Busy bee

Our dressing up chest is rather empty. At the moment it contains a pirate hat, a crocheted eye patch and a foam pirate sword. So when the mum who organises our home-ed group activities rang to say that the children would be dressing up this week but pirates were out, I had one evening to make an outfit out of supplies we already had around the house.

After making a mental list of what materials we had available and a quick web search for inspiration, I decided to do a bee. Aaron is interested in insects and sometimes pretends he is a bee buzzing from flower to flower.

For the wings I drew two overlapping circles on the side of a sturdy cardboard box and cut it out. Aaron helped me to paint both sides yellow.

I used a pair of black stripy knee-high tights to stretch over the wings. Any pair of black tights would probably do but the stripy ones gave a really good wing-like effect. The shoulder straps were made out of ribbon threaded through holes.

For the body, I found an old black shirt of mine and a pair of black trousers that are a bit too short for Aaron. I cut up lots of strips of yellow fabric from my material bag. The power supply and pedal for my sewing machine has gone missing somewhere in the chaos otherwise known as our loft, so I used PVA glue to stick the strips onto the clothes.

For the antennae, I used two pipe cleaners and two pom poms. First thing this morning I nipped over to the shop and picked up a cheap yellow head band to attach them to.

Here’s Aaron after wearing his costume for two hours in the park this afternoon, so it’s a bit muddy and he’s wearing a jumper underneath for warmth.

Tabitha was a pumpkin as I didn’t have time to make her a proper costume. She wasn’t very willing to pose for the camera though…

…until Daddy bribed her with a piece of blueberry muffin.

Speaking of which, I found a great recipe for “sugar-free” blueberry muffins which I’ll share tomorrow.

Random ramblings about Steiner

I’ve added a page on Steiner to the Educational Styles section. Steiner education is something that I’ve been interested in for a while but haven’t known much about until recently. About two years ago I noticed posters in our town advertising a Steiner mums and toddlers group. I never got round to enquiring, although I read their blog from time to time and realised that the meetings had moved to a countryside location that would be difficult to get to anyway. I was interested to hear that they were setting up a Steiner Kindergarten school and decided to do a bit more research into it. Fast forward a few months and I’ve also met several of the lovely families involved with the project at various home education meets.

I love the simple, natural approach that Steiner education seems to follow. It reminds me of my life-long dream to go back to the kind of lifestyle described in Little House on the Prairie! In the early years it encourages imaginative play through toys made of natural materials and limits media exposure, both of which make sense to me. I’ve certainly had a rethink about the kind of toys we buy for the children since learning about Steiner.

I’m not quite so keen on the emphasis on art and creativity throughout the later school years, nor on the fact that children copy their lessons (very often in the form of intricate drawings) from the blackboard straight into their work book. The Steiner approach doesn’t really seem to cater for different learning styles and I think I would have been driven mad by all the artwork as a child! I remember regularly coming home from school fuming because I’d had to do more “colouring in”. I would also have been very bored without any formal learning until 7 as I was the kind of child who really needed the academic stimulation.

However, my main objections are due to my Christian faith. I don’t agree with the anthroposophical views on reincarnation and karma, Christ and Satan or the second coming of Christ. I would be concerned about the daily morning verses, the blessings said for food, the esoteric patterns used in craftwork and the emphasis on mythological creatures. Although Steiner education celebrates all religions and anthroposophy is not a direct part of the curriculum (the principles are mainly used for training teachers), I simply don’t feel comfortable exposing my children to it.

So Steiner education is not for our family, but I still feel that I can take a lot of positive things away from their approach. It’s changed the way I think about toys and imaginative play. I will also make more of an effort for the children to spend time with nature, whether that’s simply playing in the mud or growing vegetables. I might also set aside a corner for a nature table, which is a popular Steiner idea. Storytelling is something I need to work on, I love reading books but find telling stories much harder.

It’s been that kind of week

You know, the kind where nothing seems to go right (like sugar-free banana muffins that collapse as flat as pancakes when you take them out of the oven) and nothing seems to get done. Tabitha has been fussy all week so I’m exhausted and grumpy. She did have an excuse for the first few days as the poor girl had three teeth coming through at once. It feels like we’ve done nothing at all but in reality that’s not quite true.

At the beginning of the week Colin moved some furniture around in the study/schoolroom and we had a good clear out. We’ve been to homeschool meets, a birthday party and played outside in the sunshine. The children have wandered around the house naked, mainly because undressing herself is one of Tabitha’s newest accomplishments. We’ve read loads and loads of books. Aaron’s current favourite is “Fix-It Duck” and he knows it so well that he can fill in any words that I leave out. He’s also keen on the Gumdrop series and likes to re-read books to Tabitha after I’ve read them.

