Multiplication


As I was making breakfast this morning, Aaron was telling me all about a duplo aeroplane he had made. He explained that it had “three sets of four wheels”, so I casually asked him how many wheels altogether. Quick as a flash, he answered “twelve”. I was very surprised at his instant reply and asked how he knew. He replied that “two fours are eight plus another four is twelve” and fetched a calculator to prove to me that 8+4=12!

This afternoon as we were walking down to the museum, he suddenly announced that “four fives is twenty!” Again I asked him to explain how he got to that answer and he told me that “two fives makes ten and ten plus ten is twenty”.

Probably 95% of the maths Aaron has ever done has simply been in everyday conversation, based on real life examples or something he is interested in. The remaining 5% (if that) has been a few Montessori activities with manipulatives and the very occasional workbook page for fun. And of course he has recently been enjoying Mathseeds, although that has mainly been revising concepts he already knows and I don’t think he has learnt anything new from it yet.

From the conversations we have had today, I can see that he is developing a solid understanding of numbers and mathematical reasoning. He is able to use what he does know as building blocks to solve new problems. Best of all, he enjoys it! He loves anything to do with numbers and the word “maths” holds no negative associations for him.

As I was writing this post, I decided to have a look back at this list of skills children learn in Reception. A year ago it looked rather daunting, but I haven’t consciously aimed to cover anything on that list. Now, Aaron could fly through those sample questions easily, along with most of the Year One test questions. It’s reassuring, but not really very important as I can see the evidence right in front of me anyway. Life learning really does work!

A bit of this and that


Tabitha made a birthday card for her cousin Henry. I love the way she now draws all of her people with bellybuttons!

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Apparently this is a birthday cake with candles, possibly her first recognisable non-person drawing.

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I created some simple matching/patterning cards to use with our magnetic mosaic cubes as a pre-reading activity for Tabitha.

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Aaron was able to extend his patterns beyond the cards.

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My Granny was visiting last week and we enjoyed some lovely days out with her. Aaron took this photo of her at Rosemoor.

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Aaron has been very interested in the differences between wasps and other insects such as hoverflies and bees, so together we collected photos of the ones we spotted.

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We also went to the North Devon Show, where we saw lots of different animals and watched some fun events in the ring, including Freestyle Motorcross and Pony Club Games. Aaron drove us to distraction by moaning and whinging the entire day!

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A light panel has been on my wishlist for a couple of years and I finally bought one secondhand from another childminder. It has been very popular so far and I’m looking forward to trying out lots of ideas from Pinterest!

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Tabitha struggles with spatial awareness, such as knowing which way round puzzle pieces go. These pattern blocks challenge her but not so much that she finds it frustrating. Aaron likes to build his design off the pattern board as an additional challenge!

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More creativity with blocks. Aaron recently built a brilliant conveyer-belt system, but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo.

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A cheeky monkey showing me her drawing!

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Today Aaron worked with our base ten set as an alternative to the “100 chain” and “1000 chain”. He used arrows to label by units up to 10, by tens up to 100 and by hundreds up to 1000. He often proudly announces to new acquaintances that he can count up to 300, so I thought we would go up to 1000 today. This kind of work familiarises children with the sequence of numbers and shows them the big picture. We also practised counting forwards and backwards by tens and hundreds.

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Tabitha often wants to join in with Aaron’s maths work and gets upset that she can’t, so I set up a little activity for her instead. I’ve noticed that she consistently recognises the numerals “2″ and “3″. She can count objects up to about ten but her finger and mouth don’t always work in sync, so we’re concentrating on objects up to five at the moment!

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Stave House book review


We were recently sent this copy of “Elaine’s Exciting Escapade” to review. The main character of the story is Elaine the Elephant, who tries really hard to be like Celia the Centipede until she finally discovers her own special talent and realises that she is happiest being herself.

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The story is amusing and engaging, with a rich vocabulary to promote language skills. There are some interesting messages and themes throughout the book that would make good discussion points. I particularly like how, at the end, Elaine continues with some of the healthy changes she made to her life, but this time for the right reasons.

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The illustrations are bright, colourful and entertaining. Textual effects are cleverly used to complement the pictures and provide interest, although I did initially struggle to follow the flow of the text in one or two places.

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At the end of the book there are several pages of music and reading activities. Aaron and Tabitha loved clapping the rhythm and doing the actions of Elaine’s exercise programme. Some of the activities are suitable for individual children or small groups, whilst others are ideal for larger classes. There are suggestions for extending the activities for older children, making them suitable for a wide age range.

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This book is a lovely addition to the Stave House resources and I hope to see more stories about the other characters coming soon!

Disclosure: I received this product for free but the opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Our curriculum and resources for 2013/14


At the moment we are very autonomous and unstructured in our approach to home educating. On the days when I’m not working, we have no routine and often every day is different. The children are free to play or make use of resources such as our Montessori materials whenever they wish. I follow their interests by providing more information about a topic and suggesting ways to extend their play. Occasionally I plan and set up a specific activity but most of the time we are completely spontaneous. A lot of learning happens out and about, just living our daily lives or meeting up with friends.

I’m planning to introduce a bit more structure from September (yes, I know I’ve said that before!). The children will be at Steiner kindergarten one day a week and I will be working two full days per week, so I feel like our time together needs to be a bit more organised. Here is a summary of the curriculum and resources we are planning to use.

Bible

Aaron attends Sunday School and Wednesday Bible Club every week and a Christian Home-Ed group every fortnight. He enjoys learning memory verses and recently memorised Psalm 100 for Sunday School, so we will gradually be memorising all the verses from our ABC Bible Verse Book and hopefully finding some corresponding choruses or hymns to learn alongside.

