17 June 2018 – new kittens and a trip to the vets!

We had been thinking about getting another cat for a while now and have decided that now is a good time to do it. All the children are great with our current cat, who is also very easy-going and has lived with other cats that are not related to her, so we thought she would welcome a new friend for her into the household. Therefore, a few weeks ago, the hunt for a new addition to our family began, opening up more opportunities for learning along the way….

Science / Nature: W has now been learning about how to settle a cat in, what it needs to stay happy and healthy (with the help of these brilliant resources from the Cat’s Protection League and some books from the library too). She also learned about what kittens need to eat and why, and how to meet all of their needs.

We went to visit a kitten to see if we might like to have him, but he was nervous and used his claws to get away from us. W learned about why it is really important to choose a cat with the right temperament and why it would not be right for the cat to live with us if he was scared of us (children especially).

The next day, we visited a couple more kittens and found that one of them was a perfect fit for our family. He was very calm and friendly and loved being handled. His brother was quiet, but not nervous, and clearly very attached to his litter-mate…. So we brought both kittens home later that day, after all our family had met them.

Later in the week, W learned a little more about vaccinations and general care for cats afterwards from the vet. When the vet heard that W was home educated, he explained what he was doing when he was examining the kittens and then he brought a model of a dog skeleton into the room and showed a scan of the ligaments of a dog’s knee, which he had on the computer. I love how some professionals are happy to give some of their time to help to educate W. When she asks someone a question, who happens to be a specialist in that area, I find that they are most often happy to answer the question in detail. It is one of the many lovely things about learning as we go through life….

At Rainbows, W was very excited to tell her friends all about the new kittens. She also saw a real bird’s nest (no longer used and taken with permission) and was fascinated with it. She had a lovely sociable time with the other children, whilst they played games such as the sack race, catching balloons and dribbling a ball around obstacles.

Continuing with the science theme for the week, we covered orbits over dinner. W learned how the Earth orbits the sun, how long it takes and why it looks like the sun is rising and setting to us.
Literacy: W helped to make tiny signs to welcome toy visitors to her Playmobil Farm“>Playmobil Farm.
Board Games / Play: Later, we played Monopoly Junior. W really enjoys this one and fully understands the whole game now.
Art: We made posters for the front, porch and back doors, to remind the children to not let the kittens out yet. W coloured the posters in and stuck pictures of cats on them.
Home Economics: W helped me to make dinner, which is unusual for her. She is often happy to bake sweet things, but doesn’t often want to make dinner. This time she wanted to be involved, which was lovely as we got to have a lovely chat, instead of her finding ways to entertain herself while I cook. A win for us both!

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….

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?

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.