Tag Archives: grade 4

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Taste testing our fizz powder

More fizzy drink science

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

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

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

More fun chemistry for older kids

Make hydrogen and oxygen from water using electrolysis


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

BBC GCSE Science

How to make sherbet


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

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

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


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science Sunday at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

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.

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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.

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Squishy circuits creations
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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


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.


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


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!

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.

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


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


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


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.

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.


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

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.


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


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!


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


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.

private peaceful 1

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.)



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.


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?)


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”!)


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.


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.

Left: J(9) reading his freewrite


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.


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.


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


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!


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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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

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

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This week I’m blogging every day about our day-to-day homeschooling life. If you’re only here the science, go ahead and delete these posts. Normal service will resume next week. 😉

8:00AM – Physics for breakfast

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Even the driest textbook goes down easily one bite at a time.

I’ve had physics for breakfast every day for the last seven weeks (with a side order of green tea and porridge).

My favourite way to learn science is by hands-on exploration alongside the children. But I’m hoping that by finding out what’s on the school curriculum, this GCSE Physics book will give me plenty of time to pull together the most fun ways of learning to share with my kids. I might even have half a chance of explaining what’s going on in our experiments!

9:00AM – A musical morning

On Tuesday mornings we’re visited by a gentleman with a grey ponytail and steel biker rings on every finger. Chris used to sing his own songs in a rock band. Before that, he trained as a classical guitarist.

I’m not sure how teaching C(10) and I to play classical and blues pieces compares with the excitement of Chris’s former life, but we couldn’t ask for a more entertaining teacher – we spend most of the morning giggling. Which in my book is a great learning state!

11:00AM – Cupcakes for YouTube

Every week C(10) creates a video which she posts on YouTube on a Sunday. She’s taught herself everything related to making these videos – how to position the camera using a tripod, how to edit her films, how to add royalty-free music, how to make graphics thumbnails and how to publish her finished videos.

Cake you tube

Today she decided to film herself making chocolate-orange cupcakes. I love how she speeds up her finished creations – you’ll see what I mean if you peek at last week’s pumpkin-carving video.


While the kitchen was in use as a recording studio, J(9) and I hid out in another room doing copywork and handwriting.


After lunch (vegetable soup and crusty bread), C(10) and I did maths, Latin and Spanish.

We love the comic strip style layout of Minimus Latin, and always end up having interesting conversations about English words that come from Latin.


Until recently we were using an adult Spanish course, but C(10)’s interest in learning how to introduce oneself and talk about one’s occupation had begun to wane, so we decided to look for a book with more relevant vocabulary.

We’re enjoying Mira so far. It seems lively and should prepare C(10) a little for our Spanish adventure.


3:00PM – Teatime

C finished filming as she iced her cupcakes…
Teatime collage
… ready for us to enjoy at afternoon tea as we wrote and shared our own Halloween-themed mad-libs stories.


Dog walk
Fresh air and exercise time!


For more Week in Life of a British homeschooling family, see Monday,  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

And here’s how a week in my life looked this time last year.





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

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Sometimes I think my family takes the homeschooling truism, “there’s no such thing as a typical day” to extremes.

On a mythical “normal Monday” we would work through our short homeschooling routine, read a story or play a game over afternoon teatime, and go for a walk with our dogs. There would be no egg throwing, and definitely no rollercoasters.

But as “normal” is never likely to happen, and since this time last year I enjoyed participating in a “Week in my life” blog hop