English

Aaron will continue using Reading Eggs and working his way through the pink/blue/green Montessori language materials. He still finds reading rather frustrating at times and much prefers writing, so finding the right balance between gentle encouragement and not pushing him too soon is tricky.

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Tabitha is starting to show an interest in reading and writing. She recognises a few letters and can write the letters T and I. This week she pretended to read something, breaking the words down into individual sounds and syllables for the first time. She will be using sandpaper letters and initial sound objects to learn phonics. The sand tray and wipe-clean workbooks will help her practise letter formation.

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Maths

Aaron is loving Mathseeds at the moment and has raced through most of the levels already. He usually does some each day, so I hope they continue to add new levels often enough to keep him busy! We will carry on working through the Montessori mathematics scope and sequence as described here.

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Music

We use Stave House (see my review here) to teach notation and rhythm, which both children love. Aaron has just started taking piano lessons with my mum. I am also planning to restart violin lessons with Aaron after a long break and begin them for the first time with Tabitha.

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Science

We have started working through my KHT Montessori physical science album, aiming to cover one short topic per week or one longer topic per fortnight which should keep us busy for most of the year. I may add in some of the other five science albums over the course of the year.

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Computing

We have gone down the path of limiting screen time because Aaron can’t self-regulate and too much time on the computer has an negative impact on his behaviour and imaginative play. He usually gets 20 minutes during the day to use Reading Eggs or Mathseeds, and a further 20 minutes in the evening to play Minecraft or Scribblenauts Unlimited. There is lots of information available about the educational benefits of Minecraft, but Scribblenauts is a game I had never come across before. It is a puzzle game which uses words to create objects and encourages divergent thinking. Aaron uses a picture dictionary to help him write words independently. I originally looked into tools like Alice and Scratch, which are designed to teach children programming, but they are mostly recommended for ages 8+ and unsuitable for beginner readers.

Of course our learning will not be limited to the subjects and resources mentioned here, these are simply the things I will be focusing on as we attempt to build a gentle routine and rhythm. I must dig out my Project-Based Homeschooling book again as I’d love to include more child-directed project work. I’m also hoping to enroll Aaron in some kind of extra-curricular activity, probably gymnastics as he is spending a lot of time trying to do cartwheels and headstands at the moment!

The best classroom


It feels like we are not doing anything remotely academic at the moment, which isn’t quite true as Tabitha has been enjoying tracing letters in a wipe-clean workbook and Aaron has been doing Mathseeds nearly every day. But we are spending a lot of time with family or outdoors, because summer will be gone all too soon. Today we went to Marwood Gardens, armed with binoculars, magnifying glass and an I-spy countryside book. We talked about bees, damselflies and ripples. We saw a baby moorhen, lots of ducklings and a buzzard. We felt different textures of tree bark. We spotted flowers for every colour of the rainbow. Aaron and Tabitha pretended to be a king and a princess in a tree stump “castle” and ran around defeating “baddies”. They are experiencing life and the world around them, and right now I think that’s more valuable than any academic subject they could be studying.

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The Charcoal Challenge


We were recently given £50 from MoneySupermarket to throw a fantastic summer barbecue, so Colin and I took the opportunity to invite both sets of parents for a family get-together at the allotment. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and Colin’s parents couldn’t come for health reasons, so we phoned around a few friends at the last minute!

The children and I spent this afternoon making a pompom garland to decorate the shed. I’ve never used a pompom maker before (my mum taught me the old fashioned way using circles of cardboard) but the children found them pretty easy to use. The only slight frustration was that the loose end of the yarn kept getting in the way or tangled with the working yarn.

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Colin and I purchased our first ever reusable barbecue a few weeks ago from Maplin for the bargain price of £2.99. A large bag of charcoal cost £5.50 and we also bought a £2 disposable barbecue for extra cooking space, which turned out to be useless. It barely warmed the vegetable kebabs and certainly wouldn’t have cooked any meat! The ingredients for the vegetable kebabs (cherry tomatoes, courgettes, mushrooms, peppers and red onions) came to £5.54, but I only used about half of the veg. Tabitha really enjoyed helping to thread the chopped veg onto the skewers.

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There was lots of time to relax and chat whilst we were waiting for the food to cook. Aaron and Tabitha helped to pick runner beans and blackberries, Uncle DJ tried out the children’s tiny slide and we enjoyed occasional moments of sunshine.

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I paid £8.10 at the butchers for 18 burgers (he kindly threw in half a dozen for free as they had run out of our favourite lamb and mint ones) and 8 sausages. The burgers were lovely, the sausages were not. Colin thought they would be nicer than supermarket ones, but from now on I’ll be sticking with my favourite 97% meat or even Tesco Finest. I am definitely a sausage snob! 4 packs of various bread rolls came to £2 and we used my dad’s little gas stove to fry up some onions with a pinch of sugar and some balsamic vinegar.

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For pudding we cooked foil parcels of fruit on the barbecue, costing £10.30. I adapted the recipe from my Marks & Spencer “Easy Summer Food” book, which I’ve been wanting to try it for years. It’s very simple, just chop up peaches, nectarines, blueberries and raspberries with the juice of 1 orange and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. We served it with natural yogurt.

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And of course no barbecue would be complete without marshmallows to toast!

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I spent £14.19 on various extras such as drinks, crisps, salad (my verdict is don’t bother as nobody seems to eat salad at a barbecue!), salad dressing, coleslaw, potato salad and pickled onions, bringing the total cost of our barbecue to £50.62. It was a wonderful evening with friends, family and far too much food! We’re looking forward to using our bargain barbecue again, hopefully with Colin’s parents next time.