How to Make Your Kids Love Maths

How to Make Your Kids Love Maths

I once wrote a post called How to help your child fall in love with maths (even if they hate it) in which I talked about how my children learn maths without a curriculum.

That was three years ago now. I’m pleased to say our approach is still going strong and that Cordie (12) and Jasper (11) love maths more than ever.

Today I thought I’d reflect on what aspects of our maths approach have been most successful, then in my next post I’ll share in more detail what each of my kids are doing for maths right now and what our maths plans are for their senior school years.

1. Let them ask questions

When I learned maths at school my goal was only ever to get the right answers. I would watch the teacher do an example, memorise the procedure and obediently do my sums. It never once occurred to me to ask why a particular maths method worked. (Or perhaps I just learned to suppress that curiosity very early on.)

When it came to exams, I crammed a bunch of procedures into my head, passed with A grades, then promptly forgot everything.  For the next 20 years I had nightmares about going into a maths exam unprepared and not being able to answer a single question.

In contrast, my kids have always been allowed – encouraged – to ask questions. To be honest, by this point there’s no stopping them. In maths, as in life, they don’t accept anything unless they know why. Yes, sometimes regret this. 😉

Over the years I’ve learned to anticipate their questions by encouraging them to work things out for themselves in the first place.

A few examples

So when Cordie wanted to know how the long division algorithm worked, we went in search of answers (thank you, Denise’s Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division).

In geometry, most textbooks just present formulae for the area of shapes. But I knew that my children would want to know why these worked, so we figured them out for ourselves (see below for more details).

How to make your kids love maths

And when we recently came upon trigonometry, Cordie not only wanted to know what this branch of maths was used for but also what all those strange words actually meant. Which was possibly the first time it had occurred to me that sin, cos and tan were anything other than magic buttons on a calculator that when pressed while reciting the appropriate incantation – ‘SohCahToa!’ – spewed out the correct answer.

Of course when your kids ask questions, you need to . . .

2.  Be willing to go off on tangents

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that you’re never tempted steamroll over your child’s curiosity in an effort to finish a bunch of material by the end of term.

So there’s always time for games…

How to make your kids love maths - Playing yahtzee

… like yahtzee to play with probability

And you have time to investigate questions, like ‘What’s the area of a non right-angled triangle?’ Which leads to several weeks of playing with shapes as you figure out the relationships between rectangles, parallelograms, triangles, trapeziums and even circles. Which means your kids never panic about forgetting a formula, because they know everything follows from cutting up a rectangle.

Having time to follow rabbit trails means you have time to explore questions like, ‘What’s trigonometry used for?’ Which leads you to research the history of trigonometry, from right back when ancient astronomers used it to calculate the positions of the stars, to how triangulation is used today in everything from MRI scanners to animation software.

And when your daughter who’s passionate about linguistics asks where the words sine, cosine and tangent come from, you can spend a pleasant half hour discovering how ‘sine’, like the word used to describe our facial cavities (sinuses) comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘bowstring’.

How to make your child love mathsOf course, your child may not be as interested as mine in the etymology of maths terms, but by following whatever it is they are interested in, you’ll deepen their understanding of what they’re learning and make it more memorable.

3. Do buddy maths

Since the early days of homeschooling right up until now when they’re 11 and 12, I’ve done maths alongside my children.

In this way I’ve been able to share my passion for maths, clear up any confusion as soon as it occurs, and head off boredom by moving on as soon as I can see a concept’s been mastered. (Plus of course I’m there to help navigate rabbit trails and answer ‘why’ questions.)

How to make your kids love maths Pythagoras

Pythagoras Lego proof – click image for details

4. Don’t drill them on maths facts (unless they ask you to)

This is a controversial one, and I won’t pretend I’ve never casually suggested to my kids how useful it might be for them to rote-learn their multiplication tables, but they were having none of it.

Jasper couldn’t see the point of memorising something he can quickly work out every time, and (like a lot of bright people) Cordie gets stressed by time pressure.

So I decided I may as well trust mathematicians like Jo Boaler who says that not drilling kids on maths facts is a sure way to increase both their maths confidence and their number sense.

“Drilling without understanding is harmful … I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Jo Boaler

Guess what? It worked! After years of having fun with numbers, neither of my children has a problem with doing rapid mental calculations – for numbers both below and above 12.

5. Do maths anywhere that works for your child

In an ideal world I’d teach my kids sitting down nicely at the table as they write neatly using pencil and paper. I’m easily distracted and repetitive movement in my peripheral vision drives me crazy.

