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.

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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

Audiobooks

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

Over my next few posts I’ll share some of our Spanish adventures and the insights I gleaned during our out-of-the-ordinary February – during which I was a student, too.

* * *

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.

Diffraction

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.

Refraction

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!

 

Interference

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.

Resources

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.

Waves

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.

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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

The Problem of Having Too Many Fun Things to Do

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C(11) recently went through a phase of peppering her conversation with the phrase, “Hashtag First World Problems”. She would say it while struggling to open an orange juice carton, deliberating over what colour T-shirt to wear, or considering whether to charge her laptop or her tablet in a single free electric socket.

This post definitely falls within that category. Stop reading now if you don’t like thinking about ways to make a good life even more wonderful.

The “problem” is that there always seem to be more fun things to do than I have time to do them. Over the Christmas break while my children have (mostly) been happily playing together in that delightful way home-educated kids do, I’ve been reflecting on my priorities.

As an (unstructured) homeschooler with more hobbies than I probably have a right to, I know that I will never get everything finished. There will always be another writing game to play, a photo album to create, an exciting book to devour, a kitchen drawer to declutter, a guitar piece to improve, an funny blog post to read, a new recipe to try…

Why we need to feel complete

But if we never get everything finished, how do we experience the satisfaction of completion – of having achieved something? Everyone needs the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve done what’s most important. Conversely, never feeling complete leaves us feeling stressed.

“Completion … naturally gives way to clear space… helps provide perspective, a brief recovery from the frenetic pace of life and time to re-evaluate our priorities.”

Graham Allcott,  How To Be A Productivity Ninja

What’s important?

Before we can be sure we’re doing what’s most important, we need to identify what’s most important.

Where should we be focusing our precious attention, if we want to experience the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve spent our time on what matters most to us?

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Our around-the-world New Year balloon countdown. We celebrated from 10am (New Zealand) to 10pm (Greece) then cheated and popped our pink 12am (Great Britain) balloon before going to bed!

Since I became a mother, I’ve made an effort to enjoy my own hobbies alongside parenting (and later homeschooling). It helps my mental and emotional wellbeing, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for my kids to see me still creating and learning.

As my children have become older and more independent, I’ve had more and more time for my hobbies. In fact, there are times lately when I’ve felt overwhelmed at the thought of choosing what to do! {#First World Problems}

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Here’s what I realised when I reflected on this recently.  I have a maximum of nine or ten years left as a homeschooling mum. When my children are at uni or working, I’ll be in my early 50’s and all those hobbies (and homemaking chores) will still be there. But homeschooling won’t be! Until then, I want to enjoy every day of being involved in my children’s learning lives.

Mocktails

New Year’s Eve mocktails (okay, there was a teensy dash of rum in my ‘virgin’ pina colada)

My focus for 2015 is to be the best homeschooling mum I can be, and have the most fun I can with my kids. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of what to do, I will try to choose whatever is most closely aligned with my goal of creating a loving, fun, learning-rich home.

I’m still going to blog, because I love being part of the wonderful, supportive homeschooling blogging community. But I’m going to pay less attention to subscriber numbers and page views, and try to worry less about writing perfect posts. (Not that they’ve ever lived up to perfection, but you wouldn’t believe the hours I’ve put in trying.)

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With my brother, sister and mum on Christmas Day

My word for 2015 is “Love”.

I wish you all the happiest 2015 you could possibly have.

Christmas lunch

We hosted 19 of our lovely family for Christmas!

What’s most important to you in 2015?

Do you have a word for the year?

***

I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up and Homegrown Learners’ Collage Friday.

Us-Schooling Snippets

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You know how we homeschoolers are always looking for the best label to describe ourselves? I recently came across my favourite one yet at Ed Snap Shots: Us-Schoolers. I love her story of how she thought up the phrase.

Us-schooling perfectly describes our homeschooling style.

During November we visited Seville and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. (El Puerto is the town near Cádiz where we’ll be spending February learning Spanish.)

Spain collage

November in Seville and on the beaches of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain

Two weeks later we we slid down rapids, biked through the forest, and zip-lined through tree tops at Center Parcs with my mum and nephew.

CenterParcs

Tree top adventuring at CenterParcs

How is Us-Schooling going?

Since we got back I’ve managed to rein in any schoolish “We’ve got to get back into the swing of things!” tendencies (yay me). As a consequence we’ve had a really happy week, full of spontaneous learning. The best thing about having a routine rather than a schedule is that we have plenty of time to follow our interests.

1. Snowflake symmetry

I haven’t posted much about maths lately, mainly because our buddy maths routine is continuing to work so well.