The only remotely creative thing I’ve done with the children was building a duplo house this afternoon. Aaron has been playing with it ever since. He made soup in the kitchen and then served it up at the table, complete with a warning that it was hot. He got one of the men to climb up the tree, he made the little girl go down the slide and he took the mummy and baby for a walk in the pushchair before putting the baby to bed because she was tired.

And here’s a few photos of my cutie pie, just because she makes me smile even on the bad days.

Counting objects

I just had a very proud mummy moment when Aaron picked up The Very Hungry Caterpillar from the bookshelf, sat down on the floor and read it to himself. When he got to the fruit pages he pointed at each one and counted them perfectly. “One apple. One, two pears. One, two, three plums. One, two, three, four strawberries. One, two, three, four, five oranges.” Although he’s been counting and naming numbers in order for ages, that’s the first time he’s managed to count so many objects without any mistakes at all.

How to build a cardboard castle – Part 2

This is what I ended up with after Part 1. Time to transform it into a proper castle!

First the castle got a couple of coats of dark grey paint to cover up all the writing on the boxes.

Then I mixed up a lighter grey and used a sponge to try and give a mottled stonework effect.

Next I used a very pale grey for the stonework at the edges of the walls and painted the drawbridge brown.

I was planning to add detailing with a black pen, but all the pens I tried just scraped the paint off. I ended up using black paint and a fine paintbrush instead.

I printed some flags onto card and stuck them into slits cut in the top of plastic straws. I was planning to use some wool to make two ropes for the drawbridge but haven’t got round to doing that yet.

A couple of playsilks became the moat and surrounding grass.

And here’s Aaron enjoying playing with the finished castle.


Nautical theme bedroom

This has absolutely nothing to do with home education but a while ago I shared how we made salt dough sea creatures for Aaron’s bedroom. I was asked to post photos when it was finished and finally got round to taking some.

The bedding and bunting were from eBay, the curtains were from Argos. I bought the round canvases from Wilkinsons and painted them (very badly) myself.

The life-ring came from a gift shop in Poole. We got the octopus towel from Boots ages ago.

And of course there’s the salt dough fish hanging in a toy net that my Grandma gave me a few years ago.

I might add a fishy lampshade, some seashells and a few beach shop knick-knacks at some point, but I’m fairly pleased with the overall effect. It’s the first time I’ve ever done (or had) a themed bedroom so it was quite exciting to see it gradually come together. My next project will be Tabitha’s room!

Tissue box toy

I’ve had this lovely idea from Anna bookmarked for a while. (Incidentally The Imagination Tree is one of my favourite sites and is full of wonderful ideas for small children. I highly recommend a visit!) When I first saw it I remembered how much fun Aaron used to have emptying packets of wipes and felt quite guilty that Tabitha never has the chance to do this because we use reusable wipes! So yesterday I got out my material bag and cut up about twenty different squares, which I put inside a tissue box along with the small playsilks. Tabitha had time for a quick play before bed.

I also figured out why my photos have been so blurred recently. The flash settings on my camera have been wrong ever since I got it back from repair. I wish I’d noticed sooner as it would have saved so many photos!

Dyeing playsilks with food colouring

Tacey over at The Good Enough Parent shared this very helpful post about Dyeing Playsilks. I’ve been wanting to buy some for a while so I thought I’d give this a try instead. I bought four 90 x 90 cm silk scarves and six silk handkerchiefs. The scarves were out of stock so the store lady kindly replaced them with 110 x 110 cm for the same price. All of that cost me about the same as one or two proper playsilks. I haven’t dyed the big ones yet as I need more vinegar, but here are some photos of the handkerchiefs. I’m planning something for Tabitha with these.

Unfortunately my dyeing session came to a premature end thanks to this.

I couldn’t get the cling film off one of the bowls so I stupidly took my oven gloves off. I was planning to just loosen the edge with my nails and then put the oven gloves back on to peel the cling film back, but the pressure had built up so much that the steam came whooshing downwards as soon as there was a tiny gap for it to escape. My index finger was burnt quite badly with some of the skin peeling slightly, while my middle finger fared a little better. After holding my fingers in cold water for two hours I went to bed with an ice pack strapped to my hand and crying like a baby. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must be to have severe burns all over your body. Fortunately it is feeling a lot better today. Now I just need to buy some more vinegar and dye the big silks for Aaron to play with.

