Birthday Fun!

K is eleven years old today. She is so grown up now – it’s hard to imagine that she was once a teeny squidgy baby!

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I am so pleased and proud of the girl she has become, and each day she is more and more wonderful.

The day started early with her leaping onto our bed and jumping up and down, yelling “It’s My Birthday! I’m Eleven!” I had to point out that 5.42am was not her Birthday, as I do not function before 7.30! So she had to wait a little while for celebrations. When we finally agreed to wake up (it was only just after 7!) she was thrilled to be given her first mobile phone – a big deal when you are her age! She also laughed when we gave her a wrapped up dictionary! (Well, she did need a new one!)

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The morning was spent with a visit from Nana who delivered her new bike (now a full size ladies bike. Her legs are so long!) and the afternoon in the company of six friends. They decorated cupcakes, played outside in the sun, watched movies and ate pizza.

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Happy Birthday big girl!

Writing

As I have mentioned here before, J was never a big writer while at school. We were told that she wasn’t able or willing (they weren’t sure which!) to write more than a few words. Last June, when we embarked upon our year of travelling, I began our school year together by asking the children to write about anything they wanted. Whatever made them most happy or that they were interested in. J chose My Little Ponies, and proceeded to write six pages, complete with illustrations, about her favourite toy.

This kind of illustrates J’s approach to writing. If it’s something she really cares about or has a great interest in then she will write and write for hours. Otherwise she  will show little interest. She’s very all or nothing! So I am on a constant mission to find the next engaging thing.

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Her handwriting is also a bit spider like and her spelling can be erratic, although with some thought she will usually get there by herself in the end! We have been trying out a new pen and pencil, by Stabilo, which claims to be able to help with proper pen positioning and handwriting. J has been getting along with it rather well. I do think that the pencil is very expensive, but she seems to enjoy writing with it and, perhaps, her handwriting has improved!

(No – I haven’t been paid to write about these pens. I bought them from a shop with my own money but thought that someone else might be interested in what we think of them!)

Ancient Egypt

We have started a new unit on Ancient Egypt. It’s so hard to know what to look at in depth with this topic. The period covered by Ancient Egypt went on for three thousand years – that’s a lot to cover!

We have started with a look at the landscape and have made a collage of the Nile. We have picked out the green, fertile land along the banks of the river by using green tissue paper, whereas the rest of the desert is shades of orange.  As we talk about the different tombs and temples, towns and cities we will add them to our map.

The Nile

The Nile

While the girls were cutting and sticking I read to them from Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders – Egypt. They found the stories in this book very funny so our morning of crafts sped by with lots of giggles!

Hanging out on the timeline

Hanging out on the timeline

We have strung up a timeline in our dining room/workroom and have marked on it the main periods of time in Ancient Egypt. We are finding that this helps to see how all the events are spaced out, and also to help visualise how the years BCE work – with the bigger numbers being at the left side of the timeline, meaning that 2000BCE is longer ago than 1,000BCE, which takes a bit of getting used to.

J made some notes, with help, on the different time periods while K wrote more extensively on the features of each. We talked about the many Gods and Goddesses worshipped back then and J designed and wrote about her own Goddess – modelled on her stuffed rabbit. We made some Top Trumps cards about the different deities and had loads of fun playing the game, which was a fantastic way to remember different facts without feeling like trying too hard! K wrote a couple of notebook pages about religion in Ancient Egypt, too.

Goddess designing

Goddess designing

Ancient Egyptian Top Trumps

Ancient Egyptian Top Trumps

Both girls spent some time looking through the many library books we have borrowed on the period. They looked at Egyptian fashions, clothes and jewellery. Then we had a bit of fun making some pseudo-egyptian jewellery. Out of paper plates. You have to use your imagination!

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Maths Curriculum

Maths has never been my strong point. When I was at school, I was in the second-from-the-top set, so I couldn’t have been too bad at it, but I had, and still have, little confidence around numbers. I know how to use a calculator and I can work out the essential, every-day stuff but I still break out in a cold sweat if someone says “Simultaneous Equations” or “Trigonometry”.

I think this is a pretty constant theme among a lot of Home Educators I have spoken to. I know that maths is important, I know that my children should do it, but, because of my lack of confidence in the subject, I worry that what I am teaching them may be utter gobbledegook.

K is about to turn 11 and would be starting Key Stage Three in year 7 in September (which would be 6th grade in the USA) and she is reaching the point in maths where her workbook questions sometimes confuse me. I can usually work out the answer and can sometimes show her how I worked it out but whether my methodology is sensible or should be shared is another matter altogether! J is 7 and still tackling the basics so, for the most part, we can work through things together.

Last year, while we were travelling, we used a combination of age and stage appropriate workbooks and online maths from Khan Academy to help with her maths. This worked to keep her ticking along but, now we are home and settling down to a more structured Home Ed routine I wanted to come up with a better structured maths curriculum.

We started with CGP books. I have heard great things about these and so ordered the Key Stage 3 Study Guide from Amazon. She happily worked independently through the first few pages, which were revision of past skills rather than new information, and then moved on to the harder stuff. However, I did think that, since each page is mostly explanation that she was not getting much practice at each new skill. I know that, when I learn something new, I have to do it MANY times before it sticks! And I think that she was struggling to retain new things from this book.

