Easy Halloween Craft – Cute Rock Monsters

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

Halloween’s snuck up on us this year. C(11) and I spent last week in Spain where it still felt like summer, so we only pulled out our Halloween decorations yesterday.

I’m definitely not an uber-organised mum who has a different craft planned for every holiday. Many years I forget we even have Halloween stuff.

But this summer, thanks to Banish Clutter Forever (How the Toothbrush Principle Will Change Your Life) I got round to organising our loft. I even had the foresight to store our Halloween basket next to the Christmas decorations. (Seasonal items – clever, eh? Apparently that’s how naturally-organised people do it.)

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

8-year-old C making Halloween rock monsters

Among the dozens of preschooler costumes – which I took to the charity shop this morning – we found these cute rock monsters in the Halloween basket.

I shared these when we first made them, but I couldn’t resist snapping a few new photos yesterday. In case you missed it, here’s how you make them.

What You Need

Flat pebbles

Acrylic paints

Stick-on eyes


White-out fluid (optional)

What You Do

Mix up some fun acrylic colours and paint your pebbles. Once they’re dry, stick on eyes and draw mouths. Paint the teeth with white-out fluid or paint.

When we first made these we had lots of fun inventing personalities and back-stories for our monsters.

This year C(11) and J(10) were too busy making a Halloween pumpkin-carving video to play with them much, but I’m pleased to say the little guys at least got non-speaking parts in the movie.

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

C(11) and J(10) making a pumpkin-carving YouTube video

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

I originally saw these rock monsters at Coastal Inspired Creations. Do head over to her site for more detailed instructions and lots of other pebble craft ideas.

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters


I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up.

How to make quick crystals

How to make quick Crystals

Every summer when I declutter my science supplies cupboard I come across a few hidden treasures. (The reality: “Oops, we never did get around to making shadow leaf prints / home made light bulbs / popsicle stick trebuchets,” accompanied by a pang of guilt. Is that just me?)

The Epsom salts were bought to make bath fizzies with C(11) last Christmas. The fizzies never happened, but on the bright side, we had an unopened pack of Epsom salts when CSIRO’s cool crystals email landed in my inbox.

J(10) asked if Epsom salt was like the stuff we put on our fries, which was a good opportunity to remind ourselves what we learned about salts when we concocted our own fizzy drinks a few months back: A salt is created when an acid and a base neutralise each other.

Epsom salt is another name for magnesium sulfate. We looked up magnesium and sulfur in our book, The Elements, and noticed how very different the salt is from its constituent elements.

Easy Crystals - equipment

All you need to make quick crystals

What you need

Epsom salt (1/2 cup)

Hot water (1/2 cup)

Food colouring (optional)

Glass, spoon

What you do

Put the salt and water in the glass together with a few drops of food colouring. Stir for about five minutes, then put the glass in the fridge for at least three hours.

How to make quick Crystals

Dissolving the Epsom salts

What happens

After just a few hours in the fridge, you get beautiful crystals like these.

How to make quick Crystals

Epsom salt crystals

We carefully drained the water to get a better look at our crystals.

How to make quick Crystals

Taking a closer look at the crystals

How do crystals form? The scientific explanation

Epsom salt is an ionic compound. It’s made up of magnesium and sulfur ions joined together by ionic bonds. When we dissolve the salt in hot water, these bonds break and the two elements become separated .

Later, when we cool the salt solution in the fridge, the magnesium sulfate ions no longer have enough energy to move about freely. The ions begin to re-bond, first as single molecules and then – as the molecules themselves begin to join together – as crystals.

Science Kids at Home has some cool diagrams showing what’s happening at a molecular level.

How to make quick Crystals

Epsom salt crystals

More crystal science

Different types of molecule always the same shape of crystal, every time they form.

In the past we’ve also made crystals from table salt (sodium chloride), borax and sugar. The process for each of those is slightly more fiddly, but comparing the different shaped crystals is interesting. Borax crystals make pretty decorations, and sugar crystals are yummy!

Sugar crystals

Sugar crystals

Salt crystals

Salt crystals

Borax crystals

Borax crystals

And now the Epsom salt packet has been opened, we’re one step closer to making those bath bombs. :)


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up and All Things Beautiful’s Science Sunday.

How to make quick Crystals

How to make quick crystals

Not feeling nervous about not starting senior school

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A few weeks ago I was chatting with a young friend who was about to start senior school. “I’m excited, and a bit nervous too,” admitted Lily.

