Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

No formal work this past week or so: just lots of Christmas preparations. This is the third year we have used the Usborne 'Christmas Decorations to Cut, Fold & Stick' to decorate our house. It's a fabulous book featuring easy-to-make and attractive decorations. I save ones from the year before, then add new ones as we make them each Christmas.

Charlie enjoyed decorating our house with his homemade creations.

Last weekend, we caught the train to Kingston to see a much-loved friend of ours performing in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' at the Rose Theatre.

Charlie has recently read the book and is currently reading 'Prince Caspian', so he was pretty clued up on Narnia and the Pevensies. It was interesting for him to be able to compare the book with the performance. The play was very well done. The moment when the giant wardrobe opened to reveal Narnia and snow fell from the ceiling was magical.

On the way home, we discussed how the theatrical production had handled the plot. Charlie wasn't happy with the way that people had been turned to stone (by freezing position and having netting flung over them), so we talked about that and how else it could have been done. He was also disappointed that Aslan wasn't a real lion or a model of a lion. It came down to the difference between our unlimited imagination when we read books and the limits of theatre, something which Charlie hasn't encountered much before. 

We were all very impressed by our friend, who played Susan. She had been so convincing in the part that I had quite forgotten that I was watching someone I knew.

On Christmas Eve, we had our first Christmas lunch. Charlie was delighted to unwrap his present from Grandma and discover an electronics kit.

He spent the rest of the day building different electrical models: a burglar alarm; a radio; and a fan.

I'll be taking a break from this blog for a while as we enjoy the Christmas festivities. Merry Chistmas!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Although the weather has turned cold, Charlie still wants to go out on walks across the Downs with me or his Dad. As the nights draw in, we have watched the sun go down during our late afternoon walks.

At home, Charlie has been studying science by completing his first Crest Star challenge. I signed him up for it because he loves science and enjoys being creative and inventive. Crest Star is described as 'a UK-wide award scheme enabling children, usually 5 - 11, to solve science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) problems through practical investigations'. You can sign up through the British Science Association website. It's not free, but there are free investigations available on the website if you don't want to pay for the full scheme.

Charlie's first challenge was to build a 'band roller'. This experiment demonstrated the physics of forces and motion, as well as exploring the need for alternative technologies in the face of climate change.

Before starting on the challenge, we looked at a wind-up lantern to see how it worked. We also watched a video about Trevor Bayliss and how he invented the clockwork radio. 

After laying the required equipment out on the table, Charlie set about creating his own version of an energy-saving 'clockwork' gadget.

Work in progress
The completed band roller

The model worked first time. After playing with it for a bit and seeing how fast it could go and what would slow it down or speed it up, Charlie set about making some modifications.

The material from the British Science Association also features extra challenges to encourage thinking and creativity.

In History, we have been studying Boudicca and her revolt against the Romans. We explored how people form different opinions on historical events, depending on their viewpoint. In particular, we looked at the different ways Boudicca's rebellion was regarded by the Celts and the Romans.

 Charlie drew a comic strip describing the events of Boudicca's rebellion.

In between lessons, we have found time to play a game we have just bought called  City of Zombies, which has had excellent reviews and won numerous awards, including Best Family Game Gold Award and Best Numeracy Game Gold Award. Charlie has grown up with talk of zombies, thanks to having a much older brother, so I thought this might appeal to him. One of the advantages of the game is that you have a choice of either cards featuring cartoon-style zombies, for younger or more sensitive children, or cards featuring more hard-core, gruesome zombies for older children. Charlie chose the former.

The game is easy to set up and play, with a simple premise: you are a hero who has rescued a number of survivors (represented with survivor cards and your chosen hero card). You are sheltering behind the barricades, waiting for the rescue plane to arrive and carry you to safety. In the distance, six zombies (each zombie card featuring a number) are approaching you. You roll three dice and try to work out the best mathematical combination to zap the numbers on the zombie cards. You must use all three dice, but you can use any kind of maths: adding, subtracting, multiplying and so on. You can even 'power up' (square) the numbers on your dice. If you manage to match the number on a zombie card, or two, they are removed to the zombie graveyard. As you and your partner or team finish each round, the zombies move closer, but so does the rescue plane. Can you kill all the zombies before the plane arrives?

