Friday, 29 April 2016

Shakespeare and Poetry Teas

I have felt particularly this year that our homeschool has been a bit flat.  Dd1 has grown out of a lot of the fun stuff which primary children enjoy and dd2 is not far behind.  Their lack of enthusiasm to try new stuff, go out and meet new people etc has meant it's all been a bit over-bookish and a little dull.  So, not wishing to spend the next 6+ years in this rather deflated state I've been looking for things to spice up the weeks as they go by.  Recently I have tried 'Poetry teas' on a fortnightly basis - I believe these are originally suggested by Charlotte Mason, but I could be wrong there.  I know lots of CM/CMish homeschoolers have poetry teas, but I've always been a little bit unwilling to embrace them.  I'm generally unconvinced of anything which 'needs' to be made pleasant by adding sugar whether that's cake after a church service, a cup of tea or a biscuit-style distraction during a long journey.  Don't get me wrong, there is sugar in our house and too much of it in my opinion, but the thought of bribing my kids to read and listen to poetry by supplying sugary foods just didn't appeal.

However, against my better judgement, I have given this a go and so far so good.  Both dds have found poems they want to read and share and I have joined in too (not with the cake though).  I know people do this with very young children and very successfully but I'm glad I didn't.  We have read lots of poetry over the years, much of it from the Ambleside Online recommendations, other poetry from my own searches.  This has paid off now as both dds have a history of experience of poetry and can pull out favourites to read at the teas.  My hunch at the moment is that these teas won't be the right time to introduce new poetry, but I may try it and see how we get on - I could be wrong, but I suspect most of the attention is on the cake.

Another way I have tried to bring a bit of sunshine to our days is by sticking up a list of interesting words which we notice - these words could be interesting because they are new, they sound funny or are spelled unusually or indeed other reasons.

And finally I have planned some more structured Shakespeare into our week.  I saw this post on Delivering Grace and thought it would be a good starting place for me as well as the kids.  My Shakespeare teaching at school was quite poor and I learnt most of what I needed to get through Eng Lit GCSE by reading York notes.  This isn't how I wanted it to be for my own kids though.  We have read Edith Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare at least once and have acted out many of the plays with lego or playmobil figures, but I wanted to raise my game a bit and this book seems to be just the ticket.

Ken Ludwig tells how he taught Shakespeare to his children (I think they were younger than mine at the time) - in particular he supports the reader in how to teach children Shakespeare passages to learn from memory.  Now, I'm not all the way through this book yet, and as such can't recommend or not recommend it, but so far so good.  We have learnt all of the first passage (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) and intend to continue with the next one.  God willing, I'll post on this book again in the future and how we've got on with it.
I have been sorting out some other Shakespeare resources recently too - I bought this from The Book People at the end of last year and have found it very useful so far.  

These books I picked up at an NCT Nearly New Sale when my kids must have still been pre-school age - I knew they'd come in handy eventually!  They go with the BBC animations which, last time I checked were still available to watch online.

These DVDs I got very cheaply from Sainsbury's last week - it's a good time to find stuff connected to Shakespeare as it's the 400th anniversary of his death this year.  We are quite a way off sitting and watching one yet, but I'm hoping to find the passage we learnt from AMND and watch that little bit.  The 12s will obviously have to wait a while yet - even though dd1 is 12yo I don't necessarily think that the Film Certification Board and I agree on what is and isn't suitable at her age.

This is the Nesbit we've used quite a lot in the past.

And this one is also recommended on the Ambleside Online curriculum but I only got hold of this second hand copy recently and haven't had a chance to compare it to the Nesbit yet.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Fantasy Map Drawing

Art has not been a favoured subject here lately and I have been keen to re-dress this, so was thrilled when I discovered a facebook group called Home Education Art Academy.  Each week a new theme is chosen and the children create something connected with that topic.  There is a chance to vote on which theme you would like for the next week and over the course of the week the children's work can be uploaded and shared.  Up until this week I didn't think my kids would be interested in the themes so didn't mention it to them, however this week I knew they would be very keen.  The theme was Fantasy/Treasure Maps.  There are usually some links to something inspirational and once I started following one of these I discovered a set of youtube videos by a very helpful man called Nate.  You can find the first one here - the following ones should come up as you finish each video.  I have watched the first 3 or 4.  In the first video Nate uses beans to create the shape of the countries he would like on his map and then once this is drawn he uses dice to place mountain ranges.  It's a very appealing technique to both children and adults.

Here are a couple of pictures of dd2 placing mountain ranges - she used plastic playing pieces instead of dice -I'm sure there are many other similar objects which would work just as well.

Dd1 found an old fantasy map she had drawn of an imaginary country she has carried with her in her mind for a long time.  We think this map is from about 18 months ago:

This is the first of two which she drew this week having watched the youtube videos mentioned above - it's encouraging to see how she has developed:

This is the second, improved one from this week - she was inspired to work on a second map having seen some of the pictures other children did on the facebook group:

This is dd2's first map - she really enjoyed arranging the beans into lots of islands:

This is her second map - the beans ended up in the shape of a beech leaf and so she followed this theme through the whole map:

I forgot to take a picture of it, but even did a map myself.  We mostly worked on A3 paper which gave plenty of space for moving beans around - sticking two pieces of A4 together will give you a piece of A3 sized paper.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Just day after day ...

