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.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Museum of London

The term 'home education' can give the impression that home-educated children spend all their time stuck at home with their parents. In fact, home education gives children the opportunity to learn outside in the world, rather than being in a classroom all day. Of course, schools offer school trips, but they are usually once or twice a term, whereas home education offers the chance to go out as much as you want. 

For the last two days this week, Charlie's learning took place outside home. On Thursday, we caught a train up to London to visit both the Museum of London and the poppy exhibition at the Tower of London.

The museum explores the history of London and its people. One of the many things I love about it is that it displays its collections chronologically, which helped Charlie to understand how historical events unfolded over time.

After lunch in the cafe, we began our tour in the 'London before London' room, which looks at 'the story of the Thames Valley and the people who lived there from 450,000 BC to the coming of the Romans in AD 50.' (Museum of London website)

The most important element of the prehistoric material is the collection of some 900 pieces of Bronze Age and Iron Age metalwork, mostly recovered from the Thames. It is one of the largest such collections in the country and has been - See more at:
The most important element of the prehistoric material is the collection of some 900 pieces of Bronze Age and Iron Age metalwork, mostly recovered from the Thames. It is one of the largest such collections in the country and has been - See more at:
The museum's prehistoric collection includes a large number of artefacts from the Bronze and Iron Age, mostly recovered from the River Thames. Charlie enjoyed the opportunity to touch some of the flint tools, noticing how incredibly sharp they were. An accompanying video showed how the tools were used: for instance, for cutting meat. We were all impressed by how easily the flint cut through flesh.

A highlight of the collection is the reconstructed face of a Neolithic woman, known as 'the Shepperton woman'. She was found in Shepperton, dug into a grave in the remains of an ancient sacred site. She is approximately 5500 years old. There's an interesting article on her by the curator here.

We spent some time browsing through the rest of the museum's prehistoric collection, looking at the skull of an extinct auroch (ox), which once lived in the wilderness of prehistoric London, pieces of Bronze and Iron Age metalwork and many flint and stone implements.

The collection ended with a recreation of part of a Celtic roundhouse, showing how the wall was constructed to make it weatherproof. The museum website features a short game called the 'Roundhouse Challenge' explaining how such houses were built, which we will be looking at next week.

We then moved into London's Roman period.

All change - welcome for some, not so much for others

Charlie was particularly interested in the two Roman architectural models. They were cleverly laid out at child's eye level, which meant he spotted things that we didn't notice. For instance, he noticed that two of the figures inside a model house were playing 'chess' (probably Roman chess or latrunculi).

A model of Romans building a bridge over the River Thames

Two people playing a board game

A model of the civic centre in Londinium

 After this, we entered a recreation of a Roman street.


 This was followed by displays of the interiors of Roman houses.

A reconstructed Roman dining room, dating from approximately 100AD

The interior of a wealthy Roman house

A Roman kitchen
Display of Roman food

There was so much more to see in the museum after we'd left the Roman collection. First, we looked at a timeline on the wall and Charlie was able to see where on that line the Romans were and then find the Titanic era, which we were studying before half term.

Here are a few of our personal highlights:

A model of the Globe Theatre

A Penny Farthing

A Unic taxi licensed for use in 1908

Selfridges lift, 1928

A model road and railway set
Children's TV from the 1960s

We also really enjoyed the film about the Great Fire of London.

It took us about half an hour to walk from the Barbican to the Tower of London to see the poppy exhibition. The pavement was packed with spectators and I was worried that Charlie wouldn't be able to see, but a man generously moved out of the way to make room for him at the fence.

I explained to Charlie that the exhibition marked the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, with each poppy representing a British soldier's death. Both myself and my husband had great uncles who were killed in the war, something which Charlie and I will be learning more about later, as part of his education about World War I.

The exhibition was beautiful and moving, but it was also heart-warming to see all the people there who had made the journey to see it.

The following day, we had another day of learning outside the home, when we travelled to our local home-ed meet-up. This week's theme was 'The Human Body' and several parents had brought in books, games and worksheets. One mother had brought in several large rolls of paper, so that children could draw round the outlines of each other with pens, then add in the organs or bones. There was also the opportunity to play table football or snooker or to visit the outdoor playground. It was a really relaxed and enjoyable meeting and I liked having the chance to meet fellow home educators.

Charlie constructing a paper skeleton

Outlines of children's bodies, with organs drawn in
A table of books, worksheets and a model of the human skeleton

We travelled home by train. On the way, Charlie spotted this beautiful rainbow outside the train window.

The most important element of the prehistoric material is the collection of some 900 pieces of Bronze Age and Iron Age metalwork, mostly recovered from the Thames. It is one of the largest such collections in the country and has been - See more at:

Roman studies

Roman mosaic in the Museum of London

This week, local children returned to school and Charlie and I reverted to a more structured timetable again. Many home educators don't follow school terms, but it suits us this way.

Practising letter formation with the help of our cat, Mittens

Our new topic is the Romans. Although home educators do not have to stick to the National Curriculum, I prefer to follow its guidelines, although I also like the fact that I have the freedom to diversify. The National Curriculum for Key Stage 2 states that children must study the Roman Empire and its impact on Britain, with the new History curriculum emphasising a slightly more European focus. We will also be studying the Celts, which is also part of the National Curriculum.

For this topic, I have downloaded a series of lessons from PlanBee, as I was so impressed by the two lessons I bought from them on space recently. Each lesson provides a teacher's plan, worksheets and slides. Extras, such as card games, are also often included. I find Charlie prefers these lessons to textbook studies. For our Roman studies, I bought the combination pack called 'Invaders and Settlers: A Roman Case Study', which includes seven lessons. I also downloaded their free assessment grid, which allows me to assess what Charlie has understood from our lessons.

We began by looking at the meaning of the words 'invade' and 'settle' and learning to place the Romans on a timeline. I helped Charlie to understand how long ago the Roman invasion was by explaining that it was the equivalent of 250 times his eight years of life. This gave him some sense of how long ago it was. (I can't take credit for this idea - it was suggested in the PlanBee lesson plan).

Completing one of the activities on the Roman invasion

Charlie particularly enjoyed the card game that accompanied this lesson, which easily helped him learn the date of the successful Roman invasion of Britain by Claudius in 43AD and the year the Romans withdrew from Britain, as well as consolidating his understanding of the concepts of invading and settling. I realised he had no understanding of the terms 'BC' and 'AD', so we looked at those too.

In our second lesson, we explored how and why the Romans invaded Britain. We looked at pictures of Roman soldiers, their weapons and what life was like for a Roman soldier.

Throughout our studies, we are listening to the BBC's podcasts on the Romans, which explore the history of the Romans in Britain through drama and comic sketches. They are designed for children aged nine and over.

The Horrible Histories series provides some entertaining sketches on the Romans too. This week we watched these two:

In my next post, I will write about our trip to the Museum of London, a museum which contains an extensive Roman collection.