How to build a cardboard castle – Part 1

Whilst browsing for ideas to use up my empty toilet rolls, I came across this. But although I was inspired, I wanted something a little more like the castle that my brother and I spent hours playing with at my grandparents’ house when we were younger. In the end I came up with something completely different and my toilet rolls are safe for another day!

castle 21 Cool Toilet Paper Roll Creations

To make the castle I used two empty veg boxes. They are usually returned to be reused but for various reasons we haven’t placed an order for a couple of weeks and so the boxes had been sitting around in our under-the-stairs cupboard. As one box wouldn’t have been tall enough for a castle, I decided to stick the second box upside down on top of the first box. This actually turned out really well because the rims along the top edges of each box became the battlements for play figures to walk along. If you don’t have boxes like these then you could use one taller box and make the battlements separately.

I cut the base out of the second box (it’s upside down in this picture).

Next I marked out where I wanted to cut, turning the corners of the box into towers.

I got a bit distracted by Tabitha whilst I was cutting this side and ended up cutting out the wrong set of squares!

Here is the second box after I’d finished cutting it. The bottom bit was once the top of the box and the top part was once the base.

Then I stuck the two boxes together at the rims and used pegs to hold it in place until the glue dried. You can see how I’ve cut the crenels and merlons (nope I didn’t know what they were called until I looked it up) correctly on the front wall but not on the back.

It’s nowhere near finished but I think it looks quite impressive already! Come back soon to see how we make the drawbridge and decorate the castle.

Waldorf window star

While the children were in bed I decided to make a tissue paper rainbow star to hang in our window. I followed the tutorial here. It was very easy and didn’t take long. I cut my squares to about seven inches and it made a good sized star. I’ve put it on the sliding doors onto our balcony as that side of the house gets loads of sunshine. Can’t wait to see what it looks like in the daylight, although I probably should have cleaned all the smeary little handprints off the windows first!


Making your own Montessori maths materials

Until recently I hadn’t really considered how to teach Aaron maths. At the moment he is learning through play and experience with real objects, which is fine. I had a vague notion that somewhere along the line we would start introducing workbooks. Then I discovered a completely different approach whilst I was researching the Montessori method. Mathematics is full of abstract concepts. The Montessori materials provide sensorial impressions of mathematical concepts, beginning with concrete experiences and gradually moving towards the abstract. My geeky side was thrilled to discover the likes of wooden fraction circles, Pythagoras boards and long division pegboards.

I was browsing through some Montessori maths supplies online and wondering if I could possibly afford to buy one or two bits, when I suddenly had an idea. Why not make my own? Whilst some of the advanced materials are definitely too complex to make, the first few sets look fairly basic.

By reading through the mathematics section at Montessori Primary Guide I was able to work out which materials I will need to begin with. For learning numbers through to ten the main materials used are number rods, sandpaper numbers, spindle boxes and numbers and counters. I then looked up the materials on Absorbent Minds, which seems to be one of the cheapest UK Montessori suppliers.

Number rods are ten graduated rods marked in alternating red and blue paint. The cheapest set online was £20.39. I’m planning to make the rods (well okay, get hubby to make the rods) out of planed square edge timber, which costs £1.30 for two lengths from B&Q, and then paint them with acrylic paints.Number Rods

Sandpaper numbers are tactile numbers on green board. The shop price was £17.99. A sheet of hardboard big enough for 50+ tiles costs £4.88. Fine sandpaper costs £2.88 and I already have green paint.Sandpaper Numerals 0-10

Spindle boxes have numbered compartments and 45 spindles. These sets cost £33.59 to buy! For the boxes I will use two craft boxes costing £1.99 each. For spindles I will probably use dowel moulding at a cost of £2.56 for four lengths. Unfortunately they won’t be as easy to grip as the spindles shown here, but I couldn’t think of a better alternative.

Spindle Boxes 0-4 and 5-9

Numbers and counters consist of number cards and 55 circular counters, costing £15.59. There will be plenty of hardboard left over from making the sandpaper numerals for this. I was thinking of using large buttons for the counters but it works out quite expensive to buy that many, so pennies from the penny jar will work just as well.

Numbers and Counters

So that’s four sets of maths materials worth £87.56 for approximately £15.60! I have the feeling we’ll be making a trip to B&Q next week. I want to dive in and get started straight away, but it will have to wait as we need to borrow some of my Dad’s tools. There’s no rush anyway, as we probably won’t be introducing formal maths learning until closer to Aaron’s fourth birthday. If my DIY attempts are successful I’ll post photos and instructions!

Threading and colour matching

Today’s skill box was all about threading. I wanted to involve Tabitha too, so we started off with a wooden train that had dowels for threading blocks with holes.

