Friday, 29 August 2014

Playing shops

'Pupils continue to become fluent in recognising the value of coins, by adding and subtracting amounts, including mixed units, and giving change using manageable amounts.'  

National Curriculum, Key Stage 2, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I spotted a forthcoming fundraising event being advertised in the local park.

I decided this would be a good opportunity to raise a bit of money for a good cause, get rid of some unwanted clutter at home and give Charlie an opportunity to get involved with the local community. I spied lots of educational opportunities too.

We began preparing for the stall a few days before. I dragged out boxes of old toys and books from the loft, whilst Charlie sorted through the toys in his bedroom. This was a good exercise in learning how to let go of things that we no longer need. There were a lot of toys that Charlie hadn't seen for a long time and that he found hard to let go. Sometimes, after discussion, he accepted that he had outgrown them and that, although they brought back happy memories, it was time to pass them on to younger children for their enjoyment.

Some of the old games needed to be put together again to see if they still worked. The old Hot Wheels game was fun.

We also had to check the contents of old games to see if all the pieces were still there. 

Then we had to start pricing everything up. We discussed how much to charge and, if we weren't sure, we looked some things up on eBay to compare costs. I explained that we had to get a balance between charging the amount people would be willing to pay for secondhand goods and also making money. Charlie pointed out that some of his brother's old XBox games were more popular than others, so we gave those higher prices than the less popular ones. He was beginning to understand the concept of 'market demand'.

Charlie wrote the prices on stickers and stuck them onto each item. Sometimes, I added an extra selling point.

 Charlie made up bags of his smaller toys, put them in a box and priced them up too.

I explained that we needed a 'float' of cash in our till, so that we could give change if necessary. As we were pricing everything in multiples of 10, that meant we only needed change in 10ps, 50ps and £1s.

Charlie thought we'd make lots of money, but I pointed out that we were paying £10 for the pitch, so we would only make a 'profit' if we made more than £10.

After Charlie had gone to bed that night, I sat up till the early hours, sorting through old school uniforms and other items and marking prices. I set everything out in the hall, ready for the morning, and went to bed at about 2.30am.

That morning, we were up early and setting up the stall by 8.30am. We didn't have a trestle table, so we laid everything out on a picnic rug and hung the clothes up on a portable clothes rail. Cheaper clothes were in boxes for people to rummage through.

Once we'd set up shop, we waited for customers.

And they came... 

As shopkeeper, Charlie had to add up items and work out change. If someone bought several things, he even had carrier bags to put them in. He loved every minute and said, "This is so much fun!" He also quickly learnt to develop a sales pitch: he simply said, with a sweet smile, "I've made bags of toys for only 20p." Not one adult could resist and the 20p bags of toys turned out to be our bestsellers.

In between customers, we chatted to other stall holders. A boy of about Charlie's age was running a stall next to us with his parents and he kept coming over to look at the toys, but then going back without buying anything. Eventually, Charlie said, kindly: "Would you like something for free? I have enough money now." 

We were very lucky with the weather: the sun shone all day. In between customers, we sat, basking in the sunshine and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I bought homemade cakes from a local stall and we ate them for our lunch.

Eventually, the sky began to cloud over and the customers began to thin out. We packed up our stuff and drove our unsold goods to the nearest charity shop. After a visit to his grandma to report on the day's events, Charlie and I worked out the profit: his brother had made £6 on old XBox games and Charlie had made £6.30 which he is planning to put towards a new game for his DS. 

We also have a lot of change left over to practise using money.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Welcome home

'It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that whatever you say to them, they always purr.' 

Lewis Carroll, 'Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There'

I haven't posted for a while because we have been in a holiday mood and no formal learning is taking place, apart from Charlie's daily online lesson on ConquerMaths. He is also reading lots. He is now on the last volume of the 'Harry Potter' series and has also read three library books for the Reading Challenge: one on mosaics, and the other two on the Titanic, which is his chosen topic for the start of next term.

Our main news is that we have just acquired two new family members. 

They are still very shy of us, but are gradually getting used to their new home. Charlie has read a book about looking after kittens and is now able to advise us on all their needs. He made them a cardboard playhouse, following the advice laid out in the book.

He has also been feeding them, clearing out their litter tray and playing with them.

Today, a new piece of furniture arrived for them: a scratching post which doubles up as an entertainment centre, with tunnels and hidey holes, as well as a comfy place to sleep on the top. Charlie and his friend unpacked it and set it up, whilst the kittens looked on.

After an energetic play session, the kittens were eventually worn out by the boys' play and fell fast asleep on the top of the tower.

Two on a Tower

Keeping pets is a wonderful way for Charlie to learn about responsibility, as well as to develop a caring attitude towards animals. They have also brought him and his brother together this week, giving them a shared source of delight and laughter.

Saturday, 9 August 2014



A few weeks ago, Charlie discovered a colourful creature crawling along the pavement. It reminded me of the toys - called magic twisty worms - that I used to put into party bags, but there was no invisible thread and it turned out to be the caterpillar of the Sycamore Moth. Back home, we looked it up online and found out what it fed on and what it would become. Charlie was intrigued.

Recently, we came across this fantastic display of butterflies and moths in a local art gallery. We spent a long time looking in wonder at the extraordinary variety of colours and patterns.

Yellow Silk Moth
King Swallowtail

Menelaus Blue Morpho

Spanish Moon Silk Moth

Indian Moon Silk Moth
As Charlie has since shown an interest in finding out more about butterflies and moths, I thought he might like to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, which takes place between 19 July and 10 August.

First, we downloaded an ID chart from the website.

