Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Maths Games and Painting Patterns

Surprisingly we've had a bit of a maths day today.  Eldest and Middle both seemed to have got stuck in sections of MathsWhizz that involves rapid basic addition/ subtraction, so I've been thinking of ways to boost their confidence and make it fun again.  We have a book of photocopiable Maths games which include one that uses number bonds.  I figured it was worth a go, so printed off one to laminate and re-use with non-permanent pens - plus a few extra paper-only copies as the boys all wanted to colour in the 'treasure island' borders... Eldest even added a few extra details to make the game more interesting.  Middle particularly enjoyed playing it with me, which surprised me a bit: I hadn't expected much enthusiasm, but he loved it and really got into it.  So that's a thumbs-up from us for the 25 Super Cool Math Board Games book.

Youngest meanwhile is still fully enamoured with MathsWhizz.  I keep expecting him to hit a wall as he's so young (in my mind anyway) - but no, he's loving it.  Actually his brothers were the same at his age - Eldest used to love playing simple adding games in the car, before he ever started preschool even.  One of the things that upset me in school was seeing their natural love of maths being destroyed - it's so lovely seeing that returning - and hopefully Youngest won't ever have his natural enthusiasm curbed.  Today he had the cuisenaire rods out again... something I associate with the classroom, he just loves playing with. I love it!

Other than Maths, we had a lovely art moment today.  I was flicking through my Pinterest board and spotted some lovely paint and oil pastel animal patterns that I showed the boys.  They all wanted to have a go, and came up with their own ideas for what they wanted to do - and quickly overtook me with their enthusiasm.  I have to admit, I kick myself sometimes for giving them ideas but not being prepared.  So there we were: me trying to slow them down while we put the cloth on the table, got the paints out etc; the boys trying to mix paints in the tray before we had paper out to paint on.  They certainly weren't interested in waiting for me to demonstrate what to do, so I had to try to help Youngest and Middle to hold their templates still while dabbing paint around them, and I ended up doing mine last, while Middle had fun with more arty stuff...

"Whales" by Youngest

 "Bats" by Middle

"Slugs" by Eldest

 "Dolphins" by Mummy

"Magical Swirls" by Middle

"Complicated" by Middle

 "Spotty" by Middle

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Benefits of 'Sleeping On It'

If you read yesterday's entry, Going with the (slow) Flow, you may remember that Middle got stuck while working on a Volcano acrostic.  Of course the beauty of Home Ed is that there was no pressure for him to have to complete it there and then, so rather than let him get frustrated and down on himself, I suggested he leave it until another day.  Well, it wasn't a long wait: he finished it today - I asked if he'd like to get the dictionary out this morning to see if we could find words beginning with the letters concerned, that might give him ideas. It worked a treat - it was so lovely seeing him light up with self-belief again, at being able to do something he had previously found to be difficult, just because sometimes all you need is to sleep on it.
It has been well documented that the brain has an amazing ability to continue working on problems while you rest over night - and it certainly proved to be the case for Middle.  The same thing that was so discouraging for him yesterday became an opportunity to triumph and feel good about himself the very next day.  It made me think about the school days: he would quite often get discouraged because he couldn't do something in time, or if he had the chance to come back to unfinished work, it could be up to a week later when inspiration had faded again.  I know when I was planning lessons that it was often frustrating to me to know that if the children didn't reach a certain target by the end of the lesson, it could be another week before they had chance to pick it up again - and a week can be too long, in terms of momentum.  So for Middle to be able to leave a tricky problem just for a day was ideal: no pressure to finish it immediately, but coming back to it with a rested and fresh mind soon enough to remember where he left off.
I know I'm a super-proud Mummy regardless, but I do think his finished article is just lovely!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Going with the (slow) Flow

It's been a slow day today - for no reason that I can see particularly, except that we've just had a fairly busy weekend.  It doesn't really matter though - we just go with the flow - and seeing as we all felt fairly sluggish today, a slow day it was.