However… as the adult I’ve had to adapt myself to accommodate how my kids learn best – on any given day.

So if my son wakes up with the wiggles and wants to do maths while he leaps  around on a giant ball, I take deep breaths, read problems aloud, and hold up a whiteboard for him.

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We all learn best when we’re comfortable

I used to worry that Jasper would never be able to be still enough to write out his answers, but I’ve noticed that when his mind is sufficiently engaged he’s quick to grab a whiteboard to draw a diagram or scribble some notes to help him figure out a problem. As maths gets more complex (and interesting) I anticipate him naturally doing this more and more.

How to make your child love maths

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How do you do maths in your house?

What approach to maths works best for your children?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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PS   Bonus maths story – For a behind-the-scenes story about what maths is really like in our house, hop over to my blog about life in a family that embraces its quirkiness, Laugh, Love, Learn.

PPS   Remember my maths nightmares? I haven’t had a single one since I started learning maths this way alongside my children!

Resources

Books

Let’s Play Math  Denise Gaskins. A wonderful book all homeschoolers should read. See my review here.

What’s Math Got to Do with It?  (UK title The Elephant in the Classroom) Jo Boaler

Living maths activities we’ve done04

How to make a multiplication tower

How to make your child love maths - Multiplication towers

Fun with tessellations

Pythagoras for kids

How to make your child love maths - Pythagoras for kids

 

5 Days of maths playtime

How to make your kids love maths

How to teach maths without a curriculum

Let’s Play Math – My review of the book that has acted as our guidebook through our years of learning maths without a curriculum

When every day is maths playtime – Our living maths approach when my children were 8 and 9 years old

Living maths curriculum 2013-14

How to help your child fall in love with maths (even if they hate it)

How my autodidactic 9 year old is learning maths without a curriculum

How we do maths without a curriculum

How to make your child love maths - Maths without curriculum

Why we love Edward Zaccaro more than Khan Academy – About my 9 and 10 year olds’ favourite maths books

Maths – Why Faster Isn’t Smarter

Teaching trigonometry

Teaching trigonometry Resourceaholic. When you introduce your child to trig, I highly recommend printing off a set of logarithmic ratios in table form before you reach for the calculator, and that you start out with the kind of  approach outlined in this article.

Applications of trigonometry Dave’s short trig course

Origin of the terms Sine, Cosine, Tangent The Math Forum

How to use trigonometry to measure the height of a tree The Math Dude

Geometry

Animated explanations for area of basic shapes I can’t find the one we used, but this is very similar. We cut the various shapes out of coloured card.

Times tables

Fluency Without Fear Jo Boaler, Fluency Without Fear

 

 

What’s it like Homeschooling an 11 and 12 Year Old?

 

What's it like Homeschooling an 11 and 12 Year Old?

Have you ever wondered why there are so few blogs about homeschooling older children? I used to. Then my kids became tweens.

We’re still unschoolers, but the hands-on activities that used to make up our day are gradually being replaced by independent projects, reading and outside classes. And photos of tweens reading, watching YouTube or even quietly crafting aren’t quite the same as cute pics of little ones doing colourful science experiments and messy art projects.

Our homeschooling is just as much fun, but these days the enjoyment lies more in the conversations we have, the puzzles we ponder and the jokes we share.

Looking back over the first six years of homeschooling

Back in the anxious, early days when we started homeschooling I used to wonder how I’d cope with the pressure when my kids reached senior-school age (11, here in the UK). But now with one child near the end of her first senior-school year and the other just turned 11, I feel calmer and more confident than ever.

One of the reasons I feel so relaxed is that having spent the last six years alongside my children, I know them pretty well. I know how they learn, what interests them, what their quirks are and what inspires them. Of course Cordie and Jasper are still changing – now more than ever, perhaps – but thanks to our time together I have a much better understanding of who they are and how I can support them.

Time’s also given me perspective.  Over each year that I’ve watched these two young people blossom, my faith in unschooling and in their ability to learn what they need grows stronger.

As homeschoolers we’ve always forged our own path. Whenever I’ve had a wobble and tried to steer us in a more schooly direction, my kids have made it clear they were having none of it. Like when they refused to follow any maths curriculum – which led us down the living maths route, something I’m truly appreciative of (at least in hindsight!).

What's it like Homeschooling an 11 and 12 Year Old?P1100738as

Homeschooling in the early days

Looking ahead to the teen years

Now we’re looking ahead to the teen years and exams, I’m so thankful for how we’ve done things.