This game has been a good, fun way for Charlie to practise his mental maths.

Cartoon-style zombie

From zombies to Christmas preparations: Charlie enjoyed making a gingerbread house at the end of last week.

He wanted to eat it all straight away, but I persuaded him to put it up for decoration. After all, it really does look too good to eat.

Friday, 5 December 2014

When I was a child, I hated writing thank-you letters. It was a chore. I knew I was meant to do it and that my mother wouldn't stop nagging me until I had finished the job, but I resented the intrusion into my time. After all, I had much more interesting things to do.

Now I'm the parent and I'm the one standing over my reluctant child, insisting that he writes those letters. Worse, I'm a home-educating parent, which means that, in addition to my parental duty to teach gratitude and good manners, I also see this as a learning opportunity. Poor Charlie.

So last week, every day, Charlie has practised writing informal thank-you letters to friends and family. He has learned that the address goes in the top right-hand corner of the page, with the date underneath; he has learned that it is important not only to thank the person for the gift, but also to show them how much you appreciate it by saying why you like it - it was fun building the Lego/ reading the book/ choosing a much-wanted toy with the voucher.

On the subject of gratitude, I am feeling gratitude myself at the moment because Charlie's interest in cooking has continued and at the moment he is planning and making the meals. Last week, Charlie made sausage rolls for the first time, including the pastry. He made these entirely on his own, apart from me putting them into, and taking them out of, a hot oven.

He has cooked us a variety of meals every evening. This is Charlie drizzling honey, lemon juice and orange juice over chicken breasts to bake in the oven (I made roast potatoes and cooked the vegetables to go with it):

He baked several cakes, enjoying the process of finding recipes, then weighing and mixing the ingredients.

Fruit cake

Our excursion last week was to Brighton Museum. The trip was spontaneous, so we were not focusing on any particular topic. We were all very affected by the exhibition, Ocean Blues, which focused on the pollution of the oceans.

It was especially upsetting to see an exhibit which showed the amount of plastic rubbish people throw into the ocean. The sight of the innards of a dead sea bird filled with plastic tat really brought it home to us.

On a lighter note, we also visited the performance gallery, which was full of costumes, masks and puppets, and Charlie put on a 'Punch and Judy' show for us.

Charlie has seen lots of his family this week. His Granny came to stay with us for two days and Charlie loved seeing her, as well as showing her his recent project books: Titanic, The Solar System and Art. He also showed her his book of certificates from ConquerMaths. 

First page from 'The Solar System'

A page from Charlie's book on Titanic

Another page from Charlie's topic book on Titanic

On Saturday, his Grandma came round to celebrate her 85th birthday with us and Charlie presented her with vanilla cupcakes instead of a birthday cake. She was delighted.

There is an odd phenomenon occuring in our house at the moment: various everyday objects have been transformed into Lego.



Butter dish

Charlie is very taken with a BBC website called 'iWonder' and keeps going back to it to read more. The website aims to feed curiosity and it is certainly doing that for Charlie. One of the items that captured his imagination this week described how to photograph the moon. Charlie hasn't succeeded in that yet, but that's only because he doesn't have the right equipment. In the meantime, he goes out to look up at the moon every night before bedtime and is excitedly awaiting the full moon on 6th December.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A week of cooking - and a birthday

Charlie's interest in cooking has really taken off over the past few weeks. He baked vanilla cupcakes for Children in Need, ready to sell at our local home-ed cake sale, but missed the sale after an appointment for Tom made us late back. I suggested we sell to local friends and neighbours instead, so that's what we did. We raised £5 to send to the Rickshaw Challenge, which we have been following on The One Show.

