sentences. It was good writing practise for her and a good quiet activity.

W asked many questions as we were walking to get supplies, such as how dinosaur bones ended up so deep underground, how to tell whether squirrels are male or female, why dogs and cats have more nipples than us and why too much bird food is bad for the fish if it gets into a pond. We also watched some bricklayers and learned how walls are put together and why the bricks need to be wet first. All of this was while walking for about 20 minutes!

Whilst I was busy with packing and unpacking, W played a great deal with her toys. She also did a little reading practice with a short book and then did some activities and colouring in her activity books (this time she chose her Paw Patrol activity books). The removals people had a little friendly dog, so I let D and W walk him with me. They asked how dogs are trained and why, so we talked about dog behaviour for a little bit. They were very calm and gentle with the dog and the dog was very tolerant of them.

The next time we were on another errand, we saw a bus being repaired. W got to look at the engine and asked me how it works and why it makes a noise, so we had a chat about that in simple terms.

Back at home, while we were packing, W completed another lot of activity pages including ten dot-to-dot pages, two colouring pages and one page of matching letters to objects in her ‘First Learning’ books. She read some of ‘Jen the Hen’ again and then identified the letters in her alphabet book.

Midweek, we went to the home-ed social group in our town and played Hedbanz, where she had to ask questions to work out what was on her card. She found it fun and then had more fun playing with the other children. There were all ages there, but W gravitated towards the ones she knows, who were aged between 2 and 6 years old.

On the way home from there, W asked about how fossils are formed, so we watched 3 videos about that on YouTube Kids when we got home. She then asked how the dinosaurs died, so we also watched two videos about that too. There seems to be a theme lately with W’s questions and she is really interested in dinosaurs. I asked if she would like to start a project on dinosaurs and she was very enthusiastic, so that is what our first project will be. Watch this space….

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.