10th June 2018 – Questions

This week, W seemed to be full of questions. It was a week of learning outside the home, with little sit-down work.

Here is what we did:

Numeracy: When we walked along the street, W read every house number along the way (they were 3-digit numbers).

Later, she also enjoyed reading the numbers on her old Lego trading cards (numbered 1 to 140) whilst she put them in order.

Music: We visited the library to take out and return some books. When we were there, there was a Rhyme Time session on and W listened and sang along to the songs.

Science / Nature: We spent some time feeding the squirrels in the park again and W enjoyed watching them bury their nuts. She is really good at being calm and quiet around the squirrels, so that they will come to her to get the food. This is another benefit of home education: it really does give us these lovely quiet opportunities when there are very few other people around and we can take our time to look at animals or flowers uninterrupted by others.

We visited the Science museum and W really enjoyed it there. She was a little nervous of the dim light in the ‘Space’ area, but loved the orb in the centre of the room, which had the different planets and moons projected on to it whilst audio was playing with information about each one. She was particularly interested in our moon.

We looked at space suits and how they keep astronauts cool, found out how astronauts go to the toilet (poo and wee are hilarious at the moment….), looked at models of space rockets and the space station, saw a real spacecraft, saw a real skeleton from 100BC and found out how they worked out how old those bones were.

Together, we learned so many things, including facial reconstruction of skulls, how skeletons are excavated, how vaccinations work, how anaesthetic used to be administered, what gravity is and more!

On the way home, we looked at, and talked more about how train points work, as we did last week.

Then she wanted to know how cranes are delivered and how they can turn into lorries. Luckily, I have seen many cranes at work due to a previous employment, so was happy to bore W with details about them….

And to top off a day of questions, W asked how steam engines work, why they can’t go into space, and why there were no spacecraft a long time ago, so we covered that too.

A few days later, W was thinking about our visit to the science museum visit and asked how a person’s skin and flesh decay to become just a skeleton (I tried to explain this in as nice a way as possible – saying that it basically becomes the earth around it with the help of insects and bugs).

Politics: On by-election day, we had a discussion over breakfast about the main political parties and touched on their policies too. W came to watch me vote and we discussed how the voting system works in this country. We went through the political parties again and talked about their policies a little and then she wanted to know how a person can become an MP.

Play: After our visit to the Science Museum, W played with her siblings and other children, chasing bubbles in the ‘garden’ of the Museum.

At home, there were many opportunities for play and the children chose board games, Lego and dolls to play with.

History: One evening, W asked to see the Royal family’s family tree with pictures, which I showed to her and explained what it meant and who the people are.

She then asked to see a family tree from a different country, so we looked at the French kings and queens back to 1300!

Religion: We visited a church on the way to Bank station (at her request) and learned what the pulpit and font are for and we looked at the ten commandments on the wall. She asked what the bible was and we talked about that. She wanted to read a gravestone inside the church, so we did, and then after that, we lit a candle and made a donation.

Time: At Euston station, W saw a digital clock and asked why it is different from an analogue clock. This led to a discussion on the 24-hour clock.

Literacy:  This week, W wasn’t feeling like doing any writing, so only did a couple of pages of an activity book until she moved on to something else.

As always, I didn’t push W to do any more writing than she was comfortable with. She is still so little at 5 years old and has many years ahead in which to perfect her skills in that area. An interesting recent study has shown that children taught to read and write early perform no better (often worse) academically at 11 years old than those who experienced play-based learning in the early years. This really shows that, if children are allowed to learn subjects when they are ready to, they will remain keen to learn the subject and are also capable of learning it more quickly.

For now, W writes when she wants to and loves to do so.

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….

13th May 2018 – illness strikes

A lot of this week was taken up by watching TV and sleeping as W was ill with a bug for a few days.

I have noticed that W gets ill a lot less than her peers who go to school. I wonder, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does being ill a lot and catching all the bugs in an institution such as a school make her immune system stronger, or is she better off not being ill all the time because that is simply a healthier way of being? Does she ‘need’ all these bugs to strengthen her immune system, or was it ‘good enough’ for her to be breastfed for 3 and a half years and to receive antibodies that way, instead of from illness? I suppose I’ll never know, but I do know that it is awful seeing her ill and life is much better when my children are well and happy.

So, this is W’s somewhat limited learning for the week, categorised by subject:

History / Politics: We watched a children’s documentary at W’s request, on King Charles I, parliament, the tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords. Then another on lots of subjects, such as the suffragettes, how Big Ben was made and transported to the top of the Elizabeth tower, how the clock is maintained, and where all acts of parliament are stored (on parchment).

Play: When W was feeling a little better, she had lots of imaginative play with her Shopkins, Magiclip Dolls, Playmobil Farm and with her Lego too. At one point when she was feeling very under the weather, she said she thought that her toys must be missing her and that she couldn’t wait to play with them, so it was lovely to see her giving them some attention again!

Literacy: W watched a fair bit of CBeebies and learned about Homer’s ‘the Odyssey’. She also watched Number Blocks, which she loves and even managed to shout the answers to problems at the TV.

Before the sickness bug struck, we played Monopoly Junior, during which W read some of the words on the ‘chance’ cards, added simple numbers together to pay rent on properties and generally did very well at the game.

