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A Morning

A Morning

This morning, for the sheer fun of using my camera, I thought I’d document a little of what goes into a reasonably typical morning round here.  Nothing earth shattering but a slice of mid-January life.

For the last couple of weeks Stephen has been doing all of the morning chores on the farm, there are lots of reasons for this but one of mine is that it gives me the chance to rustle up a hearty breakfast for us all before the day begins.  I also like the fact that this breakfast can be cooked while I’m still in my pj’s rather than the layers of clothing required to head outside first thing!

DSC_0136 DSC_0138 DSC_0139 DSC_0143The first chore of the morning (after making the pancake batter ready for breakfast) is to process the milk.  This involves sieving and filtering it to get out any hair or particles that we don’t want to sup down.  Once it’s filtered it goes into a jar, is marked with the date and popped in the fridge.  Then I clean the milking machine (3 times) usually at the same time as cooking pancakes.

Speaking of pancakes…

DSC_0140 DSC_0141 DSC_0142These pancakes are the unsoaked version of this recipe as I am often not organized enough to remember the night before.  Last night (instead of soaking oats) I made fresh butter from our raw cream and that went on the top of the pancakes along with a good dollop of maple syrup.  If I’m lucky this will keep the boys going until at least 10.30 and maybe even lunchtime if they steal some of Daddy’s!

After a goodly amount of being threatened with sticks gently cajoled with fluffy rabbits, the boys will finally be dressed and ready for school.  Today, upon request, we started with science and this experiment.

DSC_0147 DSC_0151 DSC_0152The boys were so in love with this experiment!  3 pans of milk and colour later I had to drag them away to do our other school, which today revolved around board game frolics.  We don’t do homeschool via board games every day (I wish) but having triumphantly finished our maths chapter and spelling level a celebration was warranted.

Before that, while the boys rejoiced in their science fun, I put together our day’s bread ready to rise through the sunny morning.  I also cooked a second pot of beef stock from some of the bones we got in our beef pack, purchased from our beef raising neighbour.  I try not to do major kitchen projects during the week (like cheese making) but there is usually some broth/stew/soup/cake on the go each day along with regular bread making as and when it’s needed.

DSC_0144 DSC_0145I’m at the pleasant point of being able to juggle different kitchen tasks along with our every day work without it feeling terribly onerous.  A pot of bubbling broth, a bowl of slowly rising bread, yoghurt happily culturing away, a soft cheese setting up,  all of these require little tending but provide the back bone of our larder, allowing for other snacks and meals to happen.  At this point running out of broth would pretty much call a halt to half my meal plan for the week!

But enough of this and on with the board games…

DSC_0154 DSC_0155 DSC_0158Huwyl chose one of our cooperative games to start with, Neirin went uber classic with a jolly couple of rounds of Guess Who (of which I am undisputed Universal Champion of the Universe) and I chose Junior Scrabble because, yes, I am that cool.  Looking at the box of our not new Scrabble I noticed the picture of the little girl imagining herself as an astronomer and I wondered if a modern game would show something like that.  Firstly she wasn’t wearing an eye watering shade of fuscia, a current no-no if the clothing stores are to be believed, and I can’t imagine a new board game endorsing a little girl to wear a bun, glasses and indulge in too many books, not when she could be shopping or some such.  But I digress.

So there you have it, a quiet Thursday morning, nothing too strenuous or exciting, a pleasant trot through the morning like so many other mornings.  And yet, of course, not like any other at all.

Playful Maths

Playful Maths

I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about maths.  A lot.  Not so much the maths itself but about how I teach maths and how my children learn maths. I’m currently undertaking an e-course through Stamford University Online called How To Learn Math, which has opened my eyes to so many possibilities and helped me to address many of the poor lessons I absorbed as a maths learner myself.

I’ll try to come back to this topic a bit more when I’ve finished the course and I’ve developed some of these ideas but basically there are some fundamental principles that I’ve been getting wrong.  Messages that I received that I’ve been passing on to my children, with a negative impact on both them and me.