“And how are you feeling about not starting senior school, Cordie?” Lily’s mother asked C(11).

C(11) considered for a moment, then replied with a smile, “I’m feeling very not nervous.”

People have often asked how long we plan to continue home-educating. Many assumed we’d stop at the end of junior school (age 11), or before GCSE’s (age 14).  While I’m hoping to support my children learning at home until they’re at least 16, I would never stop them from going to school if they wanted to.

Daniel, one of C(11)’s old school friends has chosen to go away to boarding school. His mother was telling me how excited he was about the prospect of spending so much time with his friends doing fun activities. “I bet Cordie would love it, too,” she added.

My husband’s parents generously contribute to all their grandchildren’s education, so boarding school wouldn’t be out of the question if either of our children ever wanted to go. I mentioned Daniel’s excitement to my extroverted, energetic daughter.

“Do you think you would like to go to a school like that?”

“It sounds amazing,” replied C(11). Then she sighed contentedly and added, “But I could never give up all this.”

Yes, C(11) would love to spend more time with her friends and do even more sport than she already does, but she also appreciates all the quiet time she has at home to draw, read, watch videos or just relax and listen to music.  (I once wrote a post about how C(11) left school because she wanted to do so much, and school seemed the most sensible activity to drop.)

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I used to think that as a home-educating parent I’d feel the pressure rise when my children reached senior school age. Towards the end of the last summer holidays I kept expecting to suddenly wake up one morning thinking “Holy cow! Cordie’s going to be in big school! We’d better get serious!”

But that didn’t happen.  Instead, I found myself thinking about how much C(11) had learned by herself all summer long. I reflected on the thought-provoking conversations I have with her and J(10), during which I find myself wondering where they got their huge vocabularies and ability to express themselves. I marvel at their enormous zest for life, their self-confidence, the self-set goals they eagerly work towards.  And I feel so thankful we’ve found our unschooling groove.


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschooler’s Weekly Wrap-Up.

Fizzy Drink Science

Fizzy drinks science

Close your eyes and imagine taking a long sip of your favourite soda. How does it taste? Now imagine drinking a different type of soda – Sprite, or Pepsi, maybe.  What taste do the different fizzy drinks have in common? Are they salty? Acidic? Something else?

In this fun Science Buddies lab we discovered how sodas get their fizz, then  we experimented to find our personal favourite soda recipes.

fizzy drink science

Concocting ‘fizz powder’

What You Need

Fizzy drink science

Fizzy drink ingredients

Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Citric acid (food grade)

Measuring spoons (1/8 tsp, 1/4 tsp, 1/2 tsp, tsp)

1/4 cup measure

Clear plastic cups or glasses

Wooden stirrers or spoons

Sugar or sweetener

Digital timer

Chart to record results (optional – click link for printable)

Flavourings (optional)

What You Do

1. Mix 1/16 tsp baking soda with 1/4 tsp citric acid in an empty cup.

2. Add 1/4 cup of cold water and quickly stir, then taste. (You’ll probably want to have somewhere to spit out, too, especially for the first few mixtures.) Observe the reaction between the chemicals in the water, and start your timer for 1 minute.

fizzy drink science

Adding water to our fizz powder

3. Discuss (and, if you wish, record) your observations. How bubbly is the mixture, on a scale of 1-5? How ‘gritty’ is it?

4. Observe and taste again after 1 minute. Has the taste changed? Is the drink more or less bubbly? Discard any remaining liquid.

5. Repeat in a clean cup, increasing the amount of baking soda to 1/8 tsp. (The amount of citric acid stays the same throughout.) Repeat again using 1/4, then 1/2 and finally 1 tsp of baking soda.

6. Make a note of the formula that tasted best. Did everyone like the same?

7. Experiment by adding different amounts of sweetener to your preferred base recipe, beginning with 1/4, 1/2 then 1 tsp.

See Science Buddies for more detailed instructions.

What happens

What do you see?

Nothing happens when you add the two white powders (citric acid and baking soda) together. But when you add water, bubbles are produced.  More bubbles are produced when you increase the proportion of baking soda, and the reaction lasts longer.

How does it taste?

Depending on the amounts of baking soda used, our drinks ranged from fairly disgusting to reasonably palatable.  J(10) hated every single unsweetened beverage, confirming our suspicion that he has only persuaded himself to endure fizzy drinks because of their ton of added sugar.

fizzy drink science

Fizzy drink flavourings (if your’e feeling brave)

We also tried adding a few flavourings. J(10) had run away to clean his teeth by this point, but C(11) was keen to try chocolate flavour soda. I suspected that if that combination worked we’d already know about it. I was right.