All those ‘random’ science experiments really did both spark an interest in science and give my kids a solid grounding in chemistry and physics.

Living maths prepared them better than I could even have imagined for taking on trigonometry, algebra and geometry.

The poetry teatimes, read-alouds and audiobooks nurtured a deep love of literature.

And I recently realised that the reason it’s taken us five years to read three volumes of The Story of the World is because these days I can barely read a sentence without stimulating an intense debate about how such-and-such leader is repeating the mistakes of so-and-so who came before him, or how the Napoleonic Empire relates to the UK’s forthcoming referendum on whether to stay in Europe!

 

Finding community

Last year was a huge turning point for me. I discovered that my son is twice-exceptional and that both my kids and I have the innate personality traits known as overexcitabilities, which explains why we’ve always found ourselves at the fringes of homeschooling communities. After years of feeling isolated I found my tribe and launched a new blog to help others find theirs, too.

Now, equipped with even better information about who my children are and how I can support their learning, I’m looking forward to the next stage of our us-schooling adventure.

What’s next on Navigating By Joy

Launching Laugh, Love, Learn has taken most of my blogging energy so far this year, but now it’s up and running I’d like to check back in here more regularly.

I’m so appreciative of the bloggers who continue to write about their teens’ learning. I may not be as creative and organised as my friends Sue and Claire but if I can even inspire one person to trust their instincts and keep on home-educating their kids in the way that feels right to them, it will be worth it!

Here are a few ideas for what I could write about:

  • How living maths has worked out for us
  • How Jasper (11) has taught himself to read, write and spell
  • Cordie’s (12) passion for linguistics
  • How Jasper’s learning chemistry
  • How we’ve been learning foreign languages
  • Our unschooling routine
  • What each of my children is learning about
  • My kids’ goals and dreams
What would you be interesting in reading about? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up and The Squishable Baby’s Homeschool LinkUp.

Is it Okay to Make Mistakes?

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“Oh dear,” I thought as I looked at the model magic teddy bear C(12) had made the day before. Deep cracks had appeared in it overnight. I hoped she wouldn’t be too upset that her beautiful work had been damaged.

The cracks might have formed because our Model Magic* was so old. I bought it when my children first left school over five years ago. Back then I was anxious that they shouldn’t miss out on any experiences as a result of being home-educated (they’d had Model Magic at school, so they must have it at home!)

But perhaps because they were busy doing other things, or maybe  because I was always waiting for the perfect project, the Model Magic stayed in our cupboard until I came across it during a clear-out.

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Later, I found C(12) happily dipping a paintbrush into a pot of red acrylic paint. She was painting the deep cracks in her teddy bear, making them into bloodstains!

C(12) often paints, but usually on paper. “I like painting in real cracks – you don’t have to add shadows,” she happily explained.  “Do you like the way I turned my sculpture into a Beautiful Oops?”

Beautiful Oops* is a sweet little book we have about how mistakes can be transformed into opportunities.

Beautiful Oops

Jo Boaler,  a Stanford University maths professor who’s passionate about giving children confidence in maths, talks a lot about the value of making mistakes.  Her website YouCubed recently released a video for students about how important mistakes are for learning.

J(10) hates making mistakes. I show him the YouCubed video. “Don’t you think it’s amazing that our brains literally grow every time we make a mistake?” I say. ” When we get the wrong answer, then try to figure out our mistake, we learn even more than if we’d got it right in the first place!” J(10) isn’t convinced yet, but I’ll keep trying.

I’m not sure I’d want C(12)’s gruesome bear in my bedroom, but she’s very pleased with it.  She’s put it in our Halloween basket with our cute rock monsters. 🙂

“I’d like to write a blog post about your beautiful oops,” I say to C(12). “The trouble is, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing people are interested in reading. They seem to be more interested in our science experiments.”

“Why don’t you write it anyway?” C(12) smiles.  “Your blog is for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

* * *

I’ll leave you with sneak peek at something I’ve been working on over the last few weeks…

Laugh, Love, Learn blog about overexcitabilities

I’ll write more about my new blog Laugh, Love, Learn soon, but for now here’s a taster – I’d love you to head over and check it out.

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* Affiliate link to something you might like as much as I do.

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

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

Sharpie

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.)

IMG 1405a 2

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

Resources

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.

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

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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 …

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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.

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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!

Carnival

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.

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