See I’ve always hated maths, I loathed it.  I felt stupid in maths class and even as an adult, taking courses as part of my post graduate when studying teaching, I was in tears in a room full of strangers.  It was crazy nonsense to me and I couldn’t make sense of any of it.  Now this may make me sound like the worst possible person to teach a child maths but here are my thoughts on that:

1) I am INCREDIBLY motivated to make sure my children don’t have the same experience I did;

2) I can respond to their specific needs and pace, I don’t need to be an expert to do that and;

3) Many actual maths teachers are terrible at teaching maths.

There, I said it.  The way maths is taught in schools is largely bad.  And do you know how I know that?  Because the nice lady on the Stamford e-course told me so.  There is a whole section at the beginning about how many of us are scarred by our experiences in the classroom and how things need to change in order to help everyone be as successful as they can be in maths.

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{Number Pegs activity from Playful Learning the book                                                        The fractions activity is from the post Playful Learning – Learning With Circles }

 

So here are some of the key things I’ve taken away from the course so far, they may seem small but to me they have been profound concepts that are already altering the way I teach.

1 – Maths is not about natural ability, most of us are capable of being good at maths.  I found this idea shocking as, like many people, I always saw maths as something of a gift.  You either have it or you don’t.  This is what is known as a fixed mindset and is the kind of mindset that prohibits learning.  If you believe you are rubbish at maths and can never improve you won’t.  In order to grow you require a growth mindset, allowing you to accept change and develop; but in order for that to happen you must…

2 – See mistakes as positive.  What?!  But mistakes are bad aren’t they?  That’s why we call them mistakes!  I mean we all say that ‘we learn from our mistakes’ but really we know that is tosh and that being good at stuff is what counts (and if you can be good with no effort so much the better).  But in fact our brains benefit from making mistakes, our synapses fire much more when we make and subsequently correct mistakes, more even than when we get it right.  That’s right, we learn more by getting it wrong.

And finally (for now)

3 – Speed does not equal success.  This may seem like a small detail but in fact is central to our perception of what makes us successful in maths.  Speed in class, speed in tests, getting the answer first.  I don’t think I’m the only person who associates being quick and being good at something.  But this is the enemy to understanding, the rushing through things without strong understanding.  I was rushed and I rush in turn, leaving behind the hope of really getting it for the short term satisfaction of the right answer.  This is a mindset I’m hoping to abandon in favour of allowing my boys to really understand in their own time. If that means sitting on the floor for 40 minutes working with manipulatives to do 5 subtraction questions (like we did yesterday) then that is what we do.  And we’ll do it everyday from now on.

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{Santa Geometry Activity from Ed Emberley’s website, December activities.                       The wonderfully inspirational Picture Pie book by Ed Emberley.}

The course is taught by Jo Boaler and she uses a great quote by Fields Medal winner Laurent Schwartz.  The Fields Medal is like the nobel prize except harder to win, so I’m going to assume he’s a pretty clever chap.  Yet he talks about how he was often the slowest in his class and how he always worked slowly throughout his career.

“What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other.  This is where intelligence lies.  The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really relevant.  Naturally, it’s helpful to be quick, like it is to have a good memory.  But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual success.” Laurent Schwartz

This idea that being quick wasn’t important was like a boulder being lifted off my spirit.  I had never realized what an ingrained idea this is until I challenged it.  Why is it good to be quick? Why can’t we explore things deeply and with real understanding?  Well we know why of course.  In a classroom understanding is not the main goal, it can’t be; proving that the ‘standards’ have been met and that the school is doing it’s job is always the first priority.  Not because teachers or parents or even politicians want it this way but because when we judge one another by a ‘norm’ instead of by looking at individuals in a way that respects them as distinct, we lose the opportunity to really connect.

So the idea of speed being king has also gone out of the window.  It’s a relief all round I can tell you.  I’m taking on board what Jo Boaler says about learning, that we should always be at the edge of our understanding and therefore making mistakes and growing from them.