Vanilla soda wasn’t much better, but lemon juice worked nicely (of course, adding lemon juice also increases the ratio of citric acid to baking soda). Finally, we taste-tested our fizzy drinks against shop-bought lemonade, and decided our formula stood up pretty well against Schweppes.

Edit: All Things Beautiful tried some appealing flavourings when they made their own cola recipes.

fizzy drink science

Taste testing our fizzy drinks

The scientific explanation

Making fizzy drinks is a great demonstration how an acid and a carbonate react in the presence of water to form carbon dioxide, a salt and water.

Citric acid + Bicarbonate of soda  ——> Sodium citrate (a salt)+ Carbon dioxide + Water

If you want to talk ions: acids ionise in water. This means they lose electrons, producing positively charged hydrogen ions.  Meanwhile, a carbonate is a mild alkali. Alkalis in water generate negative ions, which combine with the positive ions from the acid in a neutralisation reaction.

(See BBC GCSE Bitesize Science – Acids, Bases & Salts for a more detailed explanation.)

The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry:

Fizzy drink science

The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry

More fizzy fun – Making sherbet

You can also make a batch of ‘fizz powder’ by mixing citric acid, baking soda and icing (powdered) sugar. This time the reaction happens on your tongue!

We followed Science on the Shelves’ recipe. Mix 6 tsp citric acid, 3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda and 2 tbsp icing sugar, then crush with a spoon to make a fine powder.

My husband and I found the fizz powder charmingly reminiscent of the sherbet dib-dabs we’d buy with our pocket money as children, but – as you can see from the photo – our kids weren’t convinced.

fizzy drink science

Taste testing our fizz powder

More fizzy drink science

Try testing the acidity of your home-made sodas with indicator paper or a home-made indicator.

Remind your kids not to drink too many sodas by showing them the effect on their teeth – see Ticia’s What soda does to teeth.

If you’re mathematically inclined, you could graph your results – see Science Buddies’ experimental procedure.

More fun chemistry for older kids

Make hydrogen and oxygen from water using electrolysis


Shimmy, shimmy soda pop: Develop your own soda pop recipe

BBC GCSE Science

How to make sherbet


We don’t have fizzy drinks at home but when we were in Spain C(11) and I sometimes treated ourselves to a coke at the beach cafe. J(10) has never liked anything fizzy, but while we were away he decided to overcome his aversion. The 1-minute video below shows how that turned out.

This lab appealed to us because we had been speculating, in the light of J(10)’s  distaste for all fizzy drinks, what they must all contain, apart from bubbles. And I thought it would be fun to watch J(10)’s face as he taste-tested the various recipes {mwah ha ha}.

Look out for J(10)’s taste-bud theory about why C(11) and I can drink fizzy drinks, and his verdict on alcohol, which I shall be reminding him of on his 18th birthday. 😉


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science Sunday at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

A Homeschooling month in Spain – Part 2

A homeschooling month in Spain

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-packed suitcases. It’s 4pm on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and outside the sky is darkening as the sun sets. In three days I will be climbing into our Ford Galaxy with my 11-year-old and my 10-year-old, and driving to the other side of Europe.

The next five weeks stretch ahead of me like a blank diary waiting to be written in. I feel giddy with a mixture of excitement and vertigo. By the time I’m back here in early March, unpacking these same suitcases, my head will be full of new memories.

What adventures do the next five weeks have in store for us?

Language school and knobbly cucumbers

Eight days and a road trip through Spain later, we sit in the bright, airy atrium of Spark Spanish, a family-run language school in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Andalucía.

A handsome young chico smiles and tells us he will be teaching Spanish to C(11) and J(10) every day for the next four weeks.  He introduces himself as Mario, which immediately endears him to my video-game-loving son.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

At the language school

Meanwhile I join four young women, all in their 20’s, in another room. One introduces herself as Marta, our Spanish teacher. An online test has placed me in Marta’s upper-intermediate class. She asks me – in Spanish – where I learned Spanish, and I tell her about my year living in Granada. I spoke the language fluently, but that was 22 years – half my lifetime – ago!

