Sunday, 16 June 2013

What IS Living Maths and How Can I Use it?

Living maths is attributed to Charlotte Mason as she referred often to 'living' books. She actually termed it the 'living teaching' of maths and it has morphed into living maths along the way. I'm really interested in it as a concept for teaching maths at home as the other CM aspects that I've adopted have worked so beautifully well. Recently I've been researching quite a bit about living maths, what that means and how to go about it and this post is a round-up of the information that I've found out and some thoughts about that!

How I came to be here.......
I've been dabbling in it for the last year and have gone on a bit of a journey.... I started out buying a stack of maths story books that I found from the living maths book list written by Mama Jenn that tallied with the maths skills outlined in the National Curriculum. I put together a few activities for each book and we read it every day and did a different activity that illustrated the maths concept in the book. The girls really enjoyed it and it was very effective for concepts such as symmetry and even place value but when I came up against multiplication, I got stuck!! That prompted me to buy a book for teachers to explain to ME what children needed to learn about maths and how they best understood it. That was a good move and I felt much more confident but it lead me on to realising that I couldn't 'teach' some of the concepts in one session and expect it to sink in. Some skills had to be practised over and over like reading does and that meant daily maths........

............which brought me back full circle to where I'd started, wondering how to do that without resorting to a dry boring workbook based curriculum that could completely turn the girls off maths. My age-old curriculum issues arose again as I looked around - they jumped here, there and everywhere - in the name of daily practise but without any seeming logic or continuity, they didn't have explanations, and they all went about it in a different order. Some used manipulatives which I was keen on but didn't fit with my philosophy on how I want the girls to experience learning. Most of them relied on the memorisation and retention of 'maths facts', Eve finds this kind of rote learning nigh on impossible which rules that route out!

I came to a few conclusions about my thinking on maths and where we are now:
  • We can't 'do it all' just like we can't with science and history either but I also don't want there to be glaring gaps that will hamper later maths for the girls.
  • The girls have very good practical maths skills using time, weighing and measuring, handling money etc.
  • They learn by themselves - I know this as they come running in to tell me that 3x4 is 12 or that 70-20 is 50..... but they aren't sure of the terminology and what written symbols mean.
  • The living maths that we have done so far has sunk in and been retained and used, most notably place value.
  • I believe that expertise builds up and stems from truly understanding the subject and seeing it's links to other aspects of life and how it can be used.
  • I want the security of feeling like we have a logical sequence and I'm not just attacking random subject matter and from our literacy approach I know that little and often builds nicely into confidence and understanding.
  • I want the flexibility to scoot ahead or to stop and expand on things that confuse or enthuse the girls.
What I found out about Living Maths........
With all this in mind I launched into my research determined to find the perfect fit once and for all! Some useful resources that I found on the way were the Living Maths Yahoo group, Living Learning Lists from the blog 'everyday snapshots', a fantastic article on squidoo entitled Charlotte Mason on Math, another by the same author called Transitioning to Living Maths and a vast amount of thought provoking information here. Because 'living books' has become a term synonymous with a Charlotte Mason style education, it seems natural to assume that 'living maths' means that maths is taught purely from books alone. Having dabbled in this method myself I am strongly questioning whether it is enough as after all, she didn't advocate teaching children the mechanics of reading by simply reading to them, although very very important, so how can we teach the mechanics of maths by reading about it to them? There must be more to it!

Charlotte Mason didn't use the term 'Living Maths', rather she referred to the 'Living Teaching' of maths. This suggests to me that she believed that maths should be brought alive for the children, and she didn't rule out any particular ways of doing that. Her recommendations followed a pattern of using manipulative materials followed by visualising those materials and methods with mental arithmetic and then moving onto written maths problems once mental arithmetic was secure. Problems should challenge the child without overwhelming them, this is important when doing maths from a CM perspective as she placed importance on accuracy and getting things right first time without retrying it, it will be up to me to ensure that I pitch things at the right level for them. Charlotte Mason believed in a solid foundation of the basics, she disapproved of a child bashing through sums and problems without a true grasp of what they were trying to do. My favourite principle of a CM maths program is that you shouldn't 'overteach', she didn't want parents to get in the way of a child's learning, this is fantastic because it gives me confidence that a well chosen pathway and well-chosen materials will do the job nicely without me having to battle my own maths insecurities to facilitate it! 