Another idea that is being reinforced by this course is that maths is not arithmetic.  Arithmetic is a part of maths but maths is so much more and that we have to work at strengthening the whole maths brain not just the memorization part of it.  This is something Stephen and I have been talking about for a while and we’ve begin drawing in other elements.  We’ve incorporated games to introduce strategic thinking, apps that allow for more fun, stories to touch on maths concepts, songs and rhythmic movement to reinforce learning  and generally tried to approach things with a more varied perspective.

With that in mind I’m making sure that our maths hour includes not just our textbook work but work that works on skills and on building what I’m starting to call the ‘maths brain’.  The part of the brain that works on logic, spacial recognition, reasoning and strategic thinking.  This goes beyond simply working on arithmetic and begins to incorporate other elements, especially those of creativity and movement, in order to solidify learning.

One of my go-to resources when exploring any topic is Playful Learning.  I’ve been a fan of Mariah Bruel who runs and orchestrates that website for years, and my admiration has not diminished since I had the chance to make small contributions to her blog over the last year or so.  Her charm and warmth shine through all of her work and she has a wonderful knack from bringing together ideas in ways that creates clarity and inspires action.

I’ve owned her book (also called Playful Learning) since it came out and regularly use her resources page as well as the wonderful contributions on her blog to give me some ideas for inputting more creativity into my teaching.  Today’s maths lesson with the boys came almost exclusively from Playful Learning related sources so I thought I’d share them for anyone else seeking a bit of inspiration.  I’ve popped a link beneath each photo so that you can find these resources easily yourself.

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{Freeform geometry creativity from Neirin at the top followed by his pattern work based on the Learning With Circles post.  This was the making patterns activity. }

Today when I was talking to Huwyl about a correction he needed to make (in a different subject) we talked about how the word ‘mistake’ has such negative connotations, I said I wished I had another word I could use instead that expressed our new understanding of the value of mistakes.  He thought for a minute and then said “You could just point at the mistake and say ‘Your brain needs to grow here’, then I’ll know I need to look at it again. ” That moment alone, from a child who has been horrified by mistakes, smiling up at me over a spelling correction felt like a huge shift.  I feel like we are finally finding our way to where we want, and need, to be.

 

 

Breathing Space

Breathing Space

This week we had the joy of hosting our science club at the farm.  We were doing a botany and tincture making day so it was perfect to have people here where there was plenty of room to spread out and plenty of plantain to tincture!

The children and parents roamed the fields and woods collecting leaves and flora, with so much space we never felt crowded and we were blessed with the most beautiful mild, sunny September day.  The whole event felt like a lovely gift, the chance to share our home with friends and watch our children soaking up learning as naturally as breathing.  breathing space-9962 breathing space-9963 breathing space-9964 breathing space-9968After the fun and frolics of botany learning, friends playing, mums chatting and the buzz and energy that comes from spending time with good friends, quiet fell over the house.  The boys tried to settle to their own quiet activities as I tidied round but none of us could find our groove.  I knew we needed to head outside again, to walk in the sunshine and fresh air just us, our family.

breathing space-9965breathing space-9969 breathing space-9971We scooped Winnie up and took ourselves off into the fields, roaming under the kind of blue sky that only seems to happen in the autumn.  The boys and the dog ran free as I strolled along behind, absorbing the warm breezes and soft scents blossoming up from the bountiful grasses.

I adore having friends over and the boys couldn’t be happier running rampant with their pals.  But there is something about the landing afterwards, when it’s just us in our own space without the distraction of other people, that can feel a little rocky.  It can leave us feeling scratchy and out of sorts.

breathing space-9977 breathing space-9978breathing space-9972Walking along our familiar path, but finding new treasures and fun along the way, returned us all to ourselves.  I felt that after so much outward energy, teaching our friends about our farm and connecting over lunch and laughter, I needed to take a deep breath in.  The rest of the afternoon tottered along in it’s own rhythm, with cooking, tidying, making and playing all happening alongside each other.  Nothing too exciting, nothing majorly of note but just what was needed .  Just the things that make up home.