For the next two hours my brain whirs  and hums as long-neglected pathways start to wake up. My head aches a little by the time I peek, nervously, into the children’s classroom. Have they enjoyed their class? Has J(10), who hasn’t been in a formal classroom since he left school five years ago, managed to last the morning? Will C(11), who is eager to speak Spanish, be able to learn at the pace she wants, alongside her less enthusiastic brother?

Hurray – they’re both smiling! C(11) proudly recites a list of Spanish numbers. J(10) excitedly tells me how they taught Mario to play Sudoku and  created a huge puzzle together. I don’t think he even noticed the numbers were in Spanish.

Opposite Spark we see a tiny shop. We buy fragrant olives scooped from an enormous glass jar, a short, knobbly cucumber, and a golden brown barra still warm to the touch. Our tummies rumble as the scent of bread and garlic fills the car as we drive home.

After lunch we stroll for five minutes through the terracotta and sunshine yellow houses of our new neighbourhood to the beach.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

Off to the beach…

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

‘Our’ beach

And so our days begin to acquire a new rhythm, and our us-schooling month in Spain unfolds …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

J(10) enjoying the space

Us-schooling in Spain

In the absence of her usual busy schedule of extra-curricular activities, C(11) finds time to paint …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… take photos …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… and record a song, for which she films a video with her brother. The canine members of our family happily join in {video below} …


C(11) makes new friends by helping out with the English classes Spark run after school, and she and J(10) make a film at the language school {video below}.  Look out for J(10)’s creepy carnival mask, and for my cameo at around 3 minutes 50 seconds …

J(10), meanwhile, is more of a homebody than his wanderlust mother and sister. So I’m very appreciative of the way he makes the best of our month away.

He attends four weeks of Spanish classes without complaint. When he’s not in class or playing on the beach, he’s happily absorbed at his computer, ascending the levels of World of Warcraft.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain 6  Navigating By Joy

He listens to so many audiobooks that I almost forget what he looks like without headphones …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain  audiobooks  Navigating By Joy

Audiobook heaven

A taste of Spanish culture

My mum joins us for a week and we visit Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy.jpg

Visiting Cádiz with my mum

… and we drive through red mountains to the delightful resort of Estepona, where we bask in the mild Mediterranean air …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

C(11) and her Grandma in Estepona

… and C(11) and J(10) choreograph some play fighting on the beach {10 second video below} …


Ten-year-old bullfighters

C(11) and I go on a guided tour of El Puerto’s bullring – the third largest in Spain.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain 3  Navigating By Joy

The bullring at El Puerto de Santa María

We realise how deeply embedded bullfighting is in Spanish culture when we see children brandishing capes in the ring – learning to be a torero is apparently an after-school activity in Spain!


My husband James joins us for our final weekend in Spain, and we join the locals celebrating spring Carnivale.

Carnival time

Carnival time

Adios, España

On 28 February the sun blazes down on our Spanish friends flocking to the beach to celebrate Andalucía Day, but it’s time for us to  pack up cram into the car and say goodbye – for now – to El Puerto de Santa María.

A homeschooling month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

¡Hasta Luego, España!

There are still a few more treats to come, though. I knew nothing about the city of Mérida – I chose it because was convenient for our route. So I am thrilled when we turn a corner to see this enormous Roman aqueduct, through whose arches we watch the sun set on our penultimate day in Spain.

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Roman aquaduct at Mérida, Extremadura at sunset (top) and the next morning

Looking back

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-unpacked suitcases. I think back to that January afternoon when I wondered, tingling with excitement and adrenaline, what the next five weeks held in store.

I look at the sun-kissed faces of my children and the hundreds of photos I’ve taken, and think of my journal, whose pages record the many tiny joys that together made up our Spanish life. I hear J(10) absent-mindedly say gracias to his sister, and I smile.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – part 1.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

History & Geography Meme 162 at All Things Beautiful

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #27

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Electric play dough – Fun with squishy circuits

Squishy circuits

Squishy circuits combine two of my kids’ favourite hands-on activities: play dough and electric circuits.

You can either just use conductive play dough in your circuits. Or, to extend the learning, you could mix up a batch of insulating play dough that doesn’t conduct electricity.

What you need

Squishy circuits

Conductive play dough ingredients

* Flour – 1 cup

* Salt – 1/4 cup

* Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

* Water – 1 cup

* Cream of tartar (3 tbsp) or lemon juice (9 tbsp)

* Food colouring (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together in a pan on the stove over a medium heat, then knead to form a dough.

For more detailed instructions and other useful tips, head over to StiMotherhood.

