Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Big Kids Link Up

Welcome to my new 'Big Kid' link up. I am always on the look out for exciting new resources to supplement our home schooling syllabus but generally I find it much easier to find online information aimed at young children than at older children. It means that my four year old has a plethora of fun resources such as printables, online learning games, books, crafts and songs to go at, yet I often struggle to find anything quite as entertaining for my nine year old. 

It sometimes feels as though older kids are forgotten about a because the are so many new mummy, baby and toddler blogs about. There is quite a fall-off as the kids get older and there are subsequently less 'older-children' homeschool blogs. I thought it was time to balance the blogs somewhat and provide a place for the mums of older kids to link up each fortnight. 

All you need to do is link up a post which shares some of the adventures you have been having with your older child. It can be anything from an interesting day trip to their current favourite book or even a killer Minecraft construction. The key is to share resources which have really interested your older child - it could even just be a photo of a picture they are proud of. Through this shared knowledge I am hoping that the older kids amoung our ranks might not feel quite as sidelined and we will come up with some great ideas to truly inspire them. 

Why every fortnight not every week like many other linkys? Generally books for older kids take longer to read, LEGO creations can take many man hours - larger project need a little more time. 

Who can link up? Anyone who is or has a child over 7 years old. You don't have to be a blogger to join in though - just  leave a comment at the end of this post. 

What are the rules? Keep it clean and relevant - that's it! 

So what is my nine year old obsessed and excited about at the moment? 

Unsurprisingly (like many other 9 year old boys) he is currently very into 'Minecraft'. He has just bought a game companion book called called 'Minecraft - Red Stone Guide'by MOJANG. He thinks that it is incredibly useful and has been relentlessly constructing pistons to move other objects by using red stone dust. You can read all about his Minecrafting in his post which is linked up below. 

He is also finding 'Heros of Olympus - The Lost a Hero' by Rick Riordan incredibly engaging and entertaining. He recently read the Percy Jackson series by the same author and absolutely adored it. Apparently, he says, this book is even better - has anyone read this series already? What fiction book  do you recommend for him to delve into next? 

From my perspective the most useful resource we are using at the moment is 'Fizz, Bubble & Flash,' by Anita Brandolini. This book is an excellent introspection to the elements of the periodic table and is filled with experiments, facts and challenges. 

We have been looking at the periodic table quite a bit and learning what the molecular differences are between particular element atoms and isotopes of elements. He is absolutely fascinated by the Fox show (shown on Sky's National Geographic channel over here) Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, presented by eminent astro-physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Stories of Isaac Newton, Edward Halley, James Clark Maxwell, Galileo Galilei and Albert Einstein have prompted an excitement and interest in science. We are quite excited to find that study guides for each episode are available to take the subjects further. We've only just seen these so more on that later.

As a result of this learning Theo is at present obsessed with a fantastic iPad/iPhone free app called 'Nuclear'.

In this fun little game app you begin with an atom of Hydrogen, a single electron orbiting a single proton. From the bottom of the page you can add either a proton, neutron or electron to build a new element. You have to be quick though because if you add particles that create an unstable element it will decay or explode! Before long you have Helium, Lithium, Beryllium and as you discover the elements in this way the app fills them in on the periodic table. The graphics are pretty cool too with electrons whizzing really fast around the nucleus. Even as an adult it really clarifies how the element atoms work and is a brilliant refresher for those of us with only long-forgotten science lessons on which to rely.

What is your older child really excited by at the moment? Are they academic, creative, intuitive, analytical?

I am really looking forward to finding out and seeing how all these amazing little people construct their own learning.

Thanks for taking part - I will read and reply to each and every one of you. 

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Magical Childhood

We have spent the last two days outside in the sunshine. When the sun comes out we are able to fill a bottle with juice, throw some sandwiches together and then head off for as long as we like. It has been a glorious couple of days for us all. 