How I am approaching Living Maths.....
I found that Charlotte Mason's approach to maths wasn't that far removed from what I thought it would be and how I am planning on approaching it already. I have chosen a four fold approach this year influenced by where the girls are in their maths development, what has worked previously and what I think I can manage with a newborn and a toddler!:

  1. I have chosen The Dyscalculia Toolkit by Ronit Bird as our main spine. It is designed for children aged 7-14 and is aimed at supporting children with learning difficulties in maths..... HOWEVER I think it is a brilliant scheme for all children and it fits really well with Charlotte Mason's explanation of the living teaching of maths as it focuses on maths facts but without a heavy reliance on memorisation - it shows logical ways to get there by reasoning rather than rote learning. It also places an emphasis on understanding backed up with concrete experience of using manipulatives before moving on to mental working out and then written problems. From my personal wish list, it ticks the boxes of providing a logical sequence of small incremental steps that can be tackled at a rate that suits my children. It isn't designed to be a curriculum, but rather a 'pick and choose' selection of activities and games but as I want to ensure that the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are secure by the end of this year, I am going to use it as a curriculum, set-up in much the same way as I use The Reading Reflex. I will post more about how I'm doing that another time! 
  2. I have purchased the first book in the Life of Fred series and will be trying this out with the girls, I've read a range of reviews on it but think we need to try it out to see how it suits us. It will fit nicely into our book basket but I'm unsure of whether the 'jump about' nature of the stories will be sufficient as a standalone curriculum in the long term, although it does follow it's own sequential course building up to high school level. The tone of the stories isn't my cup of tea and there doesn't seem to be much material to allow practise and repetition which over the next year might not suit ME as I don't want to be having to prep extra things to go along with it!!
  3. The third and final aspect that I'm really looking forwards to from a personal interest point of view are living books on maths. I was inspired by this living math through history curriculum and very nearly bought it if it wasn't for a review that praised it highly but said it was pretty much a series of book lists and you needed to do many hours of prep and organisation yourself to utilise it. As they are kind enough to make their book lists freely available I chose instead to trawl through them and choose some interesting books that will tie maths to the history and science that we are doing this year, making it 'live' in terms of linking all the subjects together as a whole, which was another of my personal requirements. I am particularly looking forwards to these as my maths experience in school was limited to formulae and processes with very little enjoyment! I'm going to intersperse these with some of the living maths books that we already own, utilising the method we've found successful before of tying practical activities to them to teach concepts such as time, fractions, measurement and more.
  4. Be mindful of taking advantage of opportunities to measure, weigh, tell the time, use calendars etc on an informal, real-life basis
I haven't worked out yet how I will fit these different aspects in and there is much more to say on the subject of living maths books and the Dyscalculia resource book, but they will have to wait for another post or two, especially as I am so spoiled for choice with the book lists that I can't decide what to get! There are things I would like to bring into our maths that I simply don't have the time and capacity to achieve at the moment. I keep reminding myself that I can't do it all and neither do I have to..... we can try new things another year and I think what we have for this year is rich and varied enough! In the meantime, you can browse through my Charlotte Mason Pinterest board and my Maths Musings Pinterest board for more ideas and inspiration on teaching maths in a CM way!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Teaching Toddlers to Cut