Squishy circuitsInsulating play dough ingredients

* Flour – 1 cup

* Vegetable oil – 3 tbsp

* Sugar – 1/2 cup

* Food colouring (optional)

* De-ionised or distilled water – 1/2 cup

Mix all the insulating play dough ingredients together in a bowl, then knead. Warning – this batch will be stickier than the conductive play dough.

Apparently de-ionised water  is used to prevent limescale in cars and irons. (Confession: I ordered it from Amazon and then got impatient and bought some at my local car supplies shop. Any suggestions about what to do with 5 litres of de-ionised water? ‘Do more ironing’ is not the kind of thing I mean.)

To play with the dough, you will also need a 9V battery and a battery holder with connecting wires, and some LED lights.

Before you play with your electric play dough

Before they play, show your kids what to expect and get them excited with this squishy circuits video.


The science of squishy circuits

Squishy circuits provide a perfect demonstration of how electricity takes the path of least resistance.

If an electric current has to travel through an LED bulb to complete a circuit, it will do so and light up the bulb.

But if the electricity can find an easier path (like through a piece of conductive dough), the bulb will remain unlit.

Squishy circuits

Circuit made of conductive playdough and LED bulbs

How to use the insulating play dough

Use insulating dough to bridge gaps between pieces of conductive dough.

Electricity can’t travel through the insulating dough. Instead, it has to travel through – and light up – the LED bulbs.

squishy circuits

Squishy circuits creations

Squishy circuits

Left: Circuit made from conductive play dough (bulb unlit). Right: Circuit with both conductive and insulating play dough (bulb lights up because electricity can’t pass through the orange insulating dough so passes through the bulb instead)

Squishy circuits

Benefit from my mistakes

I have a habit of seeing a cool activity online then gathering supplies and diving in without referring back to the original instructions. Which is why we first tried to power our squishy circuits with a couple of AA batteries.

Underpowered circuits are a bit of a dampener on kids’ enthusiasm.

Luckily J(9) and C(11) were happy to switch to regular play dough and reconvene with the conductive sort on another day, once I’d bought some 9V batteries.

Squishy circuits creationsAA batteries are probably fine if you have enough of them (and sufficient battery holders), but I’d recommend using 9V if you can.

Finally – do wipe down your metal wires after they’ve been in contact with the conductive play dough, so they don’t rust.

I first came across the idea of squishy circuits at StIMotherhood. Do head over there for tips on how to get the most out of squishy circuits play.

And see  this great TED talk all about squishy circuits by the lady who invented them.



More fun hands-on science

The amazing water trick – Investigating density

Alien soup – How to separate mixtures

Fun science – What dissolves?

Hands-on hydraulics

Chemistry for kids – How to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolysis

The science of how candles burn

The science of flying

How to make a balloon hovercraft

Gummy bear science – Osmosis in action

Fun with magnets

Midsummer potions

Edible science with ice and salt

Air pressure experiments

Elephant’s toothpaste – Fun with catalysts

Creative science with ice, salt and colour

Clay model of the Earth’s layers

How to simulate the rock cycle with crayons

How to make butter – Fun with emulsions

Fun with acids and bases – How to use red cabbage as an indicator

Fun with polymers – How to make slime and plastic

2 Fizzy fountains

Copper-plating a nail

Hands-on science – Is light a wave or a particle?


Squishy circuits

A note to my kind friends who are wondering what became of my next post about our Spanish adventure: This week someone with a huge Facebook following (I wish I knew who) shared my elephant’s toothpaste post, resulting in 70,000 extra visitors here.

Once I’d picked myself off the floor, I was inspired to get around to finishing this post on squishy circuits.

More about Spain soon. :-)

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Science Sunday – All Things Beautiful


Why I’m writing about wedding dresses on Mothers’ Day

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British readers might be wondering why I’m posting a photo of my wedding on Mothers’ Day.

And my American and Australian friends might be wondering why I’m talking about Mothers’ Day in March, instead of May.

Here in Britain, Mothers’ Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, three weeks before Easter Sunday.

This year, Mothers’ Day also happens to fall on the anniversary of the day I found out I was going to become a mother.

I remember the date because 15 March is the birthday of one of my closest friends. I vividly recall tucking into Diana’s exquisite fresh cream birthday cakes, unable to think of anything except the fact that by this this time next year I would be the mother of a four-month-old baby.

