20th May – a holiday

This week, W was lucky enough to go on a holiday. Obviously, there was no structured learning while on a break, but of course learning happens organically every day, without effort on our part. I just love that, even if we have no plans for specific educational activities in a particular week, learning will happen anyway, whether we want it to or not…

So, in order of subjects, this is the breakdown of W’s education for the last seven days:

Maths / Numeracy: W worked on her new pull-the-tab Counting Book. She went through the flashcards, which had questions like: are there more bees or more flowers in the picture? She was really engaged and loved counting everything. She also went through the other flashcards and read the numbers up to twenty. On other flashcards, she was asked which number was missing in a sequence and got all of them right.

On the addition pages, she had a good go at adding numbers under 10 together and loved it when she pulled the tab and had got the answer right.

I must say at this point that I try to not focus on whether W gets the answer right or not. I feel it is important to praise (or at least encourage gently) the effort that is put in, rather than the result. There was a very interesting study on this subject by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University. In it, she found that students who had been praised for intelligence performed worse than those praised for effort. The psychological reasons behind the findings are detailed here.

 Literacy / English: W read the book The Big Carrot from the Oxford Reading Tree.

Science / Nature: We planted some wildflower seeds in the garden, so learned about germination and what a plant needs to grow. We also pulled up some old daffodils to store for next year, providing an opportunity to learn about the difference between bulbs and seeds.

W then spent time investigating what happens to chalk marks when you pour water on them. She realised that chalk could be washed off the bricks or ground, so she then tried wetting the chalks themselves and saw that the chalk marks were much brighter when the chalk was wet.

Then W decided to get a bucket of water and a paintbrush to paint the brickwork of the garden wall. She saw that is was darker when wet and lighter when dry. Her and D had a lot of fun spraying water and washing pebbles etc, noting what happens to different kinds of rocks when wet.

Play: W spent time indoors playing with D, which included lots of role play with her Lego minifigures and her dolls.

When we were travelling on the train, W and I played some more with her dolls, which I’m sure the other travellers enjoyed listening to…..

Geography:  In the car W had a go at interpreting road signs, and also learned what the lines on the road mean.

W also read the map of the holiday site, finding our lodge by herself and also spent time reading signs and finding numbers everywhere.

PE / Play: There were little log barriers all over the site, and W enjoyed balancing on these wherever she went.

She also played for hours in the playgrounds and parks with other children, having lots of fun!

There was a pool on site and W spent many happy hours playing generally, but also learning to swim as she did so.

…And then it was time to come home. However, there was no feeling of dread for going to school on Monday morning. We will simply go back to our usual learning through play, through our regular fun activities and basically being led by W in terms of her education. On days like these, at the end of a holiday, I am especially grateful for the path that I have chosen for W.

25th March 2018 – out and about

One of the things that I really enjoy doing with the children is building Ikea furniture! They seem to love it and enjoy looking at the instructions and figuring out where the different pieces should go. This time, W and I built a chair. W liked learning which tools to use for each part and was very good at working out where the pieces fit (probably because of all the Lego building that she does).

When we were out, W asked how some words are spelled, so we did a little bit of spelling together (just spoken, not written). Then W attempted to read some signs too. The conversation then moved on to the seasons: we talked about when they all start and end, how long they are and why the blossom is on the trees in the Spring.

When D came home from school, W was desperate to play some board games with her, so they played Frustration and this Orchard Toys Crazy Chefs Game. After that, the children decided to perform some ‘shows’ all together, including dancing, singing and funny sketches too. This then morphed into a game of Charades (this one is great for little ones) and W did well at miming so that others could tell what she was doing.

The next day, it was time to go and visit the grandparents. On the train, W wanted to buy something from the cafe carriage by herself, so I let her, while I was watching from the next carriage. She was confident talking to the staff.

When we arrived at the grandparents, W showed her Dinosaur encyclopedia to them and explained what each of the pages was about, showing that she had absorbed the info in it from before. Being at the grandparents also means lots and lots of playing. W had lots of fun playing games and generally being silly whilst we were there.

We saw many things on the way home that sparked discussion. We saw another bus being repaired. This time, the electrics were being fixed and W asked many questions about the electrical circuits in the bus and what they do (this particular one was for the door ramp). This happened by Embankment Station and we popped into the gardens to look at the different flowers. While there, we saw a pigeon trying to build a nest.

