Thursday, 27 September 2012

In France

We're in France at the moment currently sampling a very chic children's playground! Will try and post while I'm here, wifi permitting!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Chalk Art

The boys have recently found a box of giant sidewalk/playground chalks and I'm having trouble keeping them off the floors and walls...

We like to put giant sheets of paper on the floors and walls, as seen in a previous post, but I thought I'd try and find some more ideas, this is what I found (thanks to Eduart 4 Kids):

  1. Use it outside as it says, it’s sidewalk chalk. Get hold of the thick, colourful pieces of chalk often called sidewalk chalk that have lots of colours included. The chalk often comes in a bucket. On a nice day allow the children to go outdoors and colour all over the asphalt, sidewalk or any other area that will be easily cleaned up, either by rain or by hosing down with a garden hose.
  2. Transfer chalk drawings to paper: If the children express an interest in saving some of their chalk drawings or even if they don’t you can offer them paper to colour on with the chalk . Black or other dark construction paper is often more striking than plain manila or white. Once the children are done you will need to spray the drawings with hairspray as this helps set the chalk. It is very important that you only use the hairspray outdoors and do not let the children do it. The spraying should be for adults only.
  3. Create a solution of 1/3 c. sugar to 1 cup water. Have the children dip their pieces of chalk into this solution before drawing with the chalk on their papers. This helps brighten the chalk colours and will also help reduce smearing.Using hairspray will work with this activity also.
  4. This time around, make the paper wet first and then give the children dry chalk. Have them use dry chalk on wet paper. You can experiment by giving he children different types of paper wetting each of them before drawing. The best way to make the paper wet is to fill up a rectangular basin with water and lift the papers in and out of it.
  5. Instead of making the paper wet with water, give the children paintbrushes and liquid starch and have them paint the paper with the liquid starch.Use the chalk to colour over the paper with the starch on it. (This also brighten chalk colours and helps reduce smudging.)
  6. Sand art: Chalk is great for creating sand art. The children can be given a hand grater and along with an adults careful supervision grate the different colour chalk into separate bowls. Once you have enough chalk you can do 2 different types of sand art. Firstly you have the children use a paintbrush and paint some glue onto a blank sheet of paper. They can then take different colours chalk and sprinkle them where they want to crate a beautiful sand art. They can get really creative by making various shapes and borders with their glue.
  7. A second sand art activity is to give children small jars and arrange the different coloured chalk in layers to create a sand art bottle. Just be aware that you need a lot more sand (chalk) for this sand art activity that you do for the first.
And of course it's a very inclusive activity as many children can draw side by side

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn

This is not a strictly home education book, in fact I think it just mentions it in passing. But it was an extremely influential book for us, a sort of slap-in-the-face at every page turn book.

Alfie Kohn is an American author and lecturer who has explored a number of topics in education, parenting, and human behaviour. He is considered a leading figure in progressive education and has also offered critiques of many traditional aspects of parenting, managing, and American society more generally, drawing in each case from social science research.
Kohn's challenges to widely accepted theories and practises have made him a controversial figure, particularly with behaviourists, conservatives, and those who defend the specific practises he calls into question, such as the use of competition, incentive programs, conventional discipline, standardised testing, grades, homework, and traditional schooling.

The premise is that the reward system is a very flawed one, as I had strongly disliked the behaviourist ideas when I studied them in my psychology degree course, this book offered a mirror to my own feelings. It is not just punishment that is harmful, but rewarding children (and people in general) for doing a task, reading a chapter in a book, solving a maths problem, etc. greatly detracts from the enjoyment of the task itself. It moves the person from intrinsic motivation (and a love of learning) to an extrinsic motivator (I will learn because I have been promised a reward, who cares what it is I am learning... I will probably forget it all after I have received my prize).

The book looks at the punishment and reward system in parenting (he is also the author of Unconditional Parenting, another huge eye opener of a book), education and the work place. Kohn offers ideas and solutions to the problem and advocates a respectful approach towards children and workers alike. These ideas are very controversial as they ask us to question our whole culture and the way we do things, but I think that our strength as human beings comes from a drive to question and better the world around us, just because things have been done in the same way for generations does not mean these things are right for us, now.


IXL maths website

Amongst the impressive amount of online courses for children, we quite like this website. It covers maths from reception to year 11 so if you follow the national curriculum or want to see what your child would be doing in school it is a good resource.