James and I had been trying for a baby since our wedding the previous summer, and even though I knew that six months was a completely average time to wait, I was so desperate to become a mum, every month seemed much longer.

We were very lucky that everything went smoothly with that pregnancy. C(11) was born exactly eight months later, and sixteen months after that we were blessed with another baby, J(9).

I know that not all women are so lucky. Diana had had a stillborn baby before giving birth to my Godson L (now 13).  And as a therapist I’d worked with a lady who had lost her first child as a newborn; I helped her prepare emotionally for the birth of her second baby.

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Celebrating Mothers’ Day


Many of you are familiar with the grief story of Sue Elvis, who writes the blog Stories of an Unschooling Family. Sue’s son Thomas died shortly after he was born, fifteen years ago. This morning I read a beautiful story Sue wrote about Thomas – An Exquisite Gown of Love.

At the end of her story Sue mentions a program called Angel Gowns.  Volunteers at Angel Gowns  transform donated wedding dresses into beautiful gowns for babies and children who die too soon.

As soon as I’d read Sue’s story I emailed my sister, asking whether she would mind if I donated my wedding dress to Angel Gowns for Angel Babies UK. I needed my sister’s permission because not only did she help me choose my wedding dress, but she wore it on her own wedding day, three years later.

Kirsty s wedding dresse

The dress looked beautiful on each of us (am I allowed to say that?) and completely different on each sister. Not only is Kirsty a blue-eyed blonde, in contrast to my dark hair and hazel eyes, but our weddings couldn’t have been more dissimilar.

Kirsty and her husband travelled by sleigh to their Burns Night wedding ceremony high in the Austrian mountains, whereas mine took place on a gorgeously hot late summer’s day in England.

But Kirsty and I agreed that we couldn’t think of any better use for our wedding dress than sending it to Angel Gowns for Angel Babies.


A homeschooling month in Spain part 1 – Roadtrip to Andalucia

A homeschooling month in Spain

When you homeschool, you have the flexibility to learn what you want, when you want – and where you want. So if you want to take off on a big adventure in the middle of a school term, you can. That’s exactly what we did this winter.

I began planning our 5-week-trip to southern Europe a year ago.  I wanted to give C(11) and J(9) the opportunity to learn a second language and experience a culture different from our own. I chose Spain, because I’d enjoyed an adventure of my own there when I was twenty-two.

We (the children and I) left England in January and returned in March. (Who wouldn’t want to swap England’s wintery skies and bleak landscape for the golden sunshine and vibrant orange trees of southern Spain?)

A homeschooling month in Spain

Car ready to go with all the essentials, like 2 guitars and a giant Lego brick

Pet passports and a Spanish house

Planning the logistics of the trip kept us busy throughout January.

We had to arrange Spanish classes and find accommodation, have our dogs vaccinated against rabies in order to obtain passports for them, plan our route, and buy funny little stickers to stop the headlights of our right-hand-drive car blinding drivers in Spain.

The children enjoyed helping with the preparations, like being taught by the vet how to scan our dogs’ microchips.

A homeschooling month in Spain

Setting off from home

Planning our route

First we had to decide how to cross to mainland Europe. Initially I’d planned to take the car on the the Eurotunnel train from Dover to Calais (the shortest distance between Britain and France) and then drive through France to Spain.

But then I compared the 22 hours’ driving that would involve with the 9 hours if we took a ferry all the way to northern Spain. The ferry won – I like audiobooks, but not that much.

Plus the ferry had a cute little cinema where we watched Night At The Museum 3 in seats that gently swayed as the ship rolled down the Bay of Biscay. It was a bit like being in a  4D theatre at DisneyWorld (a little too much, in fact, when we watched Exodus on the return trip and the ship lurched alarmingly as the Red Sea came thundering down on the Egyptians).

A homeschooling month in Spain

On the ferry to Spain

After two nights on board ship, our first glimpse of Spain was the snow-capped mountains of Santander set against the beautiful pink-grey light of dawn.

A homeschooling month in Spain

Disembarking in Spain – Santander at dawn

We made two overnight stops on our journey south, at Salamanca and Cáceres.

A homeschooling month in Spain

Our route to the other side of the continent

The weather in Salamanca wasn’t very different from the rain we’d left behind, but we knew we weren’t in England anymore when a fellow dog-walker commented on the ‘mal tiempo’. No one in England would bother commenting on damp, grey weather in January!