 

The Way We Were – Part 2, Kids are Kids

The Way We Were – Part 2, Kids are Kids

When I take the boys out with me and there is a bit of waiting time for them, I often get the same comment from people, “They are great at using their imaginations, it’s lovely to see children playing like that.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s roughly it.  The thing is every kid I know plays like that, they spend hours at it, inventing games, running around like maniacs, making cities out of furniture.  You know, being kids.

We spend hours each week with our other homeschool friends and they are all the same, playing crazy games that only they understand while the parents sit and watch, chat, sort out bangs and scrapes etc.  No intervention required.  Yet everywhere we go, either when I’m alone with the boys or as part of one of our groups, people comment on how lovely it is to see the kids playing happily, enjoying life without a screen to keep them quiet.

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So who are all these kids that aren’t playing?  I  know that we are a culture that is becoming more and more dependent on screens to keep our kids occupied but is it really getting that bad?

Stats Canada is saying that obesity in children is on the rise, linked to children leading a sedentary lifestyle.  A recent CBC report talks about tv and screen use as a factor in obesity in children:

“Kids are playing video games, watching TV, not getting out and exercising. So all of these factors are kind of conspiring against kids despite our best efforts.”

And the organisation MediaSmarts cites a report stating that:

“Television is one of the most prevalent media influences in kids’ lives. According to the 2011 Active Healthy Kids Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian youth ages 6-19 average about six hours of screen time per day, with TV programs (watched on a variety of different screens) accounting for much of this time. [1]”

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I literally have no concept of how a child could be watching a screen for 6 hours every day but even if these statistics take into account computer use for school work and research, that is still a whole heap of time spent staring at a screen.  While I’m happy to use the computer as a tool and have some tv time (in moderation) for recreation, it most certainly should not replace all of the other wonderful and creative activities that my children enjoy.

We recently cut back on tv viewing and computer usage, we were noticing some negative impacts and with the summer here it just made sense to be outside or enjoying our own creativity.  The long winter months make screen time a bit of a blessing but when the sun is  shining there is so much more to do!  So we cut it right out and saw a blossoming of creative play with our boys, less dependency and more making, playing and frankly more getting along with each other.  It confirmed to us that screens really have to be kept in careful moderation in our family.

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When we visited Cumberland Village last week it just confirmed to me that children really haven’t changed much over the years.  It’s easy to overcomplicate things but they are the same fresh minded mud monsters they always have been and always will be.  They love to run, play, learn new things and run and play a bit more.  Fresh air, friends and some rope swings really do take care of business 9/10, plugging in not required.

As the kids played one of the volunteers at the museum commented on how nice it is to see the kids really enjoying the simple play area and all that the museum has to offer, they were so enthusiastic about the new learning, excited to be playing like crazy, no ennui, no affectations of being ‘bored’.  He said it reminded him of his own childhood some 50 years ago.  It seems natural to me that this should be so, but we live in a world in which a free and unscheduled child is a rare beast indeed.

And this is what I try to remind myself of when things aren’t going well and I get myself in a tangle.  When I feel fried, or intimidated by the beautiful internet visions of wondrous activities I could be presenting to the boys on a daily basis, or just ready to hide behind the sofa and take a week long nap,  I remind myself that kids are kids, that they are actually quite simple creatures in lots of ways.  Good food, fresh air, something to do and somewhere to run.  Someone to bring them along and someone to pick them up and dust them off when they fall; a soft lap to land on when things are tough and arms willing to let them dash off when things are good.  It’s the way it’s always been.

kids are kids-9262kids are kids-9266So maybe we live in a bubble, maybe all of us raising our kids this way, with one foot in the mainstream world and one in a world of a our own creating, are hiding a little.  Denying the reality of the world as it is.  And that is just fine and dandy with me.  There will be plenty of time for the boys to choose all that the world has to offer and it will be up to them what they pick.  But when they look back on childhood they will have memories of outside games, summer swimming, tree climbing, wagon rides,  book reading, bike riding, fruit picking, sibling bickering, and a million other moments I can’t even imagine.

Just like all the kids that have gone before them, like all the crazy boys who loved to run, jump, dive, scream, get mucky and get into mischief.  Just like kids are meant to do, because kids haven’t changed, just the world they live in.  What they need is the same as it ever was, as it ever will be.