First Tabitha pulled the blocks off the train. Then she realised that she could put them back on again, which was a bit harder and required her tongue poking out in concentration.

Meanwhile, Aaron was organising the blocks by shape all on his own accord.

Then we moved onto threading pasta. The laces I picked up from the corner shop yesterday turned out to be too thick, so I had to borrow some different ones from a lacing toy we have. Aaron actually found this quite difficult as the pasta holes were quite thin and long. He only managed a few pieces before giving up and moving onto something else. His attention span seems really short this week, I’m not sure why!

This is a different twist on the colour matching caterpillar we did before. I printed out a circle with different colours onto card and then painted the ends of wooden pegs to match.

Aaron loved matching up the colours but was less keen on putting the pegs in place. Pegging is great for all the little muscles in his hands. Again he lost concentration pretty quickly and wondered off to play dens underneath the table with Tabitha.

Wise words about wind

Walking home from town this afternoon, Aaron was struggling to catch up and called for us to wait. When he reached us he explained “the wind is pushing me”. Then he turned around, ran back in the opposite direction and shouted “Aaron push the wind”! Got to love the way little minds work!

Feathering the nest

Tabitha had her one year review with the health visitor today, so we didn’t have time to go to Home Grown Kids this afternoon.  Instead we made a bird’s nest for our spring display. I cut out a semi-circle of card and Aaron covered it with glue. Then we stuck on twigs, lichen, feathers and wool. To my surprise, Aaron wasn’t really interested in this bit so I did ended up doing most of it.

To make a blossom branch, we scrunched up some tissue paper and stuck it on a stick.

We made some chicks with pompoms, googly eyes and yellow paper for the beaks.

Pouring and spooning

In today’s skill box was a bag of rainbow rice, a set of funnels, a measuring jug, a narrow container, a set of bowls and some measuring spoons.

I briefly showed Aaron how to pour rice through a funnel and then let him experiment.

He found that the rice tended to get stuck in the funnel neck, so he tried pouring straight from the jug instead.

He tested what would happen with two funnels.

Then he decided to spoon some of the rice into the bowls. He noticed that some of the measuring spoons were bigger and some were smaller.

You would have thought that by now I would know never to leave a 3 year old alone with messy stuff. It looks like I’m a slow learner. Tabitha woke up from her nap so I went to get her and came back to the sight of rainbow rice all over the sitting room floor! I told Aaron to get the dustpan and brush and clean it up. I was quite impressed when he went off to the kitchen, got the dustpan out of the cupboard and started sweeping it up! The task was a bit beyond him though, so I spent the next 20 minutes crawling round on my hands and knees. Lesson learnt this time? I hope so.

The wipe-clean letter and number tracing books I ordered from Amazon arrived today. Aaron was so excited when he saw them that he wouldn’t wait for me to finish cooking pancakes and just plunged right in.

While we were at the park this afternoon with some other home educators we collected some twigs, lichen and feathers for our bird’s nest. I don’t think we’ll have time to make it today though, so it will have to wait until later in the week.

Spring is in the air

Our topic at the moment is spring. We have a noticeboard by our dining room table where we usually pin our lapbooks up for a week or so. However I’m not planning to make a spring lapbook, so I thought we’d put some other decorations up instead.

First Aaron made a fluffy lamb by sticking cotton wool onto a sheep that I printed on card and cut out.

Then we made a daffodil. Aaron enjoyed painting the egg carton centre. Here is the template we used for the petals. For the stem we used a pipe cleaner.

Here is the noticeboard so far. It’s looking rather empty at the moment. Tomorrow we’re planning to make a bird’s nest, but first we need to gather some twigs, leaves, moss and feathers. I’d also like to do some tissue paper blossom on a stick. Any other ideas for spring decorations or projects are welcome!

Thoughts on Montessori

As I’ve become more involved with the home educating community, I’ve seen that different things work for different families and there are many ways of going about homeschooling. Although I have heard of various educational philosophies such as unschooling, classical, Montessori, Steiner and Charlotte Mason, I’ve become increasingly aware that I don’t really understand the principles behind some of the methods and how that might affect the day-to-day reality of home education. I want to learn more about different approaches, partly so that I can incorporate things that would work for our family into my ideas and partly because it’s difficult to understand someone if you don’t know what they’re talking about!

So mainly for my own benefit, I’ve added an Educational Styles section to the menu and I’ll gradually be writing overviews of the various different pedagogies and approaches to home educating. I started off with Montessori, for no particular reason other than that it was easy to find plenty of information on it.