So, to support her learning I then downloaded worksheets that I found on the internet to go with the topics on each page, to give her more practice. This worked kind of OK, but she got angry if the worksheets and the workbook used different terminology or methodology.

This week, we have had a couple of meltdowns from K about maths. She finds the explanations in the book hard to follow. She doesn’t retain the new skills even once she has completed the work and she doesn’t enjoy doing the workbooks or worksheets. These books are great, but they just don’t seem to be right for us. I don’t want maths to become a battleground and I don’t want schoolwork to be miserable for her. Something has to change.

Every child learns differently and it is clear that these workbooks just don’t seem to compliment the way that K learns. So we have gone back to the drawing board! That is the great thing about Home Ed – if one way of learning isn’t working, we can change it about and try something new.

K was keen to go back to some web-based learning. Khan Academy last year was great (and free!) but since it is based on the US Common Core (their equivalent of our National Curriculum) not everything fits in with our way of learning. We have been trialling the free parts of Conquer Maths and K has got on really well with the video lessons followed by printable worksheets that can be instantly marked when you input your results. I asked about maths programmes on a couple of Facebook groups I am a member of and, for her age, Conquer Maths is by far the favourite among other Home Educators. We were also given a discount code for 40% off their fees. Since Hubby has only just started work again after more than a year off for our travels, this spend was not a decision we have made easily but it feels like the right one. 10 minutes after signing up, K got onto the laptop and whizzed through four lessons happily. With those she made a mistake on, she went back and re-did them so her current score is 100%. She’s a perfectionist!

So we are now happy with our new curriculum solution for maths. I have also signed up for J to use Conquer Maths too, as adding an extra child was very reasonable, and for her we will be using a combination of both workbooks/worksheets and screen work. I think she still needs to be able to be able to work things out with a pen and paper, and often requires manipulatives to help her out too. She is a much more tactile learner than K, who likes to have things explained to her and to try it out for herself.

We are back to happy maths. Long may this numerical bliss reign!

Happy maths again!

Happy maths again!

Our Busy Week

We have had such a productive week. Here are just some of the things we have been up to!

J continued with her project on electricity and circuits, and re-wired some plugs

J continued with her project on electricity and circuits, and re-wired some plugs

K did some cooking

K did some cooking

We made pool noodle boats and talked about friction and why they travel better on water than on land.

We made pool noodle boats and talked about friction and why they travel better on water than on land.

There was a lot of reading

There was a lot of reading

Multi tasking reading

Multi tasking reading

Outdoor Geography

Outdoor Geography

We got a Lego Story Starters kit free - and J had a great time creating her own tales with Lego

We got a free Lego Story Starters kit – and J had a great time creating her own tales with Lego

J Wrote some stories using an iPad app

J Wrote some stories using an iPad app

They climbed

They climbed, when we were so early at the library that it wasn’t open yet!

We went to a Home Ed meet-up at a splash park

We went to a Home Ed meet-up at a splash park

K acted the fool!

K acted the fool!

Thursday was just too nice to do anything other than play Lego in the garden while eating ice lollies

Thursday was just too nice to do anything other than play Lego in the garden while eating ice lollies

K did a Freerunning demonstration at the Leisure Centre, while J did a beautiful gymnastics routine!

K did a Freerunning demonstration at the Leisure Centre, while J did a beautiful gymnastics routine!

Competitive Uno and Other Things

Our week ended wit some work on the computer. We are returning to our theme of Writing, and talked about formatting in word processing programmes. We used a piece of text about the idiosyncrasies of the English language, and changed font style and size. We looked at both the mouse clicks and the keyboard shortcuts to underline the text, make it bold and italic. This led to looking at other keyboard shortcuts and formatting options, including cut, copy and paste, left, right and centre justify, changing line spacing and paragraph indents.

After that K spent some time crating a poster for her bedroom wall, with different fonts and sized text. She printed it on red paper and is very proud of her work.

Meanwhile, J looked at illuminated letters used in medieval documents. She coloured in some print outs and designed her own.

We finished the week by meeting some friends, which ended in a hilarious game of twister and some very competitive Uno!

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Literacy and Science

The girls have both been getting on with their own projects this week. K decided to do some research and a lapbook on herpetology – the study of reptiles and amphibians. I bought a lapbook template from CurrClick which contains lots of useful information. It’s a little old for K, as it’s aimed at highschool students, but she is doing really well sifting out useful bits and pieces and is trying her best with the more advanced stuff.

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J wanted to have a play with an electronic circuit set we have had for a few years and found in the loft last week. We started by setting out some basic circuits – a power source and a light, then added other things like a buzzer, a switch, a button, resistors and much more. We then had a lot of fun seeing what materials conduct electricity and J then wrote about these in her science notebook.

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Inspired by something I’d seen on Facebook, we had a bit of fun by using a motor in the set to make some spin art. We made a circuit to power the motor, then attached a piece of cardboard to the top to use as a plate. We added pieces of paper and then had lots of fun!

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J has decided that she wants to write about circuits in a lapbook of her own, so while K is busy researching slimy creepy animals, J is playing with electricity. I love that they are having so much fun by following their own interests!