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that we have plenty of time to do any other maths activities catch our interest. This week we were inspired by the An Ordinary Life‘s exploration of symmetry when they made snowflakes using isometric grid paper.

Instead of drawing straight onto our grid paper, I stapled clear binder covers on top. When we detached the paper, we were left with pretty Christmas decorations to put on the windows.

Snowflakes

Mathematical snowflakes

We found that creating symmetrical designs requires a lot more concentration than we’d expected. (My spatial skills were certainly challenged!)

2. Skating at a 16th century house

On Monday we skated at Somerset House, a beautiful neoclassical building on the north bank of the River Thames. On the journey into London we learned some interesting facts about the history of the house:

– Somerset House was built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, who was the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife, and mother of Edward VI).

– After Henry VIII’s death, Edward Seymour manoeuvred himself into the position of Lord Protector, ruling England during the reign of the boy king Edward VI. During this time Seymour bestowed on himself the title “Duke of Somerset”.

– Lord Somerset’s power was not to last, however. In 1549, before he could finish his magnificent house, he was overthrown by a coup d’état.

–  Somerset met a gruesome end in 1552 when he had his head chopped off at the Tower of London. Somerset House was then seized by the Crown. Its most famous resident was the future Queen Elizabeth I, who lived at Somerset House during the reign of her half-sister Mary I.

– During the English Civil War, Parliament tried to sell the house. Fortunately for us, they couldn’t find a buyer.

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Ice skating at Somerset House

3. Hands-on history at the Imperial War Museum

After skating at Somerset House we hopped on a double decker bus to the Imperial War Museum. The bus ride turned out to be the highlight of J(9)’s day (which is saying something, because he loved skating and the museum). Both children have requested that we now travel everywhere in London by bus, instead of by underground train.

The museum’s World War I exhibition was fascinating. The kids were shocked by the weight of the rifles soldiers had to carry, and they tried their hands at running a naval campaign.

My favourite part was the propaganda posters aimed at persuading men from Commonwealth countries like India and Australia to fight for Britain. How times have changed!

War museum collage

C(11) trying out a WWII Anderson Shelter at the Imperial War Museum (bottom right)

4. Watching a NASA rocket launch

We spent much of Thursday and Friday tuned to NASA, watching the launch, orbit and re-entry of deep space capsule Orion. When the launch window closed without take-off on Thursday, we hoped things would go smoothly the next day so we could catch the launch before our skating lesson.

Fortunately, both the weather and the technology co-operated, and Friday’s countdown ended in a very exciting lift-off.

NASA Orion

Watching NASA’s livestream

We were back in time to watch Orion’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and its smooth parachute descent towards splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

5. The Mystery of the Periodic Table

We learned about the inner transition elements in the last chapter of The Mystery of the Periodic Table. I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s the perfect family science read-aloud – we all learned something from it. I now understand, in a way I never did in my school chemistry classes why the periodic table is structured the way it is.

J(9) may not retain everything he heard, but for him it was a solid introduction to chemistry, told in an exciting way through the eyes of famous scientists from history.

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I’ve been searching for a similar living book about physics. We loved the Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest series, but I wanted something that covers concepts like optics and fluid mechanics.  Secrets of the Universe: Waves: Principles of Light, Electricity and Magnetism looks like a good start. If the children like it, I’m pleased to see there are several others by the same author.

I’ve also bought Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone, which has lots of pictures and ideas for hands-on experiments. Leafing through just now, I noticed this, in the section on gravity and tides:

“If the moon were too near the earth, the moon would be pulled apart. This has been the fate of moons too close to other planets – Saturn’s rings being the best example.”

I hadn’t know that Saturn’s rings were what remained of some of its moons!

6. Christmas stories

In the car this week we listened to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. J(9) was pleased to be listening to the original, on which so many other stories he likes have been based.

C(11) loved Dickens’ language, which reminded her of her favourite book series, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy.

Christmas books collage

We also listened to a lovely telling of The Nutcracker by Jenny Agutter.

Next week we’ll listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by its author Dylan Thomas, and then Lost Christmas. C(11) and I are also going to listen to The Christmas Doll.

At home we’re looking forward to re-reading some of our favourite Christmas stories, including The Sneezing Christmas Tree and The Legend of the Poinsettia, not forgetting of course The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and J(9)’s favourite Christmas book last year, Christmas According to Humphrey.

7. Chess

On Wednesday J(9) asked me to play chess with him. He hasn’t played for over 18 months, and before that only a handful of times.

He easily checkmated me, confirming my belief that computer games teach excellent strategy skills. (Not that I’m a great chess player, but I’ve played a few more times than him!)