We started off with MathsWhizz.  This time it was Eldest's turn to have problems logging on.  For some reason it wasn't working on his little notebook laptop, so I had to log on through mine - it worked fine on mine, but that had slowed us down.  Middle was logged on to the main PC in the study but somehow managed to turn the computer off three times, in the midde of an exercise!.  So he came and logged on to mine to finish his afte Eldest had finished.  Youngest has lost the privilege of going in the study at the moment, due to the chaos created (and things broken) when he has been in there recently - so he had to wait his turn on my laptop as well.  Consequently, by the time they had all finished MathsWhizz, about 2 hours had passed, instead of the usual forty minutes that it takes them on average when doing it simultaneously.

Youngest and I had some fun with words while waiting for his brothers to finish - we got out our magnetic boards and letters (I got them from Amazon years ago for a teaching resource - but I bet they still do them)... I made the alphabet and we sang the song together; Youngest made up his own "alphabet" of random letters that he read out to me; we had a 'quiz' where I said a word and Youngest tried to spell it; finally he was inspired by something he spotted out of the window, and had a go at spelling that too (I helped with the tricky bits)...

Once they had all finished their Maths (and letter fun), we had a game of Alpha Animals.  Youngest and Middle play with us, but they use the simpler version of the game while Eldest and I play the full version - and Middle was thrilled to win.  They were even more happy that Mummy lost (due in part to some impressive bluffing on the part of Eldest who steered me towards a certain answer on the card... I thought he was helping me; it turned out he was playing me!)  Youngest also showed significant prowess in the con stakes... on being asked for an animal (or bird, fish etc) that began with the letter H, he announced "hamonite".  When given a quizzial look from Mummy and protestations from his brothers, he totally brazened it out, saying "Yes!  It fights things with its hands, and lives in the Savannah!"  It was so funny, we couldn't help but laugh - he loved it.  Every now and then afterwards someone would mutter 'hamonite', and go off into fits of the giggles again.

This afternoon the boys watched "My Genius Idea" (CBBC), a programme encouraging creativity and inventiveness, and then I asked Eldest and Middle if they'd like to do some more on their lapbooks.  Eldest finished another page, and then decided that was enough - he just wanted to flop about.  Middle had a go at a 'Volcano' acrostic, coming up with some lovely ideas (such as the line "Lava pukes on the ground") - but got stuck on the 'O's, and was getting discouraged, so he put it away for another day.  The younger boys wanted to get crafty next - more specifically, doing their own crafty thing, as opposed to Mummy's suggestions - so I got the craft box out (the big one with stuff in that they can help themselves to without my nagging them not to waste things... well, that's the plan anyway, since the lesson learned last year in Craftboxes and Cocktails), and they had fun just experimenting with the contents.  I love the fact that they are still small enough to be excited by glitter and shiny things.  Eldest seems to have grown out of that now - but he was feeling too flobberly to get up to much by this point in the day anyway.  I sat with the younger two and had a play as well - Middle very generously told me I should put mine in an "art museum" (gallery)! 

by Youngest...

by Middle...

by Mummy...

So it may have been a slow day - but it was slow and peaceful (mostly!) - and any day with glitter in can't be a bad day.  Over all, that's a nice way to flow.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Home Ed, Ancient and Modern

It's been a good day today - we started off with the boys gleefully fiddling on my ipad.  I'm still a little nervous about letting them loose with technology as they outstrip my limited understanding easily, seemingly by instinct (such as Youngest managing to activate some music, that then took me several minutes to work out how to turn off).  I have found the parental locks though, so hopefully they shouldn't be able to spend money or watch/listen to anything inappropriate...

I have to say, it's been totally brilliant as a home ed resource - I have stacks of free apps loaded.  The first one was Eggy Words - a word recognition app from Reading Eggs.  Youngest had only been on it for a couple of minutes when he had mastered the word 'the'.  He has struggled with this one since starting Reading Eggs, because it was one of the few 'sight words' introduced right at the beginning, and he just didn't get it (but refused to repeat any lessons), so has consistently failed to recognise it ever since.  Not once he'd been on the app though - he has no problems now.  Such a little thing - such a big difference!  Other apps we have include Hungry Fish (basic arithmetic), WatchKnowLearn, which has a huge range of educational videos (like the ones you can get on Youtube, but without the risk of them accidentally clicking a link to somethig dodgy), Horrible Histories magazine app, with one free magazine to enjoy - and the only app I have paid for - a year's subscritpion to a magazine called Sea Urchins, about ocean life etc.  They do paper versions I think - but by using it as an app, the boys all get to have a look without one of their brothers having trashed it first.  Eldest was particularly excited when I showed it to him.

