Friday, 24 October 2014

An outing: science and art in one day

The Observatory Science Centre

I had planned to take Charlie to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich to see a planetarium show this week, but it turned out to be closed for maintenance on the only day we could go. Instead, we decided to go to the Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux - one of Charlie's favourite places. This would support our studies on space, as well as being a fun day out.

One of the best things about the Herstmonceux Science Centre is that every exhibit is interactive, so it's all about hands-on learning. We spent about two hours there, with Charlie running from one exhibit to another, keen to try everything out. As well as the exhibition called Earth and Beyond, which covered the Solar System and tied in with our current topic, there were also exhibitions on: forces (covering concepts of magnetism, air pressure and electromagnetic force); time; light and colour; and the arts of Art which featured a giant art machine.

Watching the effect of gravity in a black hole

A model of the planets in our solar system

Learning about the moon's phases
Identifying the constellations
Examining a real meteorite

Finding out about our planet
Building a house to withstand an earthquake
A plasma ball
Creating an artwork out of light, then emailing it home
Learning how to build a clock

Outside the centre, there is a Discovery Park which is is a playground of large-scale interactive exhibits designed to help you explore force, movement, genetics and sound. Charlie was so busy trying everything out that he didn't even notice the gloomy weather.

Building a dam

Climbing to the top of the DNA frame

Learning to balance on the Balance Board
The Archimedes Screw: turning the screw to raise the ball

Eventually, Charlie ran out of steam and admitted that he was tired and hungry. By then, it was drizzling with rain, so we drove to the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne for lunch. After reviving ourselves with a snack in the cafe, we spent some time exploring the new photography exhibition, 'Twixt Two Worlds', the exhibition 'Land and Sea' (depictions of sea and landscapes in film and photography) and the fabulous newly opened Ravilious Room. Although I suspect Charlie enjoyed riding down in the enormous lift just as much as any of the artwork on display.

By the time we left the gallery, in the late afternoon, we were tired and ready to return home. But it had been a wonderful, varied day out. 


Next week is half term and we won't be doing any structured learning, which gives me a welcome opportunity to catch my breath and spend a bit of time planning for the next term. There is also a Halloween get-together to plan and a friend's birthday party.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Space: the final frontier

For the past week, in addition to our regular studies, we have continued learning about space. I have made use of some ready-made lessons from Planbee, a website which offers  'complete ready-to-use primary teaching resources including lesson plans, worksheets, slides and more'. I was wary of paying for these lessons, but actually found them very useful and time-saving and will probably use them again. 

We began with a lesson on the Sun and the Solar System. I hid 'fact cards' around the house and set Charlie the challenge of finding them all. He really enjoyed this.

Where else could this card go?

Once Charlie had found all ten cards, I set him the challenge of answering a questionnaire about space, using the information on the cards as guidance.

After that, Charlie set about matching definitions to the correct words.

In our next lesson, we looked at the relationship between the Earth and the Sun and explored why we have night, day and the seasons. We watched this video first:

Our viewing was briefly interrupted by one of the kittens, complete with head cone.

However, once the kitten had been removed, we were able to continue with the lesson by looking at the slides provided with the PlanBee resource.

Charlie and I discussed what we'd read, then he set about recreating the explanation for himself using Lego to represent the Sun and the Earth. After he'd finished, I asked him to explain what he'd learnt using diagrams. His drawings and labelling showed that he had understood the explanation very well.

After we'd finished, Charlie completed an exercise from his Galore Park Junior English book. I had chosen a chapter for him that focuses on the Moon. Charlie read about the Moon landing in 1969 and answered the accompanying questions on the text. Then we watched a clip of the Moon landing on YouTube.

I always try to supplement Charlie's learning with trips out, but my planned trip to the planetarium at Greenwich this week fell through. Luckily, we found an excellent alternative which I will write about in my next post.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The solar system and other projects

Painting one of the planets

Charlie has done a lot of hands-on learning over the past week. Some of it was planned by me, but most of it was of his own choosing.

He has been very busy in the kitchen, using the Usborne First Cookbook as his guide.  

First, he made garlic bread, being very careful to follow the steps in the recipe.

Then he decided to make a recipe called 'Juicy Oranges', which only required oranges, lemons and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. It was absolutely delicious.

He also wanted to use up the leftover clay from our recent science experiment to make a cup and spent quite some time concentrating hard on this.

This week, our studies have moved from the depths of the ocean up to space. When I suggested we make a model of the Solar System, Charlie was very enthusiastic. We spent some time looking up the planets and working out what we would need, then made a trip to our local art shop to buy our supplies. We bought a selection of polystyrene balls in various sizes to represent our planets, as well as a large sheet of black cardboard for the display. We already had a variety of acrylic paints at home.

Once home, I sliced the balls in half, as we were planning to stick them onto the card, rather than hang them up, then Charlie set about painting them, using books and the internet as his reference.

We labelled the balls with the planet names first
Charlie found an image of the Sun online
He mixed colours to match each planet
Painting Neptune

The finished results

We then left them to dry overnight. The next day, we set about painting the stars on the black backdrop. I discovered the easiest way to do this was by using my meat thermometer, which had a tiny, sharp point.

Once that had dried, we carefully placed the spheres on the backdrop, taking care to put them in the right order from the Sun. We ended up with 11 spheres because Charlie had particularly wanted to include the Moon and Pluto, as well as the Sun and the eight planets.

Charlie was very pleased with the result.

This morning, he was able to recite the names of the planets in order, simply because he had learned them effortlessly by working on this project. Just to make sure he remembered them, however, I told him about a mnemonic he could use: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Tom contributed by suggesting that, as Pluto has now been demoted (and we all agreed that we felt rather sorry for Pluto), the mnemonic should now say, 'My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nutella'.

We interrupted our study of the Solar System to watch the BBC's 'Ten Pieces', which aims to inspire children to love classical music. It includes a variety of works from the familiar, such as Beethoven's 'Symphony No 5' and Mussorgsky's 'A Night on the Bare Mountain', to the more contemporary, such as Anna Meredith's 'Connect It'. Aptly for us, it begins with Holst's 'Mars' from 'The Planets'. 

The film is available online (see here) until 2 November.

Continuing with the space theme, Charlie has done some English comprehension, looking at a poem about the Moon in our Galore Park textbook.

And he has spent some time online, looking at several websites I'd found for him about space and playing games to reinforce his learning.

The websites Charlie most enjoyed were:

Earth, Sun and Moon Play (part of the Sarah Jane Adventures) on

Earth, Sun, Moon on

Learn About Space on

Earth and Space on

Earth and Space on

This week, we have also been outside, looking for conkers and berries. 

I printed off some resources from the very useful Nature Detectives website, part of The Woodland Trust. Charlie loved the neat little conker-collection bag that we were able to download and make (see here) and had soon filled it with shiny new conkers. 

We also used the Nature Detective's ID list for Autumn fruits and seeds to identify the various berries we discovered during our walk.

After a busy week, it was good for Charlie to be able to relax with the new edition of Aquila , a children's magazine full of puzzles and articles. He has read all his older brother's copies and is happy that he now has his own subscription. This month's edition focuses on fungi. Forthcoming topics cover the mechanics of music, storytellers and robots.

On the wall behind Charlie's bedside table, you can see a glimpse of his weekly timetable. He likes being able to see what we'll be doing over the week. We will be continuing with our space theme next week, then it's half term and we'll probably take a break.