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!

Authorised absence

Not much learning happening this week as Aaron is ill. He has a high temperature and a snuffly nose. He’s hardly eaten anything for days and he complains that just about every part of his body hurts. The poor lad has spent most of his time either in bed, snuggled up on the sofa watching DVDs or half-asleep on my lap.

We did meet up with a few local homeschooling mums in the park on Tuesday afternoon, which was lovely for Aaron as the children ranged in age from three to about six. He was too ill to go to Home Grown Kids yesterday, which was a shame as this week’s craft activity was making wind catchers. We spent all week gathering shiny things to use and it was actually quite difficult to find things of a suitable size for a younger child. We’ll have to make our own when Aaron is feeling better instead.

Plato on early education

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement; this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child.”

– Plato

Transferring skills

We didn’t get much done today as hubby took me out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a quick peek inside Aaron’s transferring skills box this afternoon.

The box contained a set of small bowls, a puree tray (which has only been used once in the last three years, hopefully it will get more use as a toy!), a bag of pom poms in various sizes, salad tongs and a set of four different tweezers.

Aaron found the tongs fairly easy to use but the tweezers required a lot more concentration! He resorted to picking the pom poms up with his fingers a lot.

It’s rather blurry, but this was one of the moments you only have a few seconds to capture before the subjects have crawled off to do something else! They picked up two blocks each and were banging them happily. It’s so cute when they play together.

The schoolroom

I admit it, I’m obsessive about organisation. I like lists, plans and having a place for everything. If I don’t have a plan it tends not to get done. If I don’t have a place for everything it tends to get horribly untidy! So it made sense to start gathering all our educational supplies into one main place rather than scattered all over the house.

Yesterday we bought a cheap wardrobe for Tabitha’s room, which freed up the two sets of plastic drawers that her clothes were previously stored in. I spent this evening moving them up to the study and filling them with clutter homeschooling stuff.

The drawers on the left contain craft supplies, apart from paint and glue which are kept in a box on top of my Welsh dresser. The middle drawers have learning materials for letters, numbers, shapes and colours, as well as lapbooking supplies and a few other activities. On the right is equipment for skill boxes including materials for pouring, transferring, sorting, matching, fine motor skills, threading and stacking.

As I was typing this I realised that I also need a place to store all the home education books/catalogues/leaflets/papers that my mum passed down from when I was homeschooled! I guess they can go in that empty box on top.

I’ve been eyeing up storage solutions that could be used as a workbox system, but they are all so expensive. This week I found some cheap £2 boxes in Wilkinsons and realised they were just the right size to fit on our shoe rack, so the shoes have been dumped in a plastic basket instead!

At the moment we won’t always be using all the boxes or working through them in a set order, as our learning is still very informal. Our daily box setup will probably include a Bible memory verse, an activity for the weekly topic, learning some letters and a skills box. Hopefully I will get the box contents ready each evening so that we’re organised for the next day!

It’s not new, but here’s a quick photo of our reading corner. I have a thing about books facing outwards so that the covers can be easily seen. My dream solution would be rain gutter shelving, but it’s not likely to happen. A comfy beanbag and a sensory basket are on my wishlist to complete the quiet corner!

When I’ve got round to tidying up I’ll take a photo of the whole school/office room. 😉

Water cycle lapbook

At the beginning of the week we talked about sunshine. Aaron now knows the word “evaporation”, although he tends to call it “ation”! We boiled the kettle and watched the water turning into steam. He tore and cut up some yellow paper, then glued it onto a paper plate. He painted some yellow triangles to stick around the edge.

Next we talked about clouds. We tried dipping balls of cotton wool into white paint and pressing them onto blue paper to make a cloud scene, but it wasn’t very successful. The end result got turned into the sea for his lapbook.

Sticking cotton wool balls onto a cloud shape made a much more convincing cloud!

This morning we put a few drops of food colouring onto a paper plate and took it outside. As it was only raining very lightly, Aaron sprayed on some more water.

Then we did some crayon rubbings using raindrops cut out of sandpaper. Aaron couldn’t press quite hard enough, so I ended up doing most of it.

We gathered up all his crafts from the week and turned them into a water cycle lapbook. We did eventually manage to successfully “make rain” by holding a cold object above the kettle. When I tried this earlier in the week the cardboard wasn’t frozen enough. I ended up using an ice pack instead and it worked much better. So much condensed water gathered that we did have a few drops fall down!