It is a subscription service (currently it costs about £7 a month) but you can use quite a lot of it before it asks you to subscribe...
I found that younger children can't really use it independently unlike the apps my boys have on the ipad, but Reuben quite likes the fact that I need to sit with him and read out the questions.
It would work well with a structured approach (lots of goals and progress tracking) and for us (who don't follow lesson plans) it is fun just to see where the boys are in terms of understanding maths concepts. When you subscribe there is a reward system that maybe autonomous learners would dislike but you can always ignore it... Overall I find that it is good value for money and good for general maths practice.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


This I think was one of the scariest experiences I have had... The boys of course weren't bothered!

We were in London with relatives and as our party consisted of 6 children of varying ages we thought the London Sealife Aquarium would be a good idea. I knew they had sharks and was quite excited, but we have visited a number of aquariums and the sharks are always of the small, pale, mind-my-own-business variety. Not here!!

The first encounter is when you walk in to the aquarium and have to walk over a glass floor, I didn't spot anything scary so thought no more of it. We then proceeded to have a very nice time indeed as the boys enjoy finding out about all the different types of fish and trying to attract their attention.

Then we walked into the shark reef aquarium and I nearly had a heart attack, my body went into full fight or flight mode when the meanest, biggest, darkest, most equipped with rows of scary teeth, creature came swimming towards us. I completely forgot I was outside the tank and froze, until Reuben shouted: "Mummy are you in shock?"
They loved every minute of it and were absolutely mesmerised by the actually very beautiful animals.
And I apologise for the terrible pictures as I was too scared to go near the glass...

There are sixteen sharks altogether, including the two striking 2.8m brown sharks and a group of 10 sleek black tip reef sharks. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) rates the blacktip reef shark as Near Threatened – overfishing has led to its decline as it is a slow-reproducing species (like all sharks). Young or small blacktip reef sharks often fall prey to larger fish such as groupers, grey reef sharks, tiger sharks or even bigger blacktip reef sharks.
Reuben as usual found all the technical stuff really interesting while Isaac just wants to look and give them a hug!!

Here's other hightlight of the day:

Waiting for the others outside the aquarium
with the fishing game, luckily Reuben
always throws them back!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dumbing us down, by John Taylor Gatto

I had wanted to read this book for a long time as it is a classic critique of compulsory schooling, a few months ago I finally managed it and it was a sobering read.

John Taylor Gatto is a retired schoolteacher who taught in New York for 30 years, more than once winning the teacher of the year award. Surprisingly (or not...) he was (and is) a strong critic of mass compulsory schooling, even expressing his views (strongly) while accepting the awards.

The book was written in the first months after John Taylor Gatto left schoolteaching, it is a hard-hitting reflection on the significance of schools and schoolteaching, the difference between networks and communities, and what lies at the heart of being congregationally American as opposed to corporatively American.
These are the main points, what mainstream American (but it can be applied to the UK and most countries I can think of) school does to children:
  1. It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorise to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
  2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
  3. It makes them indifferent.
  4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
  5. It makes them intellectually dependent.
  6. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  7. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised
As an ex-teacher myself I recognise the truth in his words. We had already decided to home educate but this book made me very angry at all the wasted talent, creativity and joy of learning that is daily being eroded in children around the globe.

Snibston Discovery Museum

My sister and her four children are staying with us for a week so I was thinking of places to visit that would suit 6 children with ages ranging from 2 to 16... In the nearby town of Coleville here in Leicestershire where we live, is the very wonderful Snibston. And it was great!!
It was established in 1992 following closure of the Colliery (whose site it is now on, you can still see all the heavy machinery that was used to mine coal), Snibston Discovery Museum is the showcase for Leicestershire’s historic science, technology, design and fashion collections. It aims to explore the changing technological world in which we live, through exhibitions, events and our learning programmes, and you can find out more about major technological changes which have affected our everyday lives.
For more information:

The museum (I'm sure it used to be called a discovery park) is divided into sections covering machines, toys, science (human body, tornadoes, you name it), transport from the past (we loved the old milk float and planes), fashion, water technology (the outside park has canals, dams, pumps and much to experiment with), and a great playground.

Here are some of our favourite bits:

The plasma globe

Can you build the pipe system?

Henry the cycling skeleton

Making Henry move

Gears, can you place them so that moving one all the
others move too?

Locks for very small boats

Seeing how the locks work

Navigating a boat through the canals


Little miners, just about to go into the (play) tunnel and search
for coal

A happy little miner who had a great day at Snibston

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Country parks and nature reserves

An important part of our week is spending time walking, cycling and playing in the local country parks and nature reserves, the boys enjoy playgrounds but I find that their imagination can really take hold outside of structured environments. We also spend time in wooded/forest areas but the activities there are a little different, more forest fun soon.