This week was such a busy week that I was grateful that, once cycling and morning lessons were out of the way, Charlie just wanted to cook, using the Usborne First Cookbook. As a result, our family have been presented with a succession of lunches, dinners and snacks. One evening, Charlie cooked us lamb kebabs followed by profiteroles for pudding. Even his teenage big brother was impressed.

Here are some of Charlie's creations:

Ham and tomato omelette with salad (Sunday lunch)
Marinated lamb kebab with rice and salad

Baked tomatoes and egg (served for lunch)

Carrot cake (baked for our visit from the LEA inspector)

It's wonderful to see Charlie learning such an important life skill so early in his life. Cooking helps him understand more about the principles of nutrition and healthy eating, but he also enjoys being creative and learning to do something new. It is boosting his confidence to see how his hard work in the kitchen is bringing such rewarding results.

Incidentally, he has also been learning another important life skill: tidying up after himself. I taught him that tidying up is an important part of cooking and showed him how to use the dishwasher and wipe down the counters. He did very well at clearing up after each cookery session.

One morning, he was even kind enough to wake me up with a cup of coffee, having taught himself to use the coffee machine.

The longer I home educate, the more I notice how easy it is for Charlie to learn things at home that seemed so complicated to learn at school. State schools struggle to provide the resources and the staff to teach large classes important life skills such as cooking, but at home it is easy and natural to cook together. 

In September, cookery became a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for children aged up to 14. The new curriculum states that cooking is a 'crucial life skill' and that 'children should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating'. Charlie's former primary school had its own kitchen and tried to offer regular weekly cookery lessons to children, but the teachers relied on voluntary help from parents. If parents didn't volunteer, there were no cookery lessons. Of course, many parents were unable to come into school and run a cookery lesson because they were either working or looking after younger children, which meant that often a lesson had to be cancelled. When the lesson did run, only six children were chosen, leaving the other 24 children in the classroom with the teacher. This meant that each child only had the opportunity to cook once every five weeks, but even less than this if weeks were missed because there was no parent to run the lesson.

Charlie used to complain that he didn't get enough time to cook at school. Of course,we cooked together at home, but he was usually too tired after school, so his cooking was restricted to weekends. Now he can cook anytime - and he's making the most of it. 

I can see many ways in which Charlie is benefiting from discovering how to cook. He is learning how to: plan recipes; follow instructions carefully and accurately; concentrate on a task and see it through to the end; develop organisational skills; be safe and clean in the kitchen; use maths to work out quantities; be creative with food; and be more adventurous in his eating habits.

And the rest of the family are benefiting from his wonderful cooking.

It was Charlie's ninth birthday on Monday. 

Charlie wanted to go to Brighton for the afternoon and have fish and chips for lunch. We planned to take him to the aquarium there too. Unfortunately, it rained and both the aquarium and fish and chip shop turned out to be shut for refurbishment. Luckily, Charlie saw the funny side and took it all in good spirits. We had fish and chips in a different restaurant, braved the weather to walk along the beach, then went bowling instead (Charlie won).

Back home, we had birthday cake, then Charlie had time to start building some of his many new Lego sets before bed.

 At the end of the week, Charlie held a small birthday party at home. He didn't want any planned party activities this time, so I just let the boys play and they made up their own games, mostly about zombies. There was a lot of shrieking and laughter - so much so that one of the cats took refuge in a bin bag in the kitchen. Eventually, when the noise became too much for the cats and the neighbours (not to mention myself), I interrupted the boys to tell them I had something to show them. To their credit, they quietened down immediately and tiptoed downstairs after me, where I showed them the kitten cowering in the bin bag. There was a lot of 'awwing' and 'ahhing', then the boys decided that it was time for Charlie to open his presents. They all watched eagerly as he unwrapped each present.

Once the present opening was over, the boys decided to watch an episode of 'Dr Who' whilst I prepared tea. With the lights turned out and a big tub of popcorn and cartons of juice, they turned the sitting room into a cinema.

After a tea of mini pizzas, sausages and garlic bread, I brought out Charlie's cake, which he  decorated with Lego pieces. It was a great finale to the week.