I took these pictures quite a few weeks back now but felt compelled to write about them today due to the incredible difference in Idris's cutting skills in such a short time. I can remember sitting with Faith for hours at a time whilst she mastered scissors and it was a pleasure to be able to replicate that for Idris! I had noticed that he was becoming more interested in the tools that the girls were using and was naming things like 'sizzies'. I picked up a pack of coloured electrical tape in the pound shop when I was in town ready for him..... and off we went as soon as he said 'sizzies, me'
I love the concentration on his face and his opening and closing mouth as he cuts. He started out using one hand on each scissor handle. I gave him proper craft scissors that were sharp enough to cut well but without pointed ends. Blunt toddler scissors simply frustrate children when they are learning to cut and do them no favours as in struggling to cut with them they could hurt themselves more. I have two pairs of scissors with looped handles that spring back open when released and only need squeezing to cut with, without having to worry about which fingers go in which holes. I have left and right handed pairs as you never know which way a little one is going to go! Faith loved cutting with them but Idris eschewed them in favour of a pair the girls were using! I also have a pair that has a small plastic spring on one handle that when folded down helps the blades to spring open easily again..... they came in useful later on.... for the first stage, just let your child hold and move the scissors how they feel comfortable.
It is useful to hold the paper up for them, at right angles to where they are cutting so that they only have to concentrate on moving the scissor blades, not on manipulating them to get them round the paper. You will sense when is the right time to start letting them do both. You can see from the picture that Idris quickly moved on to attempting to use the scissors with one hand only. It wasn't very successful but I said nothing and let him guide his own progress!I also avoid saying too much about which way up to hold the hand...... words get in the way of a concentrating toddler and they will find their own way! Faith was 16 months when she started cutting, Idris is about 22 months here. The first step with learning to cut is usually 'fringing' around the edge of a piece of paper, making a single cut then opening the scissors and making another cut.
With the electrical tape I held that out tight so that they scissors would cut first time and then Idris either showed me where to stick it or put it down for himself. It is nice to use the coloured tape as they can see where it has gone better than clear tape and allows choice of colour too.... Idris was keen to pull out the tape by himself, another reason why electrical tape is good for toddlers as finding and keeping the end is easy and it doesn't wrap itself up quite so much as clear tape!! It also has the benefit of strengthening fingers and increasing co-ordination and control!
After about an hour cutting and sticking, Idris stopped, looked up, gave a huge sigh then jumped down from the table and took his card with him to show Daddy what he had done with the sizzies.... the picture was ceremoniously pinned to the kitchen door with his big sister's pictures and he was so thrilled, he kept coming back to look at it and say 'me, sizzies'!!!!
Roll on a few weeks and he has asked to use scissors quite often. He likes to carry them with him and although I balked at this to start with I then decided to allow it within the parameters of it being a blunt-ended pair and of him carrying them properly with the blades in his hand and pointing down. He forgets a lot but if I say 'carry your scissors properly please' he immediately turns them round again! He has tried cutting all sorts of things and has developed really good cutting skills, so much so that he now cuts one handed, in straight lines across a piece of paper and at a furious pace! Under the table is littered with pieces of snipped paper several times a day at the moment! 

Today's interest was in cutting boxes, it was fascinating to watch him try different techniques and angles until he found one that worked. The recycling bin is a great source of materials to practise cutting skills on - catalogues, thin cardboard boxes, plastic fruit boxes, wax paper cups..... all provide a new experience! Other things to give your toddler to cut up are play dough, drinking straws, vegetable peelings and leaves and thin twigs from the garden!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Idris at 22 months

My sweet boy turned 22 months a few weeks back, and is motoring on towards being 23 months - that is so close to two years old, which is coming round sooooo quickly!! He continues to delight and amaze us and is such a joyful little person...... as you can see from the series of pictures this month, he has discovered the thrills of swinging! He seems to feel safe in the strap seat which hugs him securely and begs for Daddy to push him 'more push peeeeeze'!! Dewi of course responds by pushing him far higher than I feel comfortable with but I bite my lip and smile as he squeals with delight and yells 'peek boo' around the edge of the frame and sticks his tongue out at me!!!
Some other physical skills he is working on:
  • HUGE jumps into the swimming pool - almost bombing, then bobbing back up with a big grin on his face and his eyes wide open!
  • Pushing the girls 'scoot toots' (scooters) around the patio, watching how the handle turns the wheels and picking them up and putting them down, then propping them against things.
  • Climbing ever more challenging structures - whether they are designed for climbing or not!!
  • Carrying a can half full of water and watering plants
  • Cutting with scissors - equally proficient with both hands
  • Tripod grip holding a pen and drawing tiny little circles and marks - he finds it fascinating that he can make small marks and appears to be ambidextrous at the moment