The Way We Were – Part 1

The Way We Were – Part 1

Last week, along with some of our homeschooling friends, we visited one of our favourite places, the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum.   Much like Upper Canada Village, Cumberland village is a living museum set up with homes, businesses and activities from the 1920’s and 30’s.  There is so much to see and we were lucky enough to participate in one of their educational programmes teaching about thrift and prudence in years gone by.

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In the general store we learned about trading for goods as well as buying them, a concept our children were very familiar with!  Money is still a bit of an odd concept for kids I think, but trading for things you want is a comfortable concept.  The simplicity of the store was very pleasing but when you consider how few choices there were, in stark contrast to today’s over abundance, it makes me wonder about our modern obsession with variety and newness.  Could I be satisfied with so few choices? Or would I find it restful to know there is just one type of washing soap and stop worrying!

past times-9224 past times-9226 past times-9227 past times-9228The homes we visited were simple but recognisable to our modern eyes.  The kitchens had cookers and storage, the living rooms had sofas and items for decoration.  Indeed these homes reminded me a lot of some of the homes of relatives or my grandparent’s neighbours that I would visit as a child.  There was something there that tickled at my memory, perhaps the style of the furniture or the simplicity of the rooms, but I could easily imagine myself there.  Indeed the lack of clutter was very pleasing when considering cleaning and home management.

past times-9229 past times-9230past times-9236When my mum described her grandparents house, she talked of helping her grandmother to hand wash clothes, wringing them out on a mangle in the garden.  That life was one of physical labour and my great-grandmother had 10 living children, 8 of whom were boys who worked in the coal mines.  I certainly don’t envy her that task.

The children loved seeing all the rooms and were enthusiastic about all the concepts our guide talked about.  I think many of the children were more familiar with the ideas of thrift and home skills than is perhaps the norm.  It made me ponder that the family cultures of our home schooled families are perhaps more removed from the mainstream than I had realised.  The only thing that stumped our group was when our guide pointed out that there was no tv and asked the children about their watching habits, one of our parents had to point out that many of the children watch no or little tv, it was the only subject on which they had little to say!

past times-9232 past times-9233 past times-9234 past times-9235 Whenever I visit a place like this, a recreation of the past, I always visualise myself living there.  What would it have been like?  What would I miss from my life and what would I be glad to be rid of?  Though I happily embrace the convenience of modern gadgets (the washing machine and the fridge being so crucial to good life quality) there is much I think I could do without.  What would I really miss?

 

But then I think of my cosy house, warm and well insulated.  I think of the freedom I have to call up my family on the phone or reach out to friends through the internet, I would not wish to sacrifice those things.  I know from the stories I was told as a child, even of my own parent’s childhood that times and people were tougher in the recent past.  I’m very grateful for heat in my bedrooms (something we lacked through my own early years), for double glazing, for a car.  Even a simple vacuum cleaner that allows me to keep my house clean and hygienic in a relatively short space of time.

past times-9237 past times-9238 past times-9239  It’s easy to forget too the reason for all that thrift.  The economic climate that plunged so many into abject poverty, a climate of greed and catastrophe not dissimilar to our own.  Though we have seen so many plunged into debt and hardship it does not even compare to the widespread devastation that occurred in the 1930’s.  More than that our expectations are so different now, what was considered a very pleasant life back then would be seen by many as a low standard of living now, is it possible for us to change those expectations and lead a more balanced life?

I believe it is.  It’s what our family and many others are striving for.  To reclaim skills that were in decline, to live with less stuff and more connection to the patterns of nature and of life.  To work harder for what we have and hopefully appreciate it more.  It gave me no small measure of pride to hear my eldest boy talk about feeding waste food to the pigs, canning vegetables and preserving food for winter.  So many of the old ways were perfectly familiar to him.  Our way of life may not yield the kind of leisure time many families take for granted but it gives us the chance at self reliance and independence; the kind our predecessors took for granted, the kind we need to claim back for our own well being and for that of future generations.

