Monday, 26 January 2015

Multiplication Explorers

I have just signed up for this online course @ Natural Maths: Multiplication Explorers. I am hoping it will provide opportunity for both my eager and reluctant mathematicians to enjoy learning more about multiplication together. It certainly sounds hands on and in tune with the way Maths ought to be explored. Best of all, it's a name-your-price initiative. Why not take a look ...

Pin It

Monday, 19 January 2015

"Anything school can do, you can do better"

"Anything school can do, you can do better," says 30 year-old Chupi - home educated in the 1990s and now running her own successful jewellery design business.
Pin It

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Great Artists Project

As part of his Arts Award, my 11 year old decided to study The Great Artists. We read a bit of biography, then look at and discuss some of their work. He chooses a picture to 'copycat' - naturally ending up with a piece all his own. Then, finally, he attempts an artwork 'in the style of' the artist in question. I am working alongside him, and sit and make my own attempt. This way, the parent alongside, we learn and try together - and it is a good opportunity for me to sit and relax and get creative too!
(I will add more pics to this post as our project progresses ....)



Pin It

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Curriculum and Capability

People often ask if we follow a curriculum, or assume we must follow The National Curriculum. We don't. There are many curricula available online now, and tempting as it sometimes is to have a set plan laid out to follow, curricula never really work for us. Sometimes we follow topics. A topic might spring from the boys' interests (a fascination with steam engines, for example) or from something we encounter in our life together such as discovering a swarm of bees in our garden. Sometimes I suggest a topic and pursue it with them for a while, for example, last term we learned about the abolition of the slave trade. Sometimes my suggestions develop well, and lead on to fruitful projects. Other times, I have to acknowledge that it is not worth pursuing because the boys just don't engage so we let it go. In any case, it gets me thinking ... Curricula are just programmes of study which someone has put together. Someone somewhere, be it a politician or an educational ideologist, has decided to include this and not that on their curriculum, that one thing is important and another thing isn't. But who is to say that they have chosen correctly, or that what is right for them will be right for us?

Our country puts great emphasis on numeracy and literacy. I once read an article about a family who had spent some time living in an African country where their daughter had attended school. Great emphasis in that system was placed upon balance and the ability to stand on one leg for prolonged periods was practised and tested. In Turkey, chess was a significant feature of our eldest son's nursery experience. Yes, chess ... in nursery! And this leads me to consider again our expectations of children at different ages and stages.

Over the last few weeks, my eldest son, who is now 13 and still loves chess, decided to introduce his youngest brother (not yet 3) to the game. What is interesting is the way in which our toddler has engaged with this, not always grasping the moves his brother is showing him, but listening attentively to the 'story' of kings and pawns and remaining focussed and attentive to the 'game' for sustained periods. I wonder if his big brother is remembering the way in which he was introduced to chess as a small child - in a foreign language. It is lovely to watch when the boys engage with one another like this, but it also makes me think about what we expect of young children.

Once when I accompanied our third son to nursery, because he was so upset I couldn't leave him, he was sat in a small group with 4 or 5 other children and a teaching assistant where they looked at shapes and named them. Now, I know that my child was able to name his shapes. I know from numerous conversations, games and picture book readings with him at home. However, will the child 'perform' what is asked of them at a particular time in the context of school or nursery? Maybe. Maybe not. My son didn't. He was silent. A very cheeky (clever) child, with a twinkle in his eye, misnamed them deliberately. What might be going through a child's mind in this situation? Bearing in mind, my current toddler could name his shapes at 2, by age 3 and a half, perhaps they are thinking this is pretty simple and boring. Perhaps they liven the activity up by making a game of it and calling a square a circle. Who knows? In any case, the nursery teacher will tick the box "Can identify shapes correctly" or not! Judgement is passed.

It is limited, though, isn't it? Our perception in that moment. The contrived situation really tells us nothing at all about what a child really knows or is capable of.

So I ask you, is it better to fit a child to a curriculum, or to try and tailor a curriculum to a child?

Pin It

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Dollshouse on a Budget

My husband says it was a present for me really, and perhaps he is right. When asked what he would like for Christmas, our youngest son (who will be 3 in March) said, "A little house for my little people". He loves role playing with little characters ... Lego minifigures, Duplo men, Playmobil people. So I started to look around for a little house for him. I looked at Playmobil, but he is still too little really for all the tiny pieces. I looked at wooden houses, some of which are incredibly expensive, and the cheaper ones seemed to be very basic. Then I came across this one which I mail ordered from Toys R Us. I thought the price tag (around £30) was pretty good considering it had a proper opening front and came with some furniture, and a family of little people.

But I was inspired by the reviews and comments people had left, some of which showed how they had painted the dollshouse prior to assembling it. This is something I have always wanted to do, so I decided to paint and wallpaper the house ready to present on Christmas morning. It took a bit of effort, but I was pleased with the finished result. To buy a little house fully painted and decorated would have had a much higher price tag.