He has discovered tools, to be more specific, hammers..... it started when Daddy, Grandpa (bomp bom) and Dadcu built a wooden cabin in the garden. They all three had hammers and Idris seems to have decided that men have hammers and therefore HE must have hammers (notice the plural here!!). This led to his first major injury of a split finger after he dropped one on his hand.... it has healed nicely though and hasn't put him off! Dewi found him a nice LITTLE hammer and he went all round the garden trying it out on different surfaces, he was enchanted with the 'ting' it made when tapped against the metal bird bath!!
Although he has a wide and varied vocabulary and his understanding is fantastic, he is a boy of few words at present, these few words can sometimes be pretty repetitive though!!

  • He tells little stories like "Bomp bom - dog - oh oh" which was about him throwing a toy dog out of the car window as we were leaving my parent's home and Grandpa had to run up the drive to rescue the dog and give it back! Another one was "cat - shace (face - he can't make 'f'' sounds!) - scatch" accompanied by a gesture, when my friend's cat scratched his face one time. He really loves to tell stories.
  • He purposefully learns new words by pointing to things and looking at me with a questioning look asking for me to name it, then having a go himself. Like most toddlers, he has his own unique sounds that I regularly have to translate for others!
  • He tells the punchline of books before we get there which makes me giggle, and answers the questions or joins in with the words he knows. He has a stock four favourite books that we read over and over at bedtime.... I've tried sneaking a new one in but it isn't accepted!

This is a rare picture - my tough little cookie rarely cries when he tumbles or bangs himself and if he does it is short lived as he comes with the offending hand or leg held out for a kiss better.... cue instant end to tears!! He can tell me now that something is 'sore' and can show me where which helps! The best bit about this last month is that he has started to spontaneously dole out cuddles and it makes me so happy to have his little arms wrapped around my head or neck and squeezed and then a careful kiss planted on my lips!!
This is Idris at his happiest - helping Daddy with whatever Daddy is doing and watching carefully how it is done then mimicking it. He is very much a man's man and starts to talk about his Daddy as soon as we head for home if we are out without him! I love watching him grow up!!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Building and Maintaining Homeschooling Momentum

If you are anything like me, then building and maintaining a momentum with education at home is something you will have to work at! It is all too easy to start out really enthusiastic about an idea, book, or curriculum, only for the first flush of interest to subside and for another potentially great opportunity to fade into the cupboard to gather dust! So why is is hard to build and maintain momentum? What are the pitfalls to avoid and what tips and techniques can help you to succeed? I'll start with where I went wrong and what I do now to build and maintain a happy flow to our schooling!

Why is the flow hard to start and harder to keep going sometimes?
Part of my problem is that I want to DO everything........ I want to teach them to play the piano, teach them to draw and paint, bring in a foreign language, facilitate sporting and social activities, do lots of hands on science experiments, as well as make sure the basics are really thoroughly covered in a way that they will truly understand and gain lasting benefit from rather than just going through the motions...... this is the perfectionist in me showing her colours!

Over the last few years though I have realised that if I try to do it all, then it isn't all done well, with enthusiasm and passion and enjoyment, and the more I try to plan, the less actually happens. Also, in the UK, we have no minimum hours of teaching/attendance to record and no statutory subjects to cover; whilst I embrace this freedom with joy and gratefulness as it allows me to tailor the children's education to their own needs and interests, it is a double edged sword as there is then no-one outside the home to be accountable to and I work quite well with deadlines and requirements to meet!!