There is so much we can learn from the past, the way forward may even be found there.

 

Fairy Gardens

Fairy Gardens

We are very lucky to have a good friend who organises a wonderful homeschool co-op where we get to try out all sorts of lovely activities and have adventures in all sorts of new places.

Today we went to our second fairy garden workshop and how lovely it was.  At our first workshop the boys really didn’t take an interest which was frankly fine by me.  I got to assemble my nicely tasteful garden with stone walk ways and artfully shaded areas and they got to play with their friends for a couple of hours – win-win!

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This time, however, the boys were all over the fairy garden action.  They painted, decorated and added a phenomenal amount of glitter and bling, it was epic.  All we need is a mini fairy disco ball and we’ll be having fairy raves outside all summer!

It’s not really clear in these photos but trust me when I say that when it came to the glittery gravel and, well, glitter, there were no holds barred.  The boys decorated, primped, added, added more and then, concerned that fairies don’t like the minimalist approach when on the hunt for flowers in our own garden for a bit more decoration.

fairy garden-9208 fairy garden-9209 fairy garden-9211I think any fairy would be very lucky to call this pad home.  Plus, let’s face it, this is certainly the party pad on the block!

If you are looking for some fairy related inspiration I’ve got a few ideas pinned here and my friend Sarah’s much more extensive board is here.

Foraging Fun

Foraging Fun

After what has felt like an age of rain and mud we finally saw a break in the weather over the weekend and Monday dawned bright, dry and beautifully warm.  The perfect day to go foraging!

One of our homeschool friends had arranged a wonderful outing to meet Amber Westfall, a foraging expert and enthusiast.  We met at a local community garden (I love those places!) but it was the bounty of the hedgerows that we were exploring rather than the veg patch, and what a bounty it was.

foraging-8965foraging-8967foraging-8970It was wonderful to explore the powerful medicine locked within these oft maligned plants; the magical milk in a dandelion that can heal a wart, the immediate healing brought by a burdock leaf or the cleansing strength of a cup of nettle tea.

Since I left my home in England I’ve often felt sad at my lack plant recognition, my knowledge of the wild hedgerows I grew up in has been replaced by uncertainty and a little sadness.  To know the plants of a place is to know the place itself, to fully belong to it and it to you.  After an hour with Amber (and with plans to attend her wild walks in the future) I feel that a little piece of that has been restored to me.

foraging-8968foraging-8969foraging-8971foraging-8980As we explored the simple boundaries of the public pathways criss crossing a beautiful urban oasis, we used all our senses to connect to nature.  Amber invited us to taste, touch, smell and learn as we came to know the names and properties of what are often called weeds and destroyed without thought.  She gave us suggestions for making a plantain salve or a burdock coffee, stung herself with nettles and then healed herself with burdock. She made it all seem mundane and magical at the same time, the everyday magic that surrounds us without us knowing it.

foraging-8974 foraging-8972foraging-8985The next morning, after breakfast, Stephen challenged the boys to find 5 different kinds of flowers from the field outside, they bolted out and soon returned with hands full of their wild harvest.  It filled me with joy to be able to identify many of the plants and we spend half an hour looking up the ones we didn’t recognise.

As I walked Winnie that afternoon I noticed more than I have before, I saw plants that I could now name and that have uses in my mind.  I mulled over the possibility of a roll on plantian tincture and rejoiced when I confirmed that the patch of nettles growing over the burned out barn are indeed the most nutritious and edible kind.

I had always planned to spend the summer exploring and journalling our land with the boys but now there is an added dimension of excitement, knowing that there is a wild harvest just waiting to be discovered, waiting to be used.  It’s such a pleasure to know more about this place we live and to feel even more connected to the land, this bountiful place we call home.

Battle of Hastings 1066

Battle of Hastings 1066

It is with great joy (and a little relief) that we move on from our Maths block and onto…History!  We’ve picked up Story of the World 2 and have thrown ourselves headlong into the wonder of the Medieval period and we are loving it.