As we passed, W asked how many windows the Shard has and asked how they are cleaned, so we looked both of those things up on my phone, watching a video of the Shard’s windows being cleaned. This raised questions on how people can abseil safely, so we watched another video on that.

Then we saw a postbox being emptied, which sparked a discussion on what happened to the post, where it will go and how does the Postie know where they all need to go. By the postbox was a Hindu temple, so had a look at it and talked about different religions and what different people believe.

The next day was a day for a playdate with 3 of W’s friends, aged 1 to 7. They had lots of unstructured fun and this free play continued when a (grown-up) friend came over on a different day and played with all 3 children.

Since we had such a great time at the Natural History Museum two weeks ago, we decided to go again and learned even more from that visit, spending longer in the mammals section and revisiting all the dinosaurs again. Afterwards, W was really keen to look at the encyclopedia again to compare what it says in there to the things she had learned at the museum.

I love how W likes to revisit a topic many times, to sort of ‘solidify’ her knowledge and to pick up anything she may have missed the first few times. I’ll let her continue to learn about dinosaurs for as long as she needs to, until she wants to move on to the next big topic.

18th Mar 2018 – transport

With all this talk of the underground and trains last month, I took W to the London Transport Museum. There, we saw lots of old buses and learned the difference between a trolley bus and a tram. Back in February, W asked how the London Underground tunnels were built initially and how they are built now, so we went to look at the exhibit that explains it all. W also learned about the new Elizabeth line and the design of the new stations and why they look like they do.

I mentioned in my post on pocket money that W was learning about saving and also about delayed gratification. For the first time, with no encouragement, W said she would like to save her pocket money and not spend it in the gift shop.

After our visit, we walked across Waterloo Bridge in the rain. W asked why the river was grey when it was raining, so we talked about how rivers and the sea reflect the sky. Then W asked why the Thames is so big and why it is called the Thames (I promised to look this up later..) She was very good at naming the buildings along the way as she loves looking at the skyline and learning them when she sees them from the train.

The next day, we decided to visit a local Home Ed group. It was a fantastic group with educational toys and games dotted around, an outdoor area and a hall for playing in. There were lots of children there, which gave W a chance to make new friends and play new games, which she did, enthusiastically. She also stood on the stage and sang to everyone (!). This group was great for me as well as it gave me a chance to pick up some tips and resources for project learning from the other parents. We shall definitely go back. It is a weekly group, so a good opportunity for W to make links and to see the same friends regularly.

On the train home, we did some phonics learning and W attempted to read the station signs as we passed them. She also enjoyed showing me the way home by following signs. As if all that hadn’t been enough, W later worked on her activity books by herself while I cooked.

The next day, we had a bit of down time. W has been building a house on Minecraft (a brilliant educational game) and wanted to work on that in the morning, then later played ‘vets’ with her Playmobil Farm.

In the afternoon, we went to the GP for a follow-up appointment and played with two children at the bus stop on the way there (they were racing each other). She chatted to the GP confidently about her toys and then learned about blood tests and what they are for.

I bought W an Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs to start our project with. W really enjoyed looking at the timeline from the big bang to the evolution of humans. She then loved learning the names of various dinosaurs and learning why they were the size and shapes that they were.

A trip to the park later had us feeding the ducks and swans. this was a good opportunity to learn what the best food for them is, so we bought some duck food and talked about bread and human food, and explained what ducks can and can’t eat.

To round off the day, we all went to a concert that J and D’s school was involved in. J was performing and W and D loved watching the performance and took it all in. They commented on which dancers she thought were good and which were not so good. W was totally focussed on the performances and loved the different routines and songs.

The next day was a day for a long journey and W had a go at reading the signs to show us the way to the correct train, platform and seat. She did very well, with a few little pointers. When on the train, she did a few maths worksheets with simple addition on them. She was fairly confident with this as she has been adding numbers regularly over the past coupe of months, especially during board games. Next, we played snap and did a jigsaw together.

Next week, we shall visit the Bank of England Museum to follow up on our learning about money from last month. I’m looking forward to it!

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.

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!