My initial thoughts on Montessori are that it is particularly suited to a nursery or primary school setting. I love the various different materials but there is no way we could ever afford to buy or make more than a few of them. I’m not convinced that the hands off approach would work for every child, as I don’t think Aaron would always be able to learn a skill from seeing it demonstrated just once and he would get very frustrated attempting to complete it by himself. Then again, that might not be a problem in a setting with all the Montessori materials, as it would be easier to match activities to the child’s ability and the difficulty increase between each set of materials would be smaller. As a very scientific person, I do like the fact that the materials tend to be focused on language and maths rather than art. Many of the skill boxes I’ve been using with Aaron are inspired by Montessori activities. Reading about the sensitive periods was really interesting and something that I will definitely bear in mind when planning our work.

I did come across an amazing website, www.infomontessori.com, which is a guide containing exercises for the four areas of learning for 3 to 6 year olds. I also just noticed this paragraph on the home page, which pretty much answers my doubts above.

“Overall, what makes this method of learning so different compared to the conventional form of education we have today, is that the teacher does not stand in front of the class and teach each child the same lesson all at once. Each child is allowed to learn at his own rhythm in a way where he feels as though he is in fact not learning or being taught.

Montessori called this way of teaching “preparing the child for success”.  The teacher is there to guide the child through small Exercises in which the child will succeed. Through time, the Exercises rise in difficulty but because the progression is so well thought out, the child never feels as though learning is a struggle.”

Cress Eggheads

Today we went to the garden centre and Aaron bought a packet of cress seeds. He loves paying for things by himself and knows exactly what to do because he has watched me go shopping so many times. Back at home we stuck some googly eyes onto empty washed egg shells and then drew mouths with felt tip pens. We put some damp cotton wool inside the egg shells and then Aaron sprinkled some cress seeds on top. I put the eggheads inside a plastic bag and they will spend the next few days in a warm dark cupboard.

Aaron has a very busy social calendar nowadays! On Monday afternoons we try to go to the local Mini Music group. We’ve been going for about a year now and Aaron knows some of the songs, but his favourite part is definitely playing with the toys at the end. He’s starting to interact really nicely with some of the other children.

On Tuesday afternoons we meet up with some local home educating mums, usually in the park. There is a group activity followed by free play. This week it was so bitterly cold in the wind that none of the children wanted to stand still for the activity, so we walked back to one mum’s house instead. Her three year old insisted on giving his favourite toy train “for Aaron to borrow”, which I thought was a lovely way of encouraging sharing. So Aaron is looking after the train for a week and I’m hoping that he will want to let E borrow one of his own toys next week.

The Home Grown Kids meet takes up most of Wednesday by the time we’ve caught the bus there and back. We were in a different building this week and it had a well-equipped playroom and an outdoor play area, which Aaron loved. He spent hours just running around and going down the big slide. Several people commented on how confident and outgoing he is, so at least he doesn’t seem to take after me in that respect!

I keep meaning to take him to story time at the library on Thursday mornings, but I think we’re going to have to skip that for now as otherwise we won’t have time for anything else!

I haven’t done any Funnix work with him since we were all ill, but today he initiated some letter recognition by crawling under Colin’s desk and exclaiming that he could see an “m”. It was actually a capital “E” on its side, but it did look just like an “m” so I didn’t tell him that! Then we picked up a nearby tractor magazine and he spotted letters in the article titles on each page. Next week I’m hoping to recap all five letters and then begin the proper Funnix lessons the week after as I think he’ll really enjoy that.

Since he traced the days of the week in our caterpillar lapbook he has also shown lots of interest in tracing letters and numbers. I’ve had this and this on my wishlist for ages so now I think it’s time to order them!

Fun in the sun

Today is the first day I’ve felt more or less human since catching conjunctivitis and a nasty virus from Aaron. Sorry for the lack of blog updates but there really hasn’t been anything to say. We’ve done pretty much nothing for about a week and a half now. That hasn’t stopped Aaron learning though. We figured out a few weeks ago that he could definitely identify the colour pink. This week he has also correctly identified blue, orange and white at various times in conversation. It has taken such a long time but I think we’re finally starting to get there with colours!

It’s been a lovely sunny day, so I opened the balcony doors for the children to play outside. First we got out some cars and then I remembered a great idea I saw over at The Imagination Tree. So I fetched some big sheets of paper and squirted some paint onto a plate.

Aaron experimented with a few different patterns. His favourite was making a “ladder”. Tabitha did have a quick go with the cars but she preferred to practice navigating the small step through the balcony doors. Washing the cars in the mop bucket afterwards was great fun for both of them. Then I stripped off the kiddies, put them in the shower and hosed them down! Tabitha’s legs are still a rather peculiar colour though!