If you are looking for ideas on how to expand on Story of the World, I have lots of fabulous ideas and activities pinned here, we are working our way through them but I’d love to hear what you are up to as well!

bayeux-7882 bayeux-7883 bayeux-7888 bayeux-7890After reading chapter 15 we then delved a bit deeper into the story of the Norman conquest and the most famous battle in English history, the Battle of Hastings.

First we watched an animated version of the Bayeaux tapestry, which beautifully brings to life the medieval version of the battle.  For a deeper and more complex view of King Harold and the invasion, this documentary was wonderful, even helping to understand how that invasion shapes society today.  Bliss.

The boys really enjoyed making their own version of the Bayeux Tapestry and I admit to adding a few soldiers in myself!  We rolled out a long piece of paper on the floor to give ourselves a sense of the scale and shape of the tapestry before drawing our own battle scenes inspired by our studies.

bayeux-7895 bayeux-7893 bayeux-7892 bayeux-7891I wasn’t sure how long the boys would enjoy this project for but they really went with it.  More rolls were unfurled, crayons put to use; I was suprised by how much Huwyl’s drawing replicated what he had seen when we looked at the tapestry.  I’m so enjoying sharing these stories with the boys, part of my history and part of theirs.

Ah History, we do love you.

February is Maths Month

February is Maths Month

Over Christmas Stephen and I spent some time talking about our homeschool priorities for the rest of the year.  Ok, well I spent a lot of time blathering endlessly and he talked rather less but with much more purpose about how we could meet our ‘targets’ in 2013.  Basically we decided that I would devote January to reading, reading and more reading.

Over Christmas I noticed that Huwyl was having more trouble with his reading than really seemed reasonable, he’s bright and interested and really likes books, but it just wasn’t ‘clicking’.  When I thought about it I realised that our devotion to learning reading skills had been less than it should have been to help him be successful and, as reading is the cornerstone of everything, we decided that until that was sorted nothing else was important.  So January was allocated as reading month.  And read we did.

I was pretty astonished to see how quickly this approach bore fruit, we went from very fractured and laborious reading to, well, reading!  January is the perfect month for some good sofa time so it was no chore to sit with the boys for hours each day, reading with them, to them and near them.  They loved it and so did I, a great way to start 2013.

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At the beginning of January I also invested in a bunch of Star Wars DK readers, Huwyl has developed a sincere and abiding interest in Star Wars and so it seemed the perfect tie in, it worked like a charm.  Though there was a little Charlotte Mason voice nagging inside me (twaddle! she cried) the important thing was that my little boy was reading and interested in the stories, that’s all that counted to me.  He’s moved from struggling to reading pretty easily (for his age) and is now enjoying a good rate of progress, he’s even requested to move on to chapter books, his confidence is so high.

Alongside the reading we worked on Writing With Ease 2, a complete writing programme that includes narration, dictation and copywork, using great excerpts from children’s literature.  We really enjoy it and the narration part particularly plays to Huwyl’s strengths so it doesn’t feel like a chore.  It’s been lovely to hear him reading the copywork sentences with ease now, he does it without even thinking; it’s amazing what practice and confidence can do for a child!

As this approach worked really well I began thinking that working in blocks may just be the way forward for us, certainly for grade 2.  I really like the idea of immersing ourselves in a subject before we move on, getting much more deeply under the skin of it and increasing confidence and skills at the same time.  With that in mind I’ve made February Maths Month.  While we are not leaving our language work behind entirely we’ll be spending a good hour or so a day working just on different maths activities, from place value to spelling maths words.

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My hope is that by giving ourselves more time we can cover a greater breadth of work, revising concepts we’ve been working on since September (place value, time, addition and subtraction) but going into them in much more depth, exploring them more fully.  As with reading I think it is crucial for a solid foundation to be built before moving on and I think this is where we have the edge as homeschoolers, not only can we whizz along when it suits us but we can slow right down and take our time when necessary too.