Here’s the rainbow rice we made this morning. The red is a bit disappointing, but I was quite pleased with the other colours.

In today’s skill box…


I came across this idea of poking things into small holes to help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills ages ago. I searched high and low for a shaker container with big enough holes in the top, but the only ones I could find were quite expensive. Then today when we were in town I found this kitchen utensil holder in Wilkinsons. It has large holes in the sides and slightly smaller holes in the base.

Tabitha didn’t manage to put any straws into the holes, but she did enjoy pulling them out.

It kept Aaron occupied for ages and when he finally lost interest he found new amusement by throwing all the straws on the floor and wallowing in them! Of course he did have to pick them all up afterwards, which wasn’t quite so much fun.

This time I caught his violin miming on camera. He’s holding the violin in the wrong place, but I thought his bowing technique was pretty good!

Aaron also noticed for the first time today that our lampshades are various different shapes (these cheap ones). He went round the house spotting triangles, square and circles. He’s known his basic shapes for quite a while now and loves to point them out, so I think we need to concentrate on some harder ones. Unfortunately there aren’t as many hexagons among everyday objects!

As you can probably tell, I finally have my camera back from repair. They phoned me up last week to say that it was “accidental damage” and therefore I would have to pay £23 to have it repaired, which I grudgingly agreed to. Today when I went to pick it up, the lady at Argos told me that it was the USB cable that was faulty, not the camera, so they had replaced that. I didn’t even have to pay, which was a very pleasant surprise!

How to dye pasta

Materials needed:

  • cheap pasta/rice
  • sealable bags
  • surgical spirits
  • food colouring
  • kitchen roll/newspaper

Aaron put the pasta into four bags. I then added a cap full of surgical spirit (all the American sites say rubbing alcohol, but surgical spirits is apparently our closest equivalent) and a slosh of food colouring.

Aaron had great fun shaking the bags to make sure that the colour mixed in with all the pasta pieces.

Some of the colours weren’t dark enough, so I added more food colouring until I was satisfied with the result.

Then I drained the excess liquid away, tipped the pasta onto a baking tray lined with kitchen roll and left it to dry. Tomorrow we’ll try the same method with rice. The dyed pasta and rice can be used for threading, pouring, world play, sensory boxes, or anything else you can think of!

We got socialised!

This afternoon I took Aaron to a home education meet for the first time. We walked into town and then caught the bus there. Although it was mostly older children there were quite a few younger ones too. I met a lovely lady who lives close to us and is involved with a smaller group locally, so I’m hoping to go along to that on Tuesdays. Aaron had lots of fun, playing with the other children and doing crafts with long paper straws. At one point he picked up a couple of straws and held them to his shoulder like a violin, and then picked up another straw and used it as a bow. It was so cute! He’s been fascinated by my violin for a few weeks now, so I’m seriously thinking about buying him a 1/16 size. All in all we had a great time and will definitely be going again.

Letter box

Not the kind you put your post in! I went round the house gathering the letters m f e r o and put them in a box. I used flash cards, magnetic letters, cut out some from cereal boxes, brochures and Christmas cards and also printed out a few letters onto card.

I included a few simple object words with one or more of the letters in, such as flower, frog, mouse and rose. Aaron sometimes has trouble generalising concepts, so I thought he’d better learn to spot letters in words right from the start to make sure we don’t get frustrated later.

Today we just used two letters, m and f, so I put all the other letters away into a bag. First of all Aaron sorted them out into two piles, naming each letter as he did so. Once that was finished he lost concentration and was messing around with the letters, so I turned it into a game. He hid all the letters underneath his legs, I went “fishing” and “caught” one, which he then had to name before I gave it back. He was in fits of giggles and was confident at recognising the two letters by the time we finished.

We also made the letters m and f out of leftover salt dough. They are baking in the oven at the moment and Aaron will have a go at painting them once they are done.