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When we haven’t been busy following rocket launches or skating in historic houses, the kids have been making speed art videos, writing stories over afternoon tea and translating the next exciting instalment of Minimus Secundus: Moving on in Latin.

It’s been a great  us-schooling week.

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

 

A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Friday

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Did you know that an aeroplane is only on its correct course for about two per cent of each flight?

The pilot knows where he needs to get the plane to. By regularly checking where the aircraft is, and making many tiny course-corrections along the way, the pilot successfully guides the plane to its destination.

Flying a homeschool

(Don’t worry, it’s not my latest adventure scheme, it’s a metaphor.)

As the “pilot” of our homeschool, I want my kids to reach adulthood well-educated and with the skills they need to be lifelong learners. Along the way I’d love for them to discover a few of their strengths and passions.

I’m accompanied by my 9 and 10-year-old “co-pilots”. Together, we reflect on our days, weeks and months, adjusting our routine often to help us stay on track over the long-term.

That’s why, once a year, I blog about a whole week in our homeschooling life.  If I told you about a single day, I’d probably choose one we spend at home doing a cool science experiment, poetry tea and a hands-on history project as well as maths,  English and perhaps a couple of languages thrown in. People might read it and wonder how we manage to do it all. They’d never know that we spent the whole of the next day walking in the woods, or just hanging out with friends.

This week has been busy (see Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday).  We arrived home from the theatre at 9PM last night. Thanks to our flexible routine, I’m able to organise our day so that J(9) in particular gets the downtime he needs.

9AM

C(10) and I do some Spanish and maths.

10AM

Science. Over the last few weeks we’ve been investigating light using laser pens. {Note: laser pens can be dangerous. C(10) and J(9) know this, and they only handle the pens when I’m supervising. Handled responsibly, though, they are an awesome way to learn about light.}

The children know that light travels in a straight line. Today I give them the following equipment and challenge them to make it appear that the laser beam curves.

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Before we begin, I slip in some extra science. I show the children the bottle of water (see photo) with its lid on, and ask why no water is leaking out of the hole.

They come up with several creative suggestions before they remember what they know about atmospheric pressure!

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Ready for science

C(10) and J(9) enjoy experimenting with the laser beams for some time before they hit upon the solution. (I’ll write a post at some point sharing the various light experiments and demonstrations we’ve done recently.)

Along the way we have interesting conversations about fibre optics, total internal reflection, and refraction. I don’t get too technical – at this age I just want my kids to find science fun and approach it with curiosity – but I’m grateful for my physics breakfasts, which help me answer some of their questions.

Lasers

Total internal reflection of laser beams through water – or, how to make light “curve”

11AM

Poetry teatime. Over the last few weeks we’ve been listening to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place audiobook series. The eponymous Incorrigibles are three charming children who happen to have been  raised by wolves until they come to be looked after by plucky young governess Penelope Lumley.

Miss Lumley proceeds to educate the children in a manner homeschooling mums would heartily approve of. One of the many poems she reads to her charges is Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus.

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Poetry pancake time

Usually we all choose our own poems to read for poetry tea, but today everyone happily agrees to my suggestion that we take turns reading the twenty-two stanzas of The Wreck of the Hesperus.

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J(9) reading The Wreck of the Hesperus

12:00PM

On Friday afternoons we usually visit our local ice skating rink, where the children have group figure skating lessons.

Because of J(9)’s sensory issues, his skating teacher suggested he have a few private lessons to increase his confidence. I’m always looking for opportunities to exercise, learn and have fun alongside the children, so I asked J(9) if I might join him in his lessons, and he agreed (I’m loving it!).

But our teacher is on holiday this week and none of us minds having a free afternoon after our busy week.

I use the time to run a few errands. My husband is working from home today so J(9) is glad not to have to come out with me.  C(10) comes along so that we can hear the next chapter of Pride and Prejudice, the audiobook we’ve been listening to when it’s just us two in the car together.

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Waiting at the garage for a car bulb replacement.

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C(10) rides her bike while I walk the dogs

After our dog walk we head home. My husband texts to ask if we’re okay and we realise we’ve been sitting in the car on the driveway for ten minutes, listening to the end of Pride and Prejudice. We enter the house smiling.

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Listening to Pride and Prejudice in the car

3:00PM

J(9) has done copywork and handwriting while C(10) and I have been out.

He and I do maths together – a fun Ed Zaccaro chapter involving algebra and fractions.

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J(9)’s favourite maths position

After maths I head upstairs with a box of hair dye. My sister-in-law is having a 1920’s fancy dress birthday party tomorrow and grey roots won’t complement my outfit. I’m delighted to discover that Sue Elvis has made a new unschooling podcast which I listen to in the bathroom.