So how can you BUILD momentum?
  • Make it a HABIT! I often read articles about schedules versus routines and which might be a better fit for your family but it suddenly clicked recently upon reading a series of blog posts about schooling multiple ages that for us it is neither schedules nor routines, but HABITS that make the difference! This was a eureka moment for me..... I am planning to go back to this series (scroll down for the list) and read them properly to see what could be useful to adopt within our family. Forming habits isn't just for habits of doing lessons, but for things like quiet time, or when to fit in the myriad of other things that vie for your time and attention, like blogging (ahem) or paperwork, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and so the list goes on!
  • Do it YOUR WAY! It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you read of the mountains of subjects that other homeschooling mothers manage to shoehorn into their day and to feel that you too should be doing that, or writing your own curriculum or teaching it in a spectacularly well organised schoolroom, or all of the above...... well DON'T!! Look at how your family works and fit it to that, store it all in a plastic box in the garage to pull out once a day, curl up in an armchair to do it, take it to the beach with a picnic, do it in the evening or weekends if that's when you work best, write your own or buy it in if that suits you better - whatever you do, make sure you have chosen that way for YOUR reasons and not because ti looks glossy on someone else's blog...... you are far more likely to stick with it if it is designed around your family and therefore fits well.....
  • It won't all fit well so DITCH IT if it doesn't work and try something else! Knowing that you can ditch a misfit will make you feel more relaxed about trying something new.
  • MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME...... multiplication songs in the car, audio stories on during lunch, reading and narration with a cuppa and a snack, have one child read to you during another's swimming lesson, be creative! This leaves you time to enjoy each other's company or for you to have a well-earned cuppa whilst the children are busy playing after a fulfilling and enjoyable morning..... there I go mentioning a cuppa again, can you tell how I like to relax for ten minutes??!!
  • Build in ONE THING AT A TIME........ jumping in with a really full-on week of scheduled lessons and work to complete can be exhausting and demoralising. Pick your priority subjects and introduce one or two things at a time, get to grips with them, then add in other things as the weeks go by.
And how can you MAINTAIN that momentum?
I believe that building momentum is the most important part. If you have built it well, then even when the unexpected comes along to disrupt your homeschooling plans, you will continue with your core priorities as they are part of daily life and slot in easily. In our house the core subject that carries us through is phonics and reading. Come rain or shine we slot them in, and I have taken some lessons from how I set up the phonics programme when considering how I will build and maintain a different looking momentum this Autumn with a new baby and a toddler livening up the environment! 
  • Make CAREFUL CHOICES of curriculum that will fit pleasantly rather than jar with your children's learning styles, interests and your family circumstances. I have written about planning your own curriculum here and here, with a third post to follow soon.
  • READ IT THROUGH from start to finish before you begin so that you are familiar with it and know where you are headed through the year.
  • GATHER SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT before you start and have everything on hand and easy to grab. If you have to go searching around for materials each time you want to use them, you are more likely to let it slip, rather than just grabbing them and getting on with it when the time is ripe.
  • Know when to TAKE A BREAK or leave it for the day..... if your children are getting frustrated, or everyone is tired, there is a virus working round family members that is pulling everyone down, then leave off the lessons for a few weeks until the time is right to pick it back up! A few weeks break from  just one subject can bring amazing leaps and bounds in understanding and capability, without having done anything on it in the meantime! I have experienced this in my children, previous learning seems to consolidate in the break that you take. I am right now taking a break from phonics with my youngest daughter. She is becoming fidgety and frustrated with the activities but really enjoying reading books to me as well as being read to so backing off is in both our interests.
  • Just as importantly, know when to GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK! Drop a few of the balls you juggle constantly by putting some convenience foods on the menu for a week or so, or saying 'no' to a commitment outside the home. Making one or two temporary changes can create just a bit of space that means that your priorities can keep taking the top spot and keep that momentum rolling on!
  • Finally, WRITE GOALS for yourself. I don't write goals for my children as I want them to learn at their own pace and to their own rhythm. I do write goals for myself though, to keep myself on track with the things that I need to provide and facilitate. I learned a particularly effective way of goal-setting last year at a seminar I attended and I'm going to try it out on home education goals this coming year!
I haven't yet perfected the art of building and maintaining momentum, but I hope that by sharing what I have learned so far, it will help some of you to find an educational rhythm to help you flourish! I add to my ideas on my homeschooling pinterest board, if you are after any further inspiration!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Curriculum Planning Made Easy Part 3