A homeschooling month in Spain

At the park in Salamanca

A homeschooling month in Spain

Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, which the children said reminded them of St Marks Square in Venice

Next day we drove over mountains and across plains to Cáceres, a beautiful city which still shows off its Roman roots.  We could tell we were further south by the milder air – I was gleefully shedding layers by the hour – and by the orange trees among which C(11), J(9) and the dogs played parkour, running off the energy they’d stored up sitting in the car.


{30 second video – free-running among the orange trees}

A homeschooling month in Spain

Exploring the old (Roman) quarter of Cáceres


As well as the gorgeous scenery, a couple of excellent audiobooks kept us entertained on our long drive.

One was a hilarious history of Britain which the kids listened to again repeatedly on their own devices for the next few weeks. It’s an adult book but if you’re interested in the title, let me know in a comment.

The second was Cosmic, an off-the-wall, laugh-out-loud family listen by Frank Cotterell-Boyce, who is probably our favourite author at the moment.

Are we there yet? Yes!

On Saturday evening – four days after we’d left England – we arrived in El Puerto de Santa María, and began to get acquainted with the house that was to be our home for the next month.

A homeschooling month in Spain

Our Spanish home. “Er, what are we doing now, then?”

The first thing we did was head straight to the beach to bask in the sunset.

A homeschooling month in Spain

El Puerto de Santa María at sunset

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – Part 2.

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I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop 25

History & Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle?


Scientists argued for two hundred years about whether light was a shower of tiny particles or a series of waves. Then just as the debate was settled, Einstein came along with an answer that would have set Newton’s head spinning.

We decided to explore the properties of waves and light for ourselves.

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

Simple wave tank with plasticine obstacles

What happens when waves meet an obstacle?

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

When waves meet an obstacle, they curve around it.

If light curved around an obstacle, we would expect the obstacle to cast a fuzzy shadow. But anyone who’s played shadow puppets knows that shadows can have fairly sharp edges.

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

When light meets obstacles, sharp shadow are created

Because of this, sixteenth century scientist Isaac Newton believed that light must be made of millions of tiny particles moving in straight paths.


What happens when waves pass through a small opening?

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

The waves spread out as they pass through, as if the opening was the source of the waves.

Seventeenth century scientist Christian Huygens pointed out that light also spreads out through an opening. If you were to put a lamp behind a wall with a small hole in it, light coming through the hole wouldn’t stay in the shape of the hole – it would spread out.

Huygens said that because light diffracts, it must be made of waves. He pointed out two other properties of light that supported his theory.


Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

Light appears to bend

A pencil placed in a glass of water appears to bend at the water’s surface. This is because light travels more slowly through water than it does through air.

Huygens said that if light waves travel at different speeds through different materials, the change in speed would cause the waves to bend.  We call this apparent bending refraction.

We performed a cool trick to demonstrate refraction. {1 minute video below} I should have made it clear in the video that the camera stayed still throughout the demonstration!



When two sets of waves cross each other, they interact in an interesting way. In some places they cancel each other out, while in other places they add to each other and create a stronger wave. This phenomenon is called interference.

We created two sets of waves in our wave tank. (We would have observed a larger interference pattern in a bigger tank.)

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

In 1801 Thomas Young proved that light also produces interference patterns.

You can observe light interference patterns by looking at a source of light between two pencils.

Hands-on science: Is light a wave or a particle

Observing light interference patterns

When the pencils are almost touching, you can see a vertical pattern of light and dark lines. The dark lines are where the light waves are cancelling each other out.

Thomas Young was the first person to calculate the size of light waves. His measurements explained why light diffraction is so difficult to see – light waves are so small that that can only bend around the tiniest of obstacles.

Light as both wave and particle?

By the 1800’s scientists were sure that light was made of waves. But in 1900 the particle theory reappeared!

Albert Einstein and Max Planck showed that light sometimes behaves like a wave, but sometimes acts like a particle. Their discoveries led to the branch of science known as quantum physics.


We’ve been reading aloud Waves: Principles of Light, Electricity and Magnetism, a wonderful living book I highly recommend. We got most of our experiments from this book.


We read about Einstein and Planck’s fascinating discoveries last term in the Uncle Albert books.

Hands-on Science: Is light a wave or a particle



As you read this we’ll be setting off on our Spanish adventure, so if you are kind enough to leave a comment, please bear with me until I’m back in wifi-land next week!