4:00PM

James kindly drives C(10) to her Stagecoach class, where she does three hours of singing, acting and dancing. Often I go to the gym at this time, but today I make frozen banana smoothies for J(9) and I, and I blog while he relaxes in his room.

* * *

Thank you so much for all your kind comments this week. I didn’t know if these posts would be of interest to anyone else but I wanted to record them for myself. I’m so appreciative that people have stopped by to reassure me that I’m not the only one who sometimes fails to live up to the high expectations I set myself!

 

 

See also Week in my Life 2013, when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old.

 

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

 

A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Thursday

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This week I’m blogging every day about our homeschooling life.

I had hoped that after yesterday’s craziness we would have a peaceful day today. I think I under-estimated the implications of having to be at a theatre 50 miles away, bang in the middle of evening rush hour.

10:00AM

At 10:15 we leave to meet friends for a beautiful walk on Wimbledon Common.

Woods

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Sticks – useful props for playing “Lord of the Rings”

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We eat lunch alongside Wimbledon Common’s famous Wombles. Did you watch the Wombles when you were a kid? I had a Wombles birthday party in 1975!

3:00PM

We arrive home. I manage to resist trying to shoehorn any maths into the gap in our schedule.

4:00PM

C(10) goes to a monthly book group led by an experienced homeschooling mum. Before each meeting, Kate sends out an inspiring list of related project ideas.

Last month’s book was Stay Where You Are And Then Leave, a fictional account of a young boy growing up during World War I. For her project, C(10) created an imaginary newspaper page celebrating the end of the war.

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For this month’s book, Private Peaceful,  C(10) wrote a poem from the point of view of a member of a firing squad, having to execute his fellow soldier.

Back at the start of the twentieth century, little was understood about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many soldiers suffering from PTSD were shot for “cowardice”.

 

A young man walks towards me

he takes his final step

his eyes clouded with fear

his shoulders heavy with dread.

 

His eyes look down to the damp ground

he knows his life is done

and all I can think about is

what we have become

 

We’re monsters in human form

about to take a life

to end his troubles

his thoughts and worries

to shoot away his strife.

 

My kindly thoughts don’t save me

as the weapon kicks

I turn my head away

and moisten my dry lips.

 

The man collapses to the ground

I look at him with sorrow

I wonder though deep inside

Would I do the same tomorrow?

 

The poem made me cry.

 

Kate also organises field trips. Tonight’s theatre production is a powerful one-man performance. The actor has one prop – a bed, which cleverly turns into the barbed wire of no man’s land.

 

The play ends differently from the book, which gives rise to interesting discussions on the way home and an e-mail discussion among members of the book group. (J(9) is still rather cross about the ending.)

9:00PM

 

We arrive home.

Tomorrow, we are really going to have a quiet day!

 

***

 

For more Week in my Life, see Monday, TuesdayWednesday and Friday.

And see a Week in my Life 2013, when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old.

A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Wednesday

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Today you’ll get to peek behind the scenes and see what life is like round here on the less-than-perfect days. Yes, this is the one where I let slip that – shock! – occasionally life gets in the way of me being the model homeschooling mum I aspire to be.

8:00AM

C(10) spends most Wednesdays studying science, history and art and hanging out with her friends at a homeschooling group she loves.

This week, though, the group are spending the afternoon playing outdoor team-building games. I’ve never been to the  venue before so I want to allow plenty of time to get there, which means leaving home at 12:30PM.

Bring on my least helpful homeschooling mode: “Right! We’ve got to make the most of the morning!”

I text C(10) inviting her to come down and start working with me at 9:00AM. (Yes, I message my kids. It’s no use calling them when they’re wearing headphones. Sometimes they reply. Does that count as writing practice?)

9:00AM

C(10) comes downstairs. The doorbell rings. I’d forgotten I’d scheduled a grocery delivery.

By 9:30 we finish unpacking the shopping and settle on the sofa for maths. Except that C(10) wants to do Latin instead. It’s true we left the story at an especially exciting point yesterday. (Really. Pandora was “cotidie vomo”.)

The homeschooler I’d like to be tells my daughter, “Of course, darling. Latin it is.” The real-life slightly-stressed mum in the room insists on doing maths first. Luckily (because most of the time I’m pretty reasonable?) my kids graciously overlook my occasional sergeant-major moods and C complies with my random insistence on maths.

Afterwards I generously allow C(10) to do Latin.  (Minimus 2 spoiler alert: It turns out the lovely Pandora is “gravida”!)