In part 1 I talked about why it was so great to write your own curriculum and in part 2 I went into the nuts and bolts of how to go about putting one together. In this third post on curriculum planning, I'm going to show you what I have gathered for my own children for the coming year, with a few explanations of my choices along the way.

A big passion of Eve's is sewing and I wanted to expand on this for her. I decided to look for some books about UK cotton mills and a story about sewing also with a view to building up some knowledge of different stitches. As we will be reading these going into the Winter, handcrafts are always a useful addition! I have:
  • Mill Girl - A Victorian Girl's Diary 1842-1843 by Sue Reid - We haven't read a diary format before.
  • Look Inside A Victorian Mill by Brian Moses - This has photographs, drawings and short sections of text that can expand on concepts that come up in the Mill Girl Diary
  • Victorian Fashions - A Dover Colouring book by Tom Tierney covering the period 1837-1877. I often include some high quality colouring pages as the girls enjoy colouring whilst they listen to me reading, it also shows what the fabrics being produced by the mills were used to make.
  • The Mary Frances Sewing Book by Jane Eayre Fryer - This is a reprint of an early 1900's book, so towards the end of the Victorian era. I think Eve will love it, it is charmingly written with tools from the sewing basket telling the story through text and poetry, with sewing tuition in each chapter from basic stitches up to hand sewing doll clothing. Eve has a beloved rag doll named Jemima that was mine as a child (although I didn't love her as Eve does!) and she will love making her some clothes.
Another strong interest of Eve's is designing and making things. She is quite the little engineer without really knowing it. Faith too has begun to come up with ingenious solutions to building problems. To further this interest I have:
  • Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You can Build Yourself by Maxine Anderson. It is available for free download from here although I had to be patient to get it through my oversensitive firewall and then persuade my printer to print it!! It's a delightful book, part biography, part 'how-to' instructions based on the detailed notebooks that Da Vinci kept throughout his life. It is split into five main sections  each representing a collection of ideas and inventions that Leonardo was fascinated by.
  • Bridges! Amazing Structures to Design, Build and Test by Carol Johmann and Elizabeth Rieth - This is a great book covering science, technology, important figures and construction challenges. 
  • 13 Buildings Children Should Know by Anette Roeder.
  • From Mud Huts to Skyscrapers, Architecture for Children by Christine Paxmann.
  • The Story of Architecture, 3000BC -Gothic Period by Hillyer and Huey - This is a golden oldie (and smells it too!), it ties the architecture studies really nicely to the history programme that we are using.
  • I'd like to add something in here on a British architect/engineer or a female one also.
Faith has asked some searching questions over the last year and I have some books telling the story of evolution:
  • Born With a Bang by Jennifer Morgan
  • From Lava to Life by Jennifer Morgan
  • Mammals who morph by Jennifer Morgan
  • The Tree That Time Built, a celebration of nature, science and imagination selected by mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston - this is a book of poetry covering nature, science and evolution with Darwin's diaries made into poetry form.  
  • Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson
  • What Mr. Darwin saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
  • Island, A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin - A truly stunning book putting evolution into a living context so simply and beautifully with illustrations and text. My parents have spent time sailing around The Galapagos and have photos and first hand accounts to complement this book - exciting!
Building on the evolution idea and feeding faith's passion for all things natural, I have collected a few books on birds. I chose birds as they have some obvious adaptations within the species to notice and discuss such as different beaks, types of feathers and feet. I am anticipating that this list will grow throughout the year so it isn't yet complete:
  • Seabird by Hollings Clancy Hollings
  • Owl Puke by Jane Hammerslough - this contains an owl pellet to dissect and I plan to get another so there is one for each girl!
  • The Boy Who Drew Birds, A Story of John James Audobon by Jacqueline Davies
  • Just Ducks by Nicola Davies
  • I am researching adding a novel by Michael Morpurgo here. They often tackle ecological and ethical subjects with accurate historical and geographical detail and a good dollop of human traits thrown in but the content isn't always suitable for younger readers so I want to be sure before I pick one!
An interest in Kings and Queens has resurfaced after the recent discovery of Richard III's remains in a carpark! I have books collected last year to feed this interest, they are:
  • Our Island Story by HE Marshall
  • My Amazing Book of Kings and Queens by igloo books
  • The Ladybird book of Kings and Queens by Louise Jones
  • The Usborne Kings and Queens Sticker Book by Sarah Courtauld and Kate Davies
  • I-spy Kings and Queens
My Mum sourced the majority of the monarchy books after the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but we didn't get around to using them as the other projects we had going rolled on. I am planning to use these to dip in and out of as we come across the 'characters' in Our Island Story, and build some visits into it as we have such a rich heritage of amazing places all around us! 