We have played in the park, walked as a family for miles through the woods, watched tadpoles, chased butterflies, climbed secret steps, hunted for fairies in holes, spotted birds, counted flowers, spied bluebells in bloom, visited an old hall, examined ruins, told stories, sprinted away from trolls under bridges, laughed at squirrels darting across bouncing branches and dangled our legs off logs as we sat watching fish in a pond. Sounds idillic - yep - it was. The beauty is that we can recreate this entire experience whenever we see fit not just during Easter holidays. If you are considering home education then this freedom is a huge positive to consider. Your child doesn't have to be cooped up in a stuffy classroom all day with the curtains drawn, feeling miserable because what they really want - what they truly desire is to be outside playing in the sunshine. With home schooling the days spent outdoors are just as valuable as the days spent indoors. We learn how the world works, how the plants work, what the air is made of, how to balance, how to take risks, how to navigate and a multitude of other skills. Everyday brings new questions, awakens new ideas and is most of all fun. 

Is their childhood magical? Yes. I believe that it is.

When we have been at home we have engaged in some fun learning activites about life cycles, the elements, decimals and the cosmos. Theo has been enjoying another great book and Tristan has been reading a slightly more challenging book with me. There has been a fair amount of Minecraft in the evenings as well. 

I hope that you have been enjoying the beautiful weather as much as we have. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Excited About Elements

Theo is enjoying learning about the elements so much that we have done little else during the last few days. We have carried out a number of experiments about sodium and magnesium which have been great fun. Theo and Tristan learnt what effect salt has on the freezing point of water by making some ice cream, the experiment itself was a huge success although a little salt leaked into the ice cream making it taste quite disgusting. 

They also crushed spinach leaves in isopropyl alcohol and watched the colours from the chlorophyll gradually bleed along a piece of filter paper. This was very interesting and we will repeat this again with a different colour leaf to see what the difference might be. 

We have learnt about hydrogen in more depth. It was rather fabulous to watch 'COSMOS - a Space Time Odyssey' with the boys and see the amazement on their faces when Neil deGrasse Tyson began to talk about hydrogen - the very same element which they had been learning about. It has added more fuel to the fire and as well as finding out about the elements we will also be examining light. Isn't it wonderful when children are so obviously enthused and inspired? 

We also returned to the electrolysis experiment but this time used foil and bicarbonate of soda in the water. The experiment worked but not as well as we anticipated - I think we need a new 9v battery. 

Tristan found a small fan and a motor at the bottom of another science kit. The boys spent an hour building simple circuits to get the fan working. Theo tried to use the fan to send a current to a compass which should have worked well but we discovered that the compass was broken so any energy he managed to generate was not noticeable. We have lots of resistors, wire etc with which to build circuits but I'd love to get hold of a good circuiting building kit as an introduction, especially for Tristan. If anyone has any recommendations then please let me know. 

We conducted the experiment featured in this months issue of 'Aquila' magazine which was all about snake bites. The experiment we conducted was to see what effect protolytic enzymes have on amino acids. They made jelly and then added fresh pineapple and tinned pineapple. The following day they turned out the jelly to see what had happened. It was an exciting experiment with the added benefit of introducing the children to using a 'control' sample when carry out an experiment. They both enjoyed examining the results and eating the intact jelly, of course. 

We have been on a rather interesting time travelling adventure to Sumer again where the boys found a magnificent artifact. If you have been following our Mesopotamian adventures you will be aware that we have travelled to Sumer on a couple of occasions now and have built up a fairly in depth understanding about the culture. The latest Mesopotamian post will follow in a couple of days so watch this space.

There has also been reading, baking, gardening, walking, Mine Crafting, exploring, running, painting, papier mâché making as well as the daily maths and English sessions. It really has been quite busy but that is certainly the way we like it. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Being a Nature Detective

We can't get enough of the great outdoors as you probably already know. We get out every day and now that the English weather is brightening up our adventures are becoming longer in duration.

We have been using the Nature Detectives website for a long time as it is such a useful resource. We enjoy using the colouring sheets on very rainy days and the spotter sheets as part of our woodland book activities. I return to the site again and again because I can always find something new to inspire the children when they are out learning about nature. 