We also needed a stopwatch (we used the free one we just had received for the Change4Life 10-minute Shake Up) and a pen.

Then we walked to a nearby park and spent 15 minutes sitting on a bench, looking out for butterflies. On the first occasion, we were there at the wrong time, as there were storm clouds gathering overhead. Butterflies don't like the cool air associated with approaching rain, or being pelted with rainfall, so they tend to go into hiding. We did, however, manage to spot this one, which Charlie chased across the grass until he was able to get a close-up shot.

It was just our luck that it didn't clearly match any of the butterflies on our ID sheet. The closest match was a meadow brown, but we couldn't see any black spots on its wings.

The following day, we returned. This time, it was sunny, so we were hopeful that we would spot more butterflies. Charlie had brought his binoculars to help him see better.

We spotted the same brown butterfly and this time we were able to get a closer look. Yes, it definitely did have a black dot on each wing and a small flash of orange: a meadow brown. We added it to our chart. We also managed to get a good close-up shot of a Small White butterfly.

Whilst we were waiting for the butterflies, we spotted other wildlife: we saw a large dragonfly hovering overhead, a lot of bees and several dandelion seeds blowing past. Charlie was intrigued by the number of magpies flapping around the park. We counted 12 in all. I looked up the rhyme later and it turns out that '12 is for wealth'. 

As we left the park, we noticed a sign: 'Come and support our fundraising event. All you need to do is arrive, set up your stall and sell. Donate just £10 to us!' Suddenly, here was a solution to the problem of getting rid of old toys, a way to raise a bit of money, as well as an opportunity for Charlie to practise giving change.

Maybe those 12 magpies really were going to bring us wealth.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Choosing what to learn

Learning life skills
'We learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to learn, and when we are choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which we will be learning… Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.'

John Holt, 'How Children Learn'

It's been an unusually quiet week and, for once, we had an empty calendar. Charlie beamed at me every morning when my answer to his, "What are we doing today?" was "Nothing." This meant he could settle back into bed and immerse himself in 'Harry Potter' to his heart's content.

I had an email from Charlie's prospective school, one day, to tell me that they still didn't have a place for him in September, so I decided to make use of the unexpected free time this week to plan topics for next term. It's early days, but I'm working on cross-curricular ideas for a topic on the Titanic (something Charlie asked to study) and another on the Romans.

I had planned to continue semi-structured home education throughout this summer, but it turns out I need a break as much as Charlie does. He is still spending time on ConquerMaths each day and we're practising the times tables when we remember, but that is all the school-type work I'm insisting on. And I can't help noticing how much he's learning at the moment just by following his own interests.

For example, the other day Michael showed him a wooden tray he'd decorated with old stamps, then varnished. 

Charlie was captivated - even more so when Michael handed him a bulging envelope of old stamps and said he could have them. 

A couple of hours of intense concentration later, punctuated by regular questions to Michael about the various countries, their cultures and currencies, and Charlie had created his very own stamp album. He is now interested in learning more about stamp collecting as a hobby.

Another day, whilst sorting through paperwork, I found a pile of spotter sheets on trees from my old membership of NatureDetectives, part of the Woodland Trust. As we were going out, I casually showed Charlie the sheets, not really expecting him to show any interest. To my surprise, his eyes lit up. After he'd worn himself out scooting, we spent the rest of our time outside identifying local trees.

Bearing in mind that we'd found a caterpillar of the sycamore moth recently, we should not have been surprised to discover several large sycamore trees growing in the park, easy to spot not only because of their leaves, but also because of their clusters of winged seeds. Charlie had fun watching them twist to the ground, like little helicopters, and we talked about how clever it was for the tree to spread its seeds this way.

I explained to Charlie that this tree was the 'habitat' or natural home of the sycamore-moth caterpillar, although it is also happy to make its home in other trees such as horse chestnut.

After an extended walk through the local park, we returned home and I found Charlie an unused exercise book for him to display his specimens.

One morning, later this week, I received an email from the local library - a second patient reminder that some books were long overdue. I printed off the list and handed it to Charlie, who spent a long time unearthing them all (possibly as a result of sitting down and re-reading most of them). Eventually, we were ready to set off to the library, where I dropped off the overdue books and we chose new ones. The Summer Reading Challenge was being publicised, but I ignored it. Last year, both my boys had complained bitterly when I suggested it to them and I had decided that I wouldn't push it anymore. Besides, Charlie doesn't need any encouragement to read.

I think it was my genuine disinterest in Charlie taking part in the challenge that caused him to think again. Suddenly, he turned round and said, "Actually, can I do it?" I shrugged. "OK". And soon we were queueing up for his bookmark and stickers and signing him up to the scheme, which is on the theme of mythical mazes this year.

Back home, Charlie came up with a plan to earn enough money to buy a DS game called 'Lego City: Undercover'. He looked up the price online, then asked me if I was willing to pay him to do jobs around the house so he could start saving. "50p a job", he said. Sounded reasonable enough to me. I agreed. Charlie spent some time carefully filling in his account sheet after completing his first jobs.

So, this week he's covered English, Maths, Geography, Science and now Life Skills. And I hadn't planned any of it. 

He also added some PE when he asked if we could go swimming yesterday. Unfortunately, we walked all the way to the pool, only to discover that it was closed for repairs. 

On our return home, we discovered a surprise parcel and Charlie's mood was swiftly transformed from disappointment over the swimming to excitement about the package.


It turned out to be his prize from Pru at Adventures in Home Schooling.


I mentally crossed History off the list of subjects covered this week and left Charlie to enjoy his new book.