10:00AM

I’ve asked J(9) to come down for dictation and freewriting at 10:30. Trying to eke out best use of our precious time, I suggest that C(10) joins us freewriting.

Picking up on my stressy vibe, C(10) – who adores writing and always has half a dozen different stories in progress – tells me she doesn’t know what to write about. Foolishly, I suggest that she think about what she’s going to write for NaNoWriMo next week. C(10) wails dramatically.

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“I don’t know what to write about!” {Photo used with C(10)’s permission ;-) }

J(9) has recently progressed from copywork to “French” dictation (dictation with only some words missing).

Because he has done so little writing until recently (I backed right off until I sensed he was ready), I have no idea how his spelling is these days. On Monday, to build his confidence, I gave him dictation with very easy words missing. Today he asks for more of a challenge, so I blank out three-quarters of the words in a quote he’s previously written for copywork.

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Checking his dictation

The spelling and handwriting present no problem to J(9) (yay). However he takes great issue with the way I’ve printed the gaps (using underscores) and lectures me for 10 minutes on how I need to set it out differently next time.

11:00AM

By this point I have a 10-year-old moaning that she doesn’t know what to write, and a 9-year-old fresh from his most challenging dictation assignment yet (and irritated by his mother’s irrational method of printing gaps). Guess what I do? Insist that we stick to the plan and freewrite, of course! {Cringing as I write this.}

Fortunately, as I mentioned, my usual reasonableness has built up a bit of goodwill with my kids, so they kindly go along with my freewriting plan. We set the timer for 8 minutes. As usual, I write too.

C(10) has become convinced that my NaNoWriMo idea is better than hers, so I suggest that she writes something based on my idea. She likes this and writes a wonderful few pages as a prequel to my story.

J(9), meanwhile, vents his irritation about the dictation episode by bashing long series of numbers into his keyboard. He then cleverly writes a story around the numbers. They are computer codes entered by a desperate astronaut. I’m impressed.

Freewriting

Left: J(9) reading his freewrite

12:00PM

I had planned a short science demonstration for this morning, but by this point I am beginning to come to my senses. I scrap the demo and instead read aloud from The Mystery of the Periodic Table as we eat lunch. We only have time for a few pages because I want to get to the outdoor centre in plenty of  time, so I suggest we finish the chapter in the car when we arrive.

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I load the car with snacks, dogs, J(9)’s maths books, and swimming/karate/gym kit as we’ll be going straight to the leisure centre after C’s team-building.

1:00PM

We arrive at the outdoor centre and I turn off our audiobook – the wonderful The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – and pick up The Mystery of the Periodic Table. The children groan – not because they dislike The Mystery of the Periodic Table, but because The Incorrigible Children is so good.

It seems there’s still a bit of the sergeant-major hanging around me, because I insist on the chemistry book first. (We are at a particularly exciting bit, even the children agree. Mr Newlands has just put the elements into octaves, ready for Mendeleev to sweep in and take all the credit for the periodic table.)

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C(10) playing team-building games

At 1:30 C joins her friends for team-building (perhaps she can teach me a few things). I’ve planned for J(9) and I to walk the dogs and then hang out in a nearby coffee shop for maths and downtime.

2:00PM

Although I can barely move in the car for stuff, I realise I’ve managed to leave purse at home. Since I cannot make it through this afternoon without coffee, J(9) and I drive home via the woods.

J talks to me about the computer game Terraria throughout our entire dog walk. I pay attention dutifully, hoping to redeem myself for earlier motherly misdemeanours. I even agree to play Terraria with him later.

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The happy face of a boy talking about computer-games

3:00PM

J(9) and I do maths, then play Terraria together for half an hour. I have zero personal interest in computer games, but I try to join J(9) in a game now and again.

Playing with him helps me realise the huge amount he learns from these games. It’s also a valuable lesson in empathy, reminding me what it feels like to be a beginner learner. I recommend having your child teach you something regularly – it’s very eye-opening!

4:00PM

We collect C(10) and drive to the leisure centre.  J(9) does his swimming class. C(10) does her second karate class of the week, and I use the gym.

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6:00PM

I treat us to dinner in the leisure centre cafe, and the children play in the soft play. (Where do they find their energy?) When we finally get home I am so happy not to have to cook dinner. Instead, I jump in a long hot bath. Bliss.

***

Does your child teach you anything?

Have you ever been a less-than-perfect homeschool mum?

***

For more Week in my Life, see MondayTuesdayThursday and Friday.

For a Week in my Life 2013 when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old, see here.

 

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly-Wrap Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 – Education Possible

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