Our Island Story is the only 'classic' Charlotte Mason curriculum book that has made it on to the list this year. I say 'classic' as it appears on most of the online curricula that you can access. Charlotte Mason herself encouraged the use of new and fresh books though so I have embraced that within my planning, making the books relevant to the girls and the times that we live in. I think I have managed to cover a good range of genres and to interweave the subjects that I want to cover. I learned from last year's book lists what worked well and what didn't and have incorporated that knowledge into this years but I'm sure there's much to learn still!

I read 'chapter' books separately to the girls at bedtime as they have different tastes and really enjoy the one-one attention this gives them. Faith likes animal stories, so I have 'The animals of Farthing Wood' by Colin Firth and James Herriots treasury lined up, whereas Eve likes historical novels with a strong female character, so we have enjoyed What Katy Did and Heidi over the last year and are currently reading 'The Secret Garden'. I'm not sure yet what we will move onto!

We do a fair bit of science and up to now I have planned and written the lessons as things came up that sparked an interest (see my science page at the top of the blog for some of the things we have done). This is wonderful but time consuming and with a new baby on the horizon, I know that I'm not going to be able to do that for some time. With that in mind I am busy making Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding into an 'off the peg' curriculum by bagging up the materials needed for each lesson ready to grab and go in the rare times that both toddler and baby will allow it! We have covered a lot of the material already but it will be good to fill in the gaps and tie understanding together. We tend to read books related to the science that we are doing as we go, so those titles will get added in throughout the year also. Some examples of the science living books we have read are 'The Pebble in my Pocket' by Meredith Hooper and Cracking Up: The Story of Erosion (Science Works) by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly.

I am using The Reading Reflex for phonics progression still which is showing results and is pleasant to work with for all of us so worth continuing with!

I have been dabbling in using Living Maths as a way of teaching maths concepts but have stalled a little (OK a lot!) over the last few months as other ways of enjoying maths have come up. I am still really interested in using living books to teach maths but as I'm currently reading a lot about it and researching books to use and thinking how we will go about it - scheduled or spontaneous? through the history of maths or topic by topic? Insisting on learning maths facts or focusing on keeping them excited and interested? There is still a way to go before I make those decisions so maths for now is a 'watch this space' item on the curriculum list!!

We are also going to be teaming up with another family to do Story of the World together once a week which again is still in the discussion stages but I'm looking forwards to teaming up to do it as the girls really enjoyed it when we started it (and then unfortunately abandoned it) before!

In the next and final part I will sum up some of the things that I have learned about writing your own curriculum, as well as some of the questions that I still have and write about how we incorporate the books into our days and how we use them - I have some new ideas to try to make the most of the times when the girls are eager to do something!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Well Hellooooooo Nesting Instinct!