Well anyway, I tried to make sure they all got a turn, but of course their turns couldn't possibly be long enough, so I motivated them to share by letting those not "playing" help me to bake some cheese scones and chocolate cinamon crumble cakes... just the kind of distractions I like!

After eating our yummy produce for lunch, we went from one extreme to the other - from a morning of modern technology to an afternoon spent engaging with a great chunk of the past at our local museum.  We've somehow never been before (probably because in my mind it's not the first place I think of taking exuberant boys), and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised: yes, the boys were excited to be out somewhere new, especially as their much-loved auntie was with us, so at first they sped around as expected, and I thought we were going to be in and out again within ten minutes, but then Eldest and Middle found a computerised game to design a town, Youngest found some boxes of themed toys for under-fives, and generally that slowed them down enough to notice the more interactive elements around them.  After that they had a lovely time: Eldest found a quiz that could be answered by investigating some of the exhibits, Middle did some coin rubbings and made a mosiac, Youngest tried on lots of different hats and costumes, Eldest tried on a milkmaid's yoke for size (even without pails, it was too heavy after a minute or so), and Middle and Youngest took turns in the stocks.  It's one of those experiences that is tempting to wonder "how much did they learn, fact-wise" - but then again, they interacted with history in a positive way, and found out some interesting trivia that left them wanting to know more - and in my mind, that's what it's all about: introducing them to something and seeing where their interest is sparked.  We were all amazed by the severity of punishment in "the old days", as demonstrated by the exhibit below - and that has already prompted further conversation - so that was one successful (and fun) trip out. 
Looking back over the day I found it really pleasing to think on how the boys interacted just as easily with ancient history as they did with the most modern of technology. Days like this are just wonderful (apart from my tumble dryer dying in the middle of "rainy season", but that's another story... technology is great - when it works).
Finally - not in the 'ancient and modern' theme, but I have to share anyway - when we got home the day was rounded off nicely with a visit from a black squirrel - we know they live in Herts, but we hardly ever see any, so we felt very privileged to have this little chap spend about half an hour in our garden, noseying about and gobbling up any spilled bird seed that he found - just gorgeous! And by the way, no, we didn't have an on-the-spot chat about genetics, mutations, melanism etc: we were just enjoying the moment, and it would have been too forced for me to introduce it - but you know what?  The boys will remember the day we watched a black squirrel in the garden (if they don't, I took lots of photos!), and when they do want to chat about genetics etc, I will remind them of him and they'll have a great frame of reference! 
 Tumble-dryer notwithstanding, that was a lovely, lovely day.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Maths and Modelling

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do love Mondays! 
As tradition dictates, we've had a lazy start to the morning with no expectation to leave the house... of course, if that was the case more than one day a week it would drive me slightly potty: I need to get out & enjoy the fresh air most days - but just one day a week of lazing indoors is kinda nice!
Today was a bit more work than I expected though, as I had to sort out issues with MathsWhizz.  Youngest now has his own account - he's only four (they say to start at age five), but he loved doing the test exercises on their site, so I thought I may as well sign him up and just see how far he gets at his own pace.  Well he loves it - not least because he gets to be like his big brothers.  Every morning he asks "can I do Maths today please?" You'd think it would be music to my ears, but I'm still getting over how weird it sounds!  Anyway, he loves it - so it didn't take us long to discover that is new account had been randonly deactivated (as had Middle's, though he wasn't as disappointed about it as his younger brother!)  So I've been phoning and emailing, and it's sorted again, to Youngest's relief!So other than MathsWhizz (eventually) Eldest and Middle have also been working on their lapbooks, and watching "Animals at Work" (recorded from CBBC), which they're really enjoying.
We wanted to do some arty stuff too, but I didn't have the energy for cleaning up afterwards, so painting was out - then I remembered something I'd pinned to my Pinterest board, from the Imagination Tree, inspired by Alberto Giacometti's sculptures.  We had a roll of kitchen foil handy, so had a quick look at Giacometti's work, and talked about how long and skinny they were - "like someone has been stretched to the size of a giant", said Youngest - and then we had a go.  We didn't have any modelling wire or wooden skewers to add stability, but it turned out fine, because we used plasticine to stick the models to the kitchen table, and then experimented with our figures until they stood up.  Some worked better than others, but it was a good 'hands-on' type lesson in proportions and balance etc.  So that was our day's highlights (we've also had housework to share and letters to write etc, but I'll spare you the details and leave you with our Giacometti-inspired artwork...
 Mummy's 'Handstand'
Eldest's 'Gorilla'