Rain or shine

For the next two weeks our topic will be weather. This week we’ll be covering sun, clouds and rain as well as having a simple look at the water cycle. We have family visiting over the weekend so we probably won’t get much done on Monday, and on Wednesday I’m hoping to take Aaron to the local homeschool meet. Last week I found it very useful to have a plan to refer back to, so here’s a rough outline of my ideas:




Water cycle:

The reality

It’s been a very hectic week for various reasons but we managed to get almost everything on our list done, plus a few extra craft activities. However, we didn’t get through all the reading material that I had planned to cover. Aaron needs to know five letters before we can begin the main lessons in the Funnix reading program. He surprised me with how quickly he learnt the letters m and f on Monday, but the next two days he seemed to find the lessons rather boring. Remembering Doman’s golden rule of never boring a child, I decided not to push the issue and we didn’t get to the end of the three lessons. I do still think he will enjoy the main lessons, so next week I need to find some fun activities to teach him the five letters instead.

The biggest success of the week was probably the colour-matching caterpillar. Although Aaron knows lots of colour names and we often talk about colours, he isn’t able to identify the colour of an object when I ask. Usually he just makes a wild guess and we’ve often wondered whether he is colour blind! He did manage to match up most of the bottle tops to the correct colours though, so the colour matching caterpillar has become a new favourite.

Days of the Week lapbook

We used fingerpainting to make the caterpillars and butterflies on the front cover, which Aaron really enjoyed.

At the top of the left side is Exodus 20:8 and two songs. At the bottom is a pocket containing the colour-match caterpillar and the butterfly life cycle wheel. On the right side is the names of the days with their corresponding fruit or food. Some of the letters Aaron traced really well, but other times he got carried away!

These caterpillar shapes and size sequencing butterflies and caterpillars were also in the pocket.

The colour-matching caterpillar was a big success. I still need yellow, pink and black bottle tops though. Colin spotted a purple one today as we walked past a recycle bin. We can’t recycle bottle tops in our area, so I took it!

Fishy friends

On Monday Aaron helped me mix up some salt dough. We used 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt and 1-2 cups of water. I made some sea creatures to go in his nearly finished nautical-themed bedroom. Aaron made lots of mess.

We baked the creatures at 120 degrees C for about three hours yesterday evening and then another three hours this morning. They are quite large which is why they took so long. There was still some dough left over, so I would probably halve the recipe for making smaller decorations.

This afternoon I painted the sea creatures while Aaron did some painting on paper.

Once they were dry, we put the sea creatures in their new fishing net home hanging from the corner of Aaron’s ceiling. It’s made out of a toy net that my grandma gave me when Aaron was born but I’ve never really found a use for it until now. His bedroom is almost done, I just need to paint the last porthole picture to go on the wall.

(Please excuse the poor quality photos, I am using Colin’s camera phone until my camera comes back from repair.)

The plan

For the rest of this half term we’ll be doing a project on Times and Seasons, starting off with the days of the week. A couple of weeks ago I bought this wooden magnetic weather board and Aaron enjoys changing the magnets every morning.

Up until recently he hasn’t really understood much beyond “tomorrow” or vague explanations like “after Christmas it will be your birthday” but I’ve noticed that he’s starting to develop a better understanding of time. Last Sunday Grandpa told him that he would take him swimming on Saturday. I explained to Aaron about the days remaining and how many times he would have to go to bed first. Throughout the week he was talking about going swimming on Saturday and would list some of the days in between. Yesterday I had a proud mummy moment when we were in the car on the way to church. I casually asked Aaron what day it was and he straight away answered “Sunday”!

So here is my plan for the week. It doesn’t seem much written down, but it’s probably best to start off small rather than jump in the deep end and get overwhelmed. I’ve got quite a lot of work to do this week anyway as it’s the end of the VAT quarter.

Unit Study – Days of the Week:

  • learn 2 days of the week songs
  • learn sign language for the days of the week
  • read The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • complete The Very Hungry Caterpillar days of the week worksheets (herehere and here)
  • make caterpillar match-the-colours bottle lid game (ideas from here and here)
  • make butterfly life cycle wheel (I made this one myself, feel free to use it)
  • do caterpillar and butterfly finger paintings.

Funnix Reading:

  • Day 1 to 3 – three exercises per day teaching the letters m f e r
  • Day 4 to 5 – alphabet game reviewing the letters m f e r and introducing the letter o.

At the end of the week I’ll update with the reality of what actually happened! Hopefully my camera will be back from repair by then so I can include some photos of what we’ve done.