I find it incredible how, when I committed last week to finishing certain things off before the end of the month, just the setting of a deadline has spurred me on towards getting my priority projects completed! The children's bedrooms are decorated finally, after doing a creative jigsaw effort with Faith's wallpaper to avoid buying a third roll just to finish off around the doorway!

Idris's room is a blank canvas ready to be settled into. He seems very keen on the idea of a bed like his sisters have...... I'm not sure how I feel about him moving out of our room but we need the cot space for the baby this Summer so if he's ready to move on then I don't want to hold him back. It's better that he moves when he feels ready than because the new baby arrives and we need the space - I don't want him to feel pushed out!
My lovely Mum did an amazing job this week tracking down the materials that I needed for our science next year. She e-mailed saying she was going into town and did I need anything, so I e-mailed the list back to her thinking that she'd keep an eye out for things whilst she was out and pick up a few bits towards it for me. Instead she treated it as a challenge and sourced everything on the list that she could and tracked down Internet deals for the rest!

I am working on typing up the lists and plans that I need, I have a few more books to order and then it is finished up and will be ready to go. I am also working on saying 'no' to things that are just one step too far for me and will stress me out and cause anxiety - I am rereading the hypnobirthing book and remembering how important a positive mindset is in staying relaxed! Whilst finishing up my planning I have happened upon  lots of great ideas but am being really good and merely noting them down and pushing them to the back of the pile for A.N.Other time instead of following up all the interesting bunny trails I come across!

After a few weeks of negative comments from strangers about home education and expecting a fourth child, I have had several really complimentary remarks instead this week which has been really lovely and boosted my peace of mind again!! I am feeling really confident and comfortable with what I have sorted and planned and with the progress that the girls are making. I have a few posts lined up over the next few weeks covering all that when I have completed my priorities and have additional time to write once again!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

June is 'Make One, Freeze One' Month!!

As part of my preparations to welcome the arrival of our baby in the Summer, I am designating June as my month to fill the freezer with ready to cook and partially prepared meals. I was inspired by a blog post I saw about using the freezer to your advantage with batch cooking and preparing ahead (I can't find it now!).

I've gotten off to a lip-smacking start already with two packages of meatballs, two of honey-lime chicken skewers and one each of shepherds pie and fish pie mix. I'm keeping a running tally of what is in there and what is needed to complete the meal, such as rice, vegetables, mashed potato topping and so on.

The plan is that I can meal plan using that list as heavily as I need to once the baby is here and my husband has returned to work after his leave, to lighten the load a little! The shopping receipts have shocked me a little the last couple of weeks until I remembered that I was buying double of some ingredients in order to make one and freeze some. I'm going to plan several meals a week that I can do that with through June, including trying out a few things to see if they freeze OK or not!!

To make it easier I have the following things in stock:

  • Disposable roasting pans to put whole meals into as I don't have enough casserole dishes to store in the freezer. They are very shallow which should work great for defrosting and reheating and reduce the risk of cold spots (plus get dinner on the table quicker!!)
  • Ziploc freezer bags - great for storing sauces, part meals such as the fish pie mix and marinaded meats in as all the air can be squeezed out and they can be flattened down to stack neatly making the most of the space.
  • Permanent markers to label and date, although I strongly doubt there will be anything left there after three months!!
  • Plenty of tin foil and cling film to double wrap meals to prevent freezer burn damaging the food and ruining the taste.
Here are some of the meals I am making and freezing:
I'm also experimenting with freezing waffles and breakfast muffins as the children and I like to have a treat breakfast one of the weekend mornings when my husband is on nights and I want to continue that!

Utilising the freezer on a more long term basis to make menu planning and cooking easier has long held an attraction for me and I would like to get to grips with it. It often seems to involve crock pot meals from freezer to crock though and I've not had much success with that when I've tried it. I picked up a couple of pins recently on my recipes board on pinterest, specifically this one and this one which have encouraged me to have another go sometime..... perhaps in the Autumn!