The house arrived in pieces, so by studying the instructions, I could see which piece would go where. I lightly sanded the pieces of the house which I wanted to paint, gave them one coat of primer / undercoat and then two coats of either white gloss or blue duracoat. I was a little limited by our budget right before Christmas, so I restricted the colours. We already had white gloss in our shed, and I managed to do the blue with just one tester pot of paint which cost about £1.50.

The wallpapers were downloaded from Jennifer's Printables where there is an amazing selection of wallpapers as well as brick, wood and tile designs. These can be downloaded and colour printed. I then cut them to size for the appropriate rooms, glued them into place with PVA and covered them with PVA to provide a varnished finish. I covered the floors of each room with a wooden flooring design too. Having prepared all the separate pieces, I was so pleased with the result when I put the house together ....

.... And on Christmas morning, I think our little boy was pretty delighted too! (I tried not to be too precious about it when he decided to add his own pencil design to the roof!)

Pin It

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Christmas Lectures

I cannot recommend highly enough The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures, this year being broadcast on BBC Four on 29th, 30th and 31st December at 8.00pm. This year, the theme is: "Sparks will fly: How to hack your Home" with electrical and electronics engineer, Prof Danielle George. Our boys always get such a lot from these brilliant lectures, which will spark interest, ideas and conversation and are always of the highest quality. Recommended family viewing!

Pin It

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Writing: Waiting and Readiness

In an earlier post, "Spring Sunshine, Challenge and Training Wheels", I wrote about a child's readiness to acquire a new skill, and how much stress and angst can be avoided if we can just wait until the time is right. Just as a baby learns to crawl and then to walk at their own pace, and we delight in their first tentative steps, so other skills might be acquired by different children at different ages. My second son is not naturally inclined towards numbers and mathematics, so we haven't pushed his maths too hard since he came out of school. However, I have noticed that he has acquired mathematical concepts naturally through living, learning and talking so that, now aged 11, he does not seem disadvantaged alongside his schooled peers. Telling the time, for example, can be pushed at a certain age by the school curriculum, but actually requires a number of skills to come together ... a concept of time, the 5 times tables, fractions ... It is actually quite a complex thing, and may cause problems for small children. Writing is another thing which is pushed so hard from such a young age in school when, actually, the fine motor skills required are still developing. I know from talking to other Mums, that writing can be an area of particular frustration to boys. So, what happens if we just back off?

Well, my third 'unschooled' son is now 8, and has recently appeared to want to write more. I have noticed little notes appearing around the house, and he has sat down a few times to write his "Minecraft" manual, both by hand and at the computer. He now has quite a good knowledge of words and spelling, acquired by reading, talking and just helping him to spell words when he has wanted to. So all the knowledge that is required to actually begin to put words and sentences together is now in place. Also, aged 8, his fine motor skills are much more refined than they were at 4. And, if the interest is there, then it seems to me the time is ripe for writing. What harm is there in waiting for this moment? Well, in school, children need to sit and be busied for long hours, many of them in confined spaces. That is just part of the challenge and nature of schooling the masses. But, in other countries formal schooling doesn't start until much later than here in the UK, and this seems to me a good thing. Why is there this continual push to get children learning formally younger and younger?

I suggested to my 8 year old that we might work a bit on his writing now, perhaps it would help him to write more quickly and to be able to get his ideas down as he wants to. (He was a little frustrated the other day by the slowness in development of his manual.) He seemed keen on the idea, so we have begun to work on forming his letters correctly. I bought him a workbook. It is for Ages 5-6. I said, "Don't worry. In school, children have to do certain things at certain ages, but that is not the case for you." He hasn't seemed bothered about that. And we have been doing a little every day. He forms some of his letters a little awkwardly, perhaps more so because he is left handed, but now that he knows the letters and what they look like so well, it is not nearly such an issue to practise forming them. We intend to move on next to a book which will help him to join his letters. Whilst I think this is a useful skill, I do not think that, in the modern, technological age in which we live, it warrants the hours which our primary schooling affords it. He will get there, at his own pace and, in the long term, what difference does it make? I hope he won't hate writing. I hope he will enjoy it as just another skill to master now he is willing and able. I hope years of free play and the experience of learning outside of school will have enriched his vocabulary and will enrich his writing and help him to be better able to communicate and to express himself. I hope so.

In the summer, this same 8 year old learned to swing independently. As with his cycling, I long wondered when he would acquire this skill. You might think it is late in happening. At the park, he has always asked to be pushed on the swing, and we have pushed him, but shown him how to swing himself, to no avail. He hasn't really been interested. Suddenly, this summer, something clicked and he could do it! Such delight. The sense of achievement, whenever it comes, is well worth waiting for.

Pin It