On one of our longer walks this week the boys used nature dials to help them identify different plants, creatures and birds. We printed the dials out from the website, stuck them on to cardboard and then fastened the dials together using split pins. 

Theo's dial was about wild birds. He was able to use the dial to match the bird to the image and then turn the dial to find out the name of the bird. Tristan's dial worked in the same way but was about springtime mini beasts.

Each of my detectives took along a tool to help with the adventure. Tristan had his trusty magnifying glass to help him spot mini beasts and Theo had his compass. I encourage him to use his compass whenever we go walking to plot the journey - we will do some more advanced orienteering soon. 

Tristan had so much fun hunting through the trees and long grass in search of bugs and bees. He counted four beautiful red admiral butterflies as we explored a patch of dry grass which made him squeal with excitement. Theo spotted some delicate white flowers which lay like a carpet over a section of the woodland floor. I explained that this was a wood anemone and that I knew this because it was low lying and it's petals had purple streaks - Theo added this information to his woodland book. 

Theo identified black birds, wood pigeons, blue-tits and robins by using his dial. We also saw a heron fly over which amazed the children because it looked so large. 

They stopped along the way to make notes in their woodland books. Theo drew a picture of some of the trees he has seen and he also wrote down several descriptive phrases about the woodland. Tristan ticked off all the things he had seen on the journey and also played with the compass for a while.

Before heading home we all just sat and listened to the sounds of the forest. The boys will sit happily in total silence so that they can hear the birds singing. It was a wonderfully calming moment and one which we repeat every day, it is as close as the children come to meditating.

On our return journey we played 'don't wake the birds' which simply involves tiptoeing along the pathway as stealthily as possible. If you pass a bird and it doesn't fly off then you win the game - there are rarely any winners.

We also discovered that our old den had been rebuilt next to the old oak tree. The boys checked out the new construction and agreed that it was rather good. They are planning on adding to it over the next few weeks and I imagine that it will be rather impressive once complete. 

They climbed for a while before we continued on our way. Tristan spotted a couple of holes in the ground which he decided were animal beds. Theo suggested they might be rat holes but I'm not sure - maybe someone could help us identify which animal left these holes?

Back at home the boys tended to their garden patches before going indoors for a good wash followed by a glass of milk each and an apple. 

I want to take the opportunity to thank the Nature Detectives for providing such educationally beneficial and fun resources. They supplement our nature studies very well. 

Disclaimer: All the views and opinions in this post are my own. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Zooming into Space with Rockets & Comets

Children are fascinated by space and my boys are no exception. Their bedroom is adorned with glow-in-the-dark stars, planets and space pictures which help them use their imaginations to jet off on space adventures each night and they have an extensive collection of space themed books both fact and fiction. When we received a package from Orchard Toys and opened it to discover a space themed board game called 'Rockets & Comets' we were all pretty excited. 

Tristan really enjoyed piecing together the jigsaw-like board and putting the little stands on the astronaut characters. Tasks like this help with his manual dexterity which really is an added bonus. The boys were both intrigued by the rocket themed spinner so Theo read out the instructions to figure out what it was all about. Together they worked out the instructions and were able to relay the information back to me. 

The game is based on snakes and ladders however the ladders have been replaced with rocket ships and the snakes with comets. The board is very good quality and it's bright, colourful design make it very attractive. There are black holes scattered around the board which can transport you to a more advantageous position or send you spiraling backwards depending on how your spin of the rocket wheel goes. 

It is an entertaining family board game which we have all really enjoyed playing together. There have been lots of 'ooo's ' and 'arh's' as we've played and plenty of giggles when dad has ended up back near the beginning of the game. For Tristan, it has improved his ability to count beyond twenty which has pleased me and made him very proud of himself. 

We do recommend this game because it is not only great fun to play but it is an excellent maths resource for younger children.

Disclaimer: All the views and opinions in this review are my own. The product was provided to me free of charge but I was not obligated to give a positive review nor did I receive payment.
I only review educationally beneficial products. My review is an honest one. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Homeschool Adventures - Hydrogen, Painting & Plants

I must begin this post by sharing the following picture with you because the title amuses me so much. It may not tickle your funny bone quite as much as it did mine but if you had witnessed the effort which went into this masterpiece coupled with the serious and careful consideration given to the title by him, I think you'd understand why it makes me giggle. Hand on heart, the title is his own.