Talking of our adventure, it’s come a bit sooner than planned. I had a text from Brittany Ferries last night informing us that because of bad weather, our departure time is being brought forward from 2PM tomorrow to 10PM tonight. We and our dogs will also be spending an extra night on board ship. (That will teach me to go around saying, “I’m so excited, I just want to be going already!”)  Thank goodness I’m a productivity ninja, radiating zen calm and ninja flexibility (ha ha).


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science Sunday at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

How being a productivity ninja is making me a more relaxed homeschooler

Productivity ninjaa

Last week when I was pondering the problem of having too many fun things to do, I came across the best titled book ever, How To Be A Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More And Love What You Do.

I knew the author and I were going to get along when I read this description of his natural style of work:

“Flaky, ideas-based, more comfortable at the strategic level than the ‘doing’ level, allergic to detail, instinctive, crazy-making and ridiculously unrealistic about what’s achievable in a given time period.”

(Naturally organised people don’t need productivity systems.)

What a productivity ninja looks like

Here’s the fantasy future-me I was imagining about after I’d zipped through the opening chapters:

–  I glide through my days with Zen-like calm and clarity

–  I am mindful of my energy and attention levels and use them wisely

– I can focus with serene efficiency because I find it easy to stay either in boss mode or worker mode at any given time

– because I always know the most important things I want to do,  I enjoy a sense of completion each day when I’ve achieved them

– I reach Inbox Zero at least once a day.  (I’ve missed several payment deadlines recently because of an email inbox that ran to many screens, so this one was very appealing.)

How to become a productivity ninja

The backbone of the productivity ninja system is your list of projects and your master task list.

A project is any ‘to do’ item that requires more than one physical action (task) to achieve.  If you’re not able to commit to doing at least one task on a project in the near future, you need to either scrap the project or move it to your good ideas list.

Once a week, wearing your boss hat, you review your list of projects. This means that when you’re in worker (doing) mode, you need only refer to your master task list, which will show you with ninja-clarity what you need to do –  you don’t get distracted by having to do any high-level thinking about what the next step is.

IMG 0900

All images by productivity ninja Graham Allcott

Example:  I’m in the process of making various photo products – a wall calendar, desk calendar and various Christmas albums as gifts for family members. I tend to procrastinate about working on my photos, mainly because I can never remember where I left each project. Have I put my selected pictures into an iPhoto album yet? Do I need to edit any photos?  Have I uploaded them to PhotoBox?  But by spending a few minutes once a week noting exactly what needs doing on each photo product, when I have a spare moment I can go straight to my computer and get editing, sorting or uploading.

How can being a productivity ninja make you a more relaxed homeschooler?

You’re probably wondering how all this ninja talk relates to relaxed homeschooling.

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Thanks to the  ninja-productivity process,  my master task list contains every homeschool-related activity I want to do, as well as all my other upcoming responsibilities and hobby-related goals.

I have sub-lists of the activities I need to do with my children – buddy maths, writing games and science experiments, for example – and what I can do without them, like research, planning, or setting up an experiment.  I can also see what non-homeschooling activities or jobs I want to get done that day.

I use Toodledo to sort these lists because I find automated lists thrilling (it’s a geek thing), but you could just as easily use a pen and paper.

The reason the productivity ninja system is such a powerful tool for child-led homeschooling is that I’m not dependent on getting anything specific done with my kids in order to feel a sense of completion.

Thanks to my master task list, I find it much easier to respect how my children choose to spend their time and resist pressuring them into fulfilling my agenda.  My daily list might include ‘do copywork with J, do buddy maths with C, read aloud from Waves’ – but my kids get to choose which, if any, of those activities get done.

So if C(11) wakes up inspired to take photos for her Arts Award project or record herself singing, or J(9) wants to spend the morning making a stop-motion animation film, I can save my ideas for another time. Meanwhile I can easily see from my daily checklist how I can make best use my time without that child or alone.

Thanks to my master task list, even on rare days when both my kids want to spend the whole day doing their own thing, I still end the day with a sense of achievement because I know I’ve spent my time doing tasks which take me closer to my goals.

And if the children invite me to join them on one of their projects or in a game, I can shuffle my list with ninja-like flexibility and go and play.

You can get a free kindle sampler of How To Be A Productivity Ninja here.


I think I'd buy this book just for the cute graphics

I’d buy this book just for the cute graphics


*This post contains affiliate links but I bought my own copy of the book and wrote this because when I love something I want to share it with all my friends and my husband says he’s heard enough Productivity Ninja talk for now thank you very much. :-) 


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Finishing Strong

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