Middle's 'Ballet Frog'
Youngest's 'Cat'

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Farewell Hedgehogs

I only have time for a quick one this evening, - but yes, it's true... after many months (more than I expected) of caring for Midge and Squidge, our rescued juvenile hedgehogs, they have finally been rehabilitated fully back into the wild.  Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any more photos of them as I was obviously trying not to handle them too much - and on both the nights when they 'left home', I waited until they'd each come out of their house for some food, then removed the rabbit run so they could make their way to freedom, but both times they hid in their homes when I approached (which is a good thing really) and then waited until I had given up before coming out and pootling off into the night.  Sigh.  I miss them a bit now - but I'm keeping the hedgie houses in the garden in case Squidge (or any other local female) wants to build a nest... now wouldn't that be lovely!  And of course, I'm still putting hedgehog food out every night, in the hope that we might spot a visitor.  You may not know this, but apparently the hedgehog is declining in numbers as fast as the tiger!  So I reckon my little efforts did make a difference, and I'm really glad we did it!
The boys were all a bit sad that Midge and Squidge have gone back to the wild.. most especially Youngest.  He really got attached to them being there (even though he hardly ever saw them).  In fact, he decided that he wanted to make a lap-book about hedgehogs - which tied in nicely with this week being hedgehog awareness week - so that is what we did.  It's only his second ever lapbook, but he kept up his enthusiasm over the three days that it took to create - and he and I are both so thrilled with the finished article - I just have to share it here... (Grandma & Grampie, look away, or pretend you've never seen it before when we see you at the weekend!)
PS cute hedgehog graphi courtesy of the excellent Activity Village


Page 1

"Do hedgehogs come out in the day or night?"

 What do hedgehogs do when it's cold?

Why do hedgehogs have prickles?

 Page 2

What do hedgehogs eat? (lift the flaps)






Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Accidental Unschooling

Apologies for not having posted sooner.  Not long after my last blog post, my much-loved Grandad died, and consequently our time since has been taken up with coming to terms with our loss.  Death is never easy - but I have been so grateful for Hubby taking time off work, and then working from home - and for friends who have come round to play with the boys so that I could be with my family during this time.  Obviously my priorities shifted for this season, and my focus temporarily moved away from the boys' education.  The lovely thing about this is that because we are not heavily structured, it had little impact on their routine. They were far more affected by my not being around so much - but having Daddy and other favourite people to play with definitely helped!
Hence today's title: we had been just starting to get back into the swing of things after the Easter holidays, but then ended up having a couple of weeks of un-planned-for 'unschooling'.  Apologies to unschoolers who know there's much more to it than just an absence of parental direction - but hopefully you know what I mean.  You see, although I wasn't able to give the boys my full attention, I was aware that even without my input, encouragement and suggestions, they were still busy learning.
They may not have done much by way of MathsWhizz or Reading Eggs, and they may have watched more Spongebob or played on the Wii more than I usually like, but they have also read a LOT of books, played in the fresh air, watched fascinating TV documentaries, applied maths to shopping trips and board games, played stimulating computer games, made their own animations, created models, had snuggly chats in the mornings, and learned more about the value of friends and family.  I LOVE this about home ed:  the learning never stops.  And on the times when the boys needed to pause to chat through their own grief or just distract themselves from everything that was going on - well they were able to do just that.  Yes I do like a bit of structure and routine.  But I also love flexibility and the way our education revolves around life, rather than the other way around. 
So this week will hopefully see a return to some kind of normal - but I will always be thankful for the blessing of accidental unschooling.