Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Science workshop

Most of the Easter holidays were spent pottering, playing and reading, but for one afternoon we attended a Family Science Workshop on materials and matter. Charlie had enjoyed learning about the properties of materials at school and it was the first subject he'd wanted us to study together when he left, so I assumed this would be right up his street.

The workshop was set up by The Making Place, a charity which aims to 'excite and inspire the public about science and technology' by running hands-on science experiments. It was held at Zu Studios, an art centre filled with artworks and unexpected treasures. 


The workshop leader started with a brief discussion about the changing states of materials and asked us what would happen if we mixed hot wax with ice. Slabs of ice were handed round and the children were soon enthusiastically banging them to pieces to make them small enough to fit into plastic beakers. Scraps of wick were balanced in the centre of the beaker, then the children queued up to have hot wax poured over the ice . 

We were able to observe the hot wax slowly solidifying (changing state) as it cooled. By the end of the workshop, we were left with candles to take home. 

In another experiment, we lit candles in water and added Alka Seltzer tablets. As the tablets dissolved, they released carbon dioxide, thus starving the candles of oxygen and putting out the flame.

Charlie and I have already mixed bicarbonate of soda with vinegar to create volcanoes, but in this workshop we added the bicarbonate of soda to vinegar in a balloon and then watched the balloon inflate. 

We ended the workshop by creating honeycomb toffee - like the inside of a Crunchie bar - using sugar, syrup and bicarbonate of soda.
Finally, the workshop leader asked for two young volunteers and together they demonstrated the differences between states of matter by dancing: for solid matter, they stuck together and did very ponderous, slow dancing; for liquid, they held hands and danced freely; and for gas, they separated and danced individually. I thought it was a clever way of explaining the concept and I suspect Charlie will not forget it.

Shakespeare Week

'The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good'  Robert Graves

The week of 14 - 20th March was Shakespeare Week, a national annual celebration aimed at children of primary-school age. As I signed up as a home educator, I was able to access the free resources, including a Shakespeare passport, as well as two films.

During the week, we learned about Shakespeare's life, starting with this clip from the BBC website. Every morning, I read to Charlie from 'Twenty Children's Shakespeare Stories'. I was disappointed in these, to be honest. I didn't like the illustrations and didn't think the stories were especially well written. However, Charlie was happy to listen to them and they did at least give him an outline of the plays. He chose to listen to: 'Macbeth', 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. 

I was much happier with the copy of 'Henry V', which I bought separately from the above collection. It looks as if this is a later edition from the same series which has been updated and improved. It is illustrated by the popular children's illustrator Tony Ross and the story is written in a far more entertaining style. We read this together before watching 'WillShake', an abridged version of 'Henry V' performed entirely by young children (available to view on Digital TheatrePlus until 26 April). Only 15-minutes long, this was beautifully produced and short enough to succeed in holding Charlie's attention till the end.

I can't say the same for the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of 'Love's Labour's Lost', shown in a live online performance towards the end of the week. This was too long and verbose for Charlie, who lasted until the first interval, then wriggled off the sofa to get a drink and didn't come back. I couldn't blame him. I knew the subject matter wouldn't grab him ("It's about love? Yeugh!") and thought it an odd choice as a play to inspire primary-school children to love Shakespeare. It was a wonderful production which I enjoyed, but I suspect many young school children struggled with it.

Friday, 20th March brought a very exciting event for a child like Charlie who loves anything about space: a total solar eclipse. 

We didn't have any special glasses, so were prepared to experience the eclipse using either a colander or pinhole projection. 

As it happened, the morning was overcast and the sun well hidden behind cloud. Nevertheless, we went into the garden at the appropriate time and waited for something to happen. It was subtle, but there was a darkening and stillness in the air, as if a storm was brewing. 

Afterwards, we watched Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain presenting 'Stargazing Live' on BBC2. After the, admittedly, slight anticlimax of our cloudy partial eclipse, watching the absolute darkness fall across the Faroe Islands was impressive.

The following week was the last one before the Easter holidays. I put away the textbooks and we spent the week mainly following Charlie's interests, with maybe a little direction from me now and again.

Bug hunting

Map reading

Homemade butternut squash and sweet potato soup

Learning Times Tables using rhymes

Reorganising books alphabetically
Learning about Australia with Little Passports
Drawing the Sydney Opera House
Photographing ninja cats
Lots of walks to the local park to enjoy the spring flowers

Buds appearing on the trees
And lots of time to just hang around...
The main advantage of home education is that it does not have to be like school at home: your child can learn through conversation with interested, engaged adults, trips out, travel, watching television, using the internet, reading, experiments and so on. Some home-educated children don't do any formal learning until they choose to sit exams. I know all that, but sometimes I still make the mistake of relying on too many textbooks and asking Charlie to demonstrate his learning on worksheets. These may have their place, but there are so many other ways to learn, especially when you're only nine years' old. 

During the Easter holidays, we are taking a break. Charlie will be playing games, going out, meeting up with friends and relaxing at home. I'm sure there will be lots of learning going on, but it will be untested and unrecorded. And that's absolutely fine.