One of our favourite places is Watermead Country Park in Leicestershire where we live, from their website ( this is a description: On the edge of Leicester, just five miles from the city centre, Watermead Country Park is a 140 hectare green oasis. It is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful stretch of countryside, easily accessible for many people. Most of the paths are surfaced making it an ideal site to visit for wheelchair and buggy users. The park is developing one of the largest reedbed areas in the Midlands, and four bird hides, including a 2-storey hide, provide great viewing opportunities for visitors.

Climbing the dinosaur head
This means that the boys can take their bicycles (and tricycles) and cycle round the lakes, we spot birds (and feed them) and enjoy the dinosaur trail round the main King Lear lake. We have also done map reading/orienteering there as well as geocaching (geocaching info here and organised nature walks and den building.

Climbing the dinosaur hill

Top of the dino

Dinosaur ribcage climbing frame

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ken Robinson lectures

Ken Robinson has been very influential in our household regarding philosophies of education and an overview of why schools are the way they are. We decided to opt out of the system for our children as we agree wholeheartedly with his point of view and feel that the boys have a better change to be creative and follow their individual calling outside of the classroom.

A bit about him: Sir Kenneth Robinson (Liverpool, 4 March 1950) is an English author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education.
Originally from a working-class Liverpool family, Robinson now lives in Los Angeles with his wife Marie-Therese and children James and Kate.

The lectures we enjoyed were the ones he gave for the TED conference, the first one is called Do schools kill creativity? Pretty much self explanatory...

And then we really liked the RSA animate version of his talk, Changing Education Paradigms (I often feel I'm in a completely different paradigm, not to say parallel universe from most people)

I would also recommend his book Out of our minds, learning to be creative. It gives us hope that we can put passion and creativity in our lives and show the boys that these are a fundamental part of being human.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Fairy Houses

What a great idea!!

We were looking at how to make small wooden fairies and their houses and we came across this American website
It is the creation of artist Tracy Kane who initiated a fairy house building project in the US, she has written and illustrated a number of books on fairy houses in natural settings and the gallery page on the website is wonderful, we are now inspired to go out into the garden and build away.

So what are they exactly? In her words:
Fairy Houses are small structures for the fairies and nature’s friends to visit. Sticks, bark, dry grasses, pebbles, shells, feathers, seaweed, pine cones and nuts are just some of the natural materials used. Ranging from rustic to intricate ‘Fairy Mansions’, these whimsical habitats are built by children, families, gardeners and nature lovers reflecting their creativity, joy and pride.
The simple challenge of creating a fairy house gives children a unique activity that encourages them to go outside and connect with the natural world, nurturing care and respect for the environment.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Usborne Children's Book of Baking

I cannot stress how great this book is, we have baked from it cover to cover and back again, Reuben loves it and makes biscuits or cupcakes most days with these recipes.

Cooking is very important to us, for the boys it's a lot of fun and of course they like to eat the end result, especially cakes and biscuits! From the learning point of view it's a great activity as the boys need to use numbers, have the ability to measure ingredients, read a recipe (still with my help) and understand how materials can change (freezing, heating) as well as being creative in decorating their creations.
Here are some of them:

Abstract flower shortbread biscuits

A "Reuben" fairy cake

Fairy cakes with buttercream topping

Washing up afterwards

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Winter Dolphin

A while ago we bought a dvd called Dolphin Tale as the boys are big fans of dolphins (and whales), surprisingly this was a great advert for home education as one of the characters is a very happy and motivated home educated girl and the main character is having a lot of trouble at school. And it is the true story of a dolphin that gets tangled in nets and loses her tail, and the children who help her to swim again.

But aside from the home education angle, the boys got a lot out of this film, they found out about dolphins and animal injuries including prosthetic limbs (for humans too), they now know a lot about marine life rescue, they like to look at the aquarium website where there is a Winter (the name of the dolphin) webcam and just enjoy the story again and again.

The real Winter

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Space poster

This came about by complete accident, a few days ago Reuben asked me to make something related to space, we had some large sheets of coloured paper in the corner which had been used to finger and feet paint on, so I thought it would be interesting to put some on the wall and see what we could do with it.

We all got to work, I found some black paper and chalks so while I made some rockets and planets to stick on, the boys drew some pictures. They experimented with dry and wet chalk to see which one stayed on best (the wet) and Isaac found some star stickers which also went on.
It was a lot of fun for all of us and the result is still on the wall.

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