As you can see, we have enjoyed a couple of very creative days. My boys love to paint as do all children. I believe that it presents an opportunity for self expression which is free from the boundaries associated with and sometimes necessary for other activities. There are no expectations, no rules, no lines - just paint and imaginations. Each swirl, each brushstroke in this painting is a celebration of Tristan's vivid imagination and as with all their paintings it is now proudly displayed on the wall. We find it important to visibly value their creative outpourings because by doing this we are showing the boys how we value them as people, how we value their opinions and value their ideas. 

When I asked him why he had paint on his face he replied 'I've got painty pox' - it is a renowned ailment which commonly afflicts those of an artistic bent.

The boys also made wizards money and toadstools from clay. They are waiting for the clay to dry so they can paint the money gold and transfer it to a secret hiding place. The toadstools will be fired and glazed because Tristan wants to put a fairy circle in his garden patch which will look ever so cute.

They have both become very attached to their little garden areas this week. Tristan has adorned his with all manner of pot creatures, scarecrows, lights and even a candle holder hanging from the rose bush should he require extra light. Theo's is much more scantly populated with just a squirrel and a garishly clad garden gnome. Hopefully the flowers will grow soon and hide said gnome amongst their pretty petals. They have both been tending to their plots by weeding and watering them each evening before bedtime. Tristan is extremely curious to know when his flowers will appear - I can hardly wait to see how excited he will be when he finds the first shoot. 

I asked the boys to choose a herb, vegetable or fruit to grow this year as well. Theo has planted strawberries in his indoor seed tray and Tristan has planted some chives. They have been asked to take care of their own tray and so far they have both remembered to water the containers. 

They have worked on their maths activities each morning. Tristan asked if he could have a table of his very own so we set one up for him - he loves it. I think he feels ever so grown up sitting and working on maths problems at his new desk. Theo is learning how to order fractions and after an initial wobble, he has got to grips with the process and is doing very well. I commend his perseverance. 

We have visited the local library but this has caused quite a large amount of upset because of the renovations. We no longer stand and chat to the lovely librarian as we return, order or check out books because the library is now self-service. It is sterile, impersonal and most horrifying of all - the boys didn't want to go this week. Theo went and chatted to one of the remaining, melancholic looking librarians about his feelings for the new system and she agreed with him. It is quite awful and it annoyed Theo so much that he has written an article about it titled 'Prestwich Library - Takes a Bad Turn'. He is waiting to interview a lady we know on our street who is equally as dismayed by the changes and then he has decided that he will send it to the local newspaper where he is convinced that it will get published. Good for him. 

We have started a new science topic which will continue for a number of weeks. Theo wanted to learn about the elements on the periodic table so after a bit of research on my part, we ordered a book to help us learn all about the subject. 

'Fizz, Bubble & Flash' by Anita Brandolini is an American book which means that there are a couple of words which need to be explained to Theo as we go along but that aside, this is an excellent book. We have started by reading about the elements and why they are arranged on a table and have learned all about Hydrogen. Tristan is taking part in the activities and enjoyed learning what molecules are by using LEGO to represent atoms. He has also enjoyed taking part in our experiment to break H2O through electrolysis today. 

Theo helped his dad wire up two pencils graphites to a 9v battery to create a circuit through the water. We all observed the bubbles forming on the graphites as the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen were broken by the current. Theo said it was 'brilliant'. 

We later replaced the pencils with graphite from retractable pencils which as you can see gave a much better reaction that was much more clearly visible. The hydrogen bubbles could be clearly seen 'streaming' up from the lead.

We have covered quite a few things already this week also including a rather lovely outdoor adventure, a visit from a very dear friend, some Mesopotamian exploration, some coding, reading, baking and Minecraft. I am looking forward to conducting some more experiments this week with the boys.

As is always the case, please leave your comments or queries because I greatly enjoying reading them.