Much of the time it doesn't feel like a great deal happens.  Now that my kids have passed the younger phase where life is one long series of exciting discoveries, it's easy to see the dullness of everyday homeschooling and hard to spot the highlights.  I'm working at not only creating 'moments' but spotting the ones which occur naturally as well.

We are having a lot of discussions about the upcoming referendum on the UK remaining in or leaving the EU and we are working on map reading skills when we go on monthly family walks.  Learning continues to happen at all hours and on every day of the year.  Dd2 has suddenly cracked the times tables and handwriting (I had begun to think neither would ever happen) and this has allowed her to suddenly speed ahead in both English and Maths as these two important skills are no longer holding her back.  I dread to think what would have become of her educationally if she had been at school.  She's a bright kid, but no teacher of 30 pupils could have given her the 1 to 1 she has needed and the adapted curriculum to simply let her achieve when she was ready.  

Dd1 made a basket from old scraps of fabric.

Dd2 made a rocket.

Taking Dd2 to Stonehenge (yes, it really was as cold as it looked).

Chromatography experiments.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Homeschooling older children

My eldest daughter would have started secondary school last September if she weren't being taught at home.  In the UK this is a major educational transition and I had wondered for a long time how it would look for us at home.  I asked lots of people and mostly got the reply that nothing much changed for them.  To be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced.  For a start I knew that a lot of the resources we use ended at the end of Y6 so there would have to be some change as we began different books, and also dd1 is quite academic and book-ish and really wanted to take on more challenging books and subjects.
We are into our second term now and things are definitely different.  Dd1 is working more independently and has a longer list of subjects to work through.  We do less work with both girls together.  This is a little sad, but I think I would be holding dd1 back to do it otherwise.
So what exactly does this new stage look like?  Much harder textbooks - many from Galore Park (Maths, English, Geography, History, some Science), some books by Letts and Collins (some Science and a bit of extra English), using futurelearn (free online courses - I'm very choosy about which ones dd1 can do - partly to make sure that the content is 12yo appropriate and partly to make sure she doesn't take on too much) but I have steadfastly hung on to some of the Charlotte Mason ideas which give what we do a bit of balance.  We still have read alouds and poetry most days, we get outside quite a bit on our daily dog walks and observe nature.  The girls study French, Art, ICT and Music together, they do different handicrafts and learn Latin.  It feels like a lot of work suddenly, but this may be compounded by the cold weather and water-logged ground meaning we can't go out too far.
We continue to be opportunists - grabbing occasions to meet with friends, go to groups, watch someone changing a car tyre, host a teacher training student doing an alternative learning placement.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Chinese New Year

Note:  I prepared the vast majority of this post last year but didn't get it finished and posted before Chinese New Year, so thought I'd finish it off and post it at a more appropriate time of year this year - I hope it provides a little inspiration for you.

Chinese New Year is not something I knew much about as a child, but the dds have always been very keen to mark the occasion, most probably because it involves food!  Many years, Chinese New Year has fallen in half term, as it does this year, so we have had a Chinese meal as a family (dh is a school teacher so school holidays and term times are still important dates for us, even though we are a homeschooling family as well!), but sometimes it has fallen during term time and we have met up with homeschooled friends for some cultural enrichment.  This year the dds were keen to meet up with friends, so we have celebrated a week early with them.

I prepared two craft activities and a little challenge, we brought out Yahtzee and a friend brought Chinese Chequers.

Chopstick Challenge

I mixed up some different sized dried beans and peas and put them into the base of a cardboard egg box:

I collected up chopsticks and some small containers: 

I made a small chart to make the challenge a little more challenging!:

Chinese Lanterns

Now, these I do remember making as a child!  We used A4 sized sugar paper, but other sizes and types will work too.  I marked off a strip at the short end of the piece of paper:

I cut off the strip, which will later be used as the handle:

Then I folded the larger piece in half, from the bottom up:

Next I drew some lines from the fold upwards, but not all the way to the top

If you want to decorate your lantern you can do it at this stage (above) or after cutting the strips (below):

I opened out the folded paper and put glue along one of the edge strips and wrapped it round to the strip at the other end of the paper and pressed together:

Then I put some glue at each end of the small strip which was cut off at the beginning:

The strip is added onto the top as the handle:

This is the equipment I collected up for the activity:

Chinese dragons

By sifting through fairly random craft type things which I'd stashed away over the years, I worked out that we could make some Chinese dragons - ish!

We used old sweet wrappers:

Fluorescent card in the shape of stars:

arranged, the sweet wrappers behind the card star:

and glued them onto the back:

then we got some old foil pie cases:

put another sweet wrapper inside it to be the 'tongue':

got some split pins:

pushed the split pin through the tongue, the foil, the card and the wrappers and opened it up:

so it looked like this:

then we reshaped the foil tin to make it look more like a mouth:

and added some eyes:

then for the body we took an empty toilet roll:

and some tissue paper:

put glue onto the toilet roll and wrapped the tissue paper around it:

so it looked like this:

then we put some sticky tape onto one end:

and stuck it onto the back of the face, where all the sweet wrappers are:

like so:

we got some strips of tissue paper:

taped them up at one end:

put another piece of tape across the sealed end:

and stuck it inside the other end of the toilet roll:

so it looked like this:

and this:

Between the 3 families we brought together various Chinese types of food to share a small meal together and there was also plenty of playing Yahtzee and even some playing in the garden despite the weather.