For this month we’ll still be working on our Writing With Ease and some First Language Lessons (combined they take about 20 minutes) as well as continued work on reading each morning.  Huwyl is finishing off Explode the Code 3 and Neirin has just begun Get Ready for the Code book A which he is enjoying but we are taking slowly.  My other preschool resources come from Confessions of a Homeschooler and lots of lovely apps for the ipad that allow him to practice letter tracing and matching, something he really seems to enjoy!

This block of work is what I’m thinking of a ‘core’ skills, this is the ongoing work that needs to be practiced a little each day; the second block of work will be maths and maths only, so we’re not currently practicing that in the core block.  In March, when our second block is history,  I’ll include maths in a core block to practice the skills we’ve been learning in our maths block, make sense?  Excellent!

It all makes sense in my head I promise.

So for the rest of this month we are spending a big chunk of our day working on maths, I know that might sound like some kind of hellish demon dimension and there was a time that I would agree with that assessment.  When I was at school maths was my least favourite and least successful subject.  I even had to retake my maths qualification when I decided to become an English teacher and spent many hours and weekends working with Stephen to pass my exam.  I duly did but maths was never going to be my favourite subject.

But I’m determined that the boys will have a different experience than I did.  If something isn’t gelling then we will slow down until it does, I really want them to truly know their maths concepts rather than just paying lip service to a ticky box list of ‘nice to haves’.  I think that if they have a truly strong foundation, maths need not be the horrid torture that it is for so many people, it can be a joyful revelation into a magical world of knowledge.

Well at the very least I’d like it if they didn’t cry when the word maths is mentioned ;  )

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So I’m approaching our lessons in different ways using lots of different resources.  I’ve set aside our Singapore Maths for now and instead I’m using Jump Maths (right now we are using the Jump at Home book 2 as a sort of revision book) as well as some great resources that I’ve purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers.  If you haven’t discovered this site yet get over there!  There are some truly fantastic resources at extremely reasonable prices (and lots of free ones too!) and you are paying the money directly to the producer, always good news in my book.  We’ve been particularly enjoying Snow Much Fun Place Value which explores 2 and 3 digit place value, number bonds, greater than and less than and recording.  Not bad for $5! Here is a list of the other resources I’ll be using this month;

Rainbow Skip Counting         Pirate Time         February Maths – grade 2    Jump Math 2  

This month we are going to be working on skip counting (2’s, 5’s, 10’s and 100’s), place value, number bonds, number words, time, measuring, money,patterns and a bit of foundational algebra skills.  We’ll also keep working on double digit addition and number carrying using Math Bingo and good old fashioned pencil and paper!  Some of these things will just be the work of an hour or two, others are concepts we will keep returning to and revising for the next few years.

So far I’ve found it so much easier to organize my morning and my brain around just one subject.  I’m trying to make sure that we move between different mediums (computer, pen and paper, manipulatives, games…) as well as different areas of focus.  This keeps us from getting too bogged down and encourages me to branch out, nervous as I am of ‘getting it wrong’.

Has anyone else tried teaching this way?  How did it work out for you?

 

Volcano!

Volcano!

On Friday we made a start on one of Huwyl’s christmas presents, a volcano making kit.  He mixed the plaster and poured it into the mould and then waited (sort of) patiently for it to set.  Next he painted it, graciously allowing his little brother some creative input, and allowed that to dry.  I think it was a longer process than he’d originally imagined.

volcano-7601 volcano-7606 volcano-7608 volcano-7609 volcano-7611 volcano-7616Neirin had his own little experiment tray to play with, water, baking soda and some drops of food colouring kept him entertained for quite a while!  When it came to the big explosion we exchanged the water for vinegar and fun was had by all.

volcano-7637 volcano-7643 volcano-7642 volcano-7641 volcano-7639I love how serious Neirin is when he works on things, his little frown and teeny pout are so cute.  The boys had a blast working on their ‘science’ this morning, wearing their Darth Vader costumes that Huwyl made for them yesterday.  He’s been working on a Star Wars project for a while now and that was the culminating task he’d set himself.  I thought the black made them look like little alchemists!

After several rounds of volcano eruptions we watched a couple of videos, made some drawings and then made an explosively themed snack for ourselves…popcorn!