We also visited the library this week and W chose some chapter books for bedtime stories.

On a journey through London, W helped to find the right platforms on the display boards, as she likes to do…. and then as we were on the train, W said she would like to find out more about how very tall buildings are made, so we sill look at that shortly.

Play /Social: When W was feeling up to it, there was a lot of imaginative play for W and D together, and also with a friend who came to play.

We went to visit the grandparents for a day and, as always, W had a great time playing silly games with them.

We also had some time at the park for some energetic play.

Science / Nature: At the park, we identified flowers and trees together.

W’s Grandfather was fixing a computer when we visited him, so he taught her about computer circuit boards. She was allowed to play with a computer fan and learned the difference between a large desktop computer motherboard, a small one and one that is designed for a laptop. She learned that the lines in the board were tiny wires and that the small PCBs had four layers in so that they could fit more wires into the space.

She learned why fans are needed for the computer processor and also learned a little bit about how computers are repaired and put together, and what tools are needed to do so.

I got a free printable resource which shows how a seed develops into a tree, so we looked at that together for a while.

When W wasn’t feeling well, she watched her favourite pet- and vet-themed programs on TV and learned about animal care and treatment.

Geography: W asked many questions about London, including its size and population. She then wanted to know which city in the world had the most people living in it. It turns out that it is Tokyo with almost 38m people. Delhi and Shanghai were next. She was fascinated by this and asked about where in the world these cities were. We looked at our giant atlas to find out and then learned some facts about Japan online. W liked the fact that Japan is similar to the UK in terms of size and population overall.

Numeracy: W has discovered dot-to-dot puzzles, which are great for enabling her to learn large numbers, and also great for pen control.

Art: W drew a picture of me and also a picture of herself at the beach. Both were great and were put up on display.

In fact, almost all drawings that W does are put up on display for a while – a tip that I got from the fabulous book by Lori McWilliam Pickert: Project-Based Home Schooling. I really recommend this book if you are new to home education, or if you want to know more about project-based learning. It has some brilliant ideas and strategies for us to be able to facilitate our children’s learning without getting in the way of it by being too prescriptive ourselves.

6th May

W’s education this week seemed to take the form of her explaining things to me that she has learned over the last few weeks. This really helps to ‘solidify’ her learning and I can add in any bits that I think she has missed. She loves to explain things to me (probably because she is tired of me constantly telling her things……) instead of just listening to my voice all the time.

So here is what we did this week, in order of subject:

Nature / Biology: W explained to me how bees use their 5 eyes to see and then went on to explain the differences between insects and spiders. This is something she picked up on a TV program ages ago, but had remembered those facts from it.

W later told me how some baby fish hide from predators in their mothers’ mouth. She wanted to know how baby fish are made – we discussed this and looked for clips on Youtube. She also described the blue whale and then explained how big it is.

We played at vets with her toys and within the game she told me all about blood tests and what they are for. She knows a little about blood cells and this was all incorporated into our game.

W has also been learning the names of different plants and flowers, when we are out and about. She can recognise quite a few now, which is impressive since I know very little about flowers…

We learned about how wheat is milled with an educational resource that I had from a while ago. It has packets of wheat from various different points of the milling process and it explains what happens to is and what each different part is used for.

Literacy / English: We got W’s activity books and magazines out and she did quite a few pages of colouring-in, spot the difference, copying pictures, stickering and writing practise.

Also, we again categorised some of her Shopkins toys (this time into ‘seasons’) and she wrote labels for each section.

Maths: On the train to a park, we did some mental arithmetic (she was giving me sums to do, then working out the answer herself), which W worked out in her own way. For some questions, she counted on her fingers, but for others, she seemed to just know the answer.

On another day, W bought a couple of new toys with her pocket money (more about pocket money here) and added up how much money she had for them, to work out if she had enough.

We later watched a few episodes of the number show from Alphablocks, on CBeebies together.

PE: At swimming, W swam on her back this time and generally played a lot in the pool.

Politics: I took W with me to vote in the local election, where we talked about the political parties, government, what they do and how they are funded. This is something W is really interested. In the past, she has asked lots of questions on democracy and why people vote differently from each other. I’m sure we will expand on this a lot as she grows up.

Play: W, D and J played a long imaginative game, where all of their soft toys went camping.  They packed lots of items for the toys and brought them downstairs in suitcases, then put up the tent and played at camping with them. It was great to see them playing together so well and collaborating well on what should happen next in the game.

Although this seems like a lot of learning now that I have written it down, this was definitely one of our ‘quiet’ weeks. However, it goes to show that, whether I am actively ‘teaching’ Willow or not, she is learning all the time of her own accord. I see that my role here is to facilitate her learning and to be guided by her. She will learn what she is ready to learn, when she needs to learn it. I am so struck by the fact that she is so eager to absorb information and facts, without me instigating it. When I first found out about home education (when I was pregnant with W), I thought it would involve much more guidance from me. I must say that I did think W would want to do nothing all day if I let her. As she grew, she showed me that she was always learning and that what I needed to do was to simply observe and to provide opportunities for learning. The rest is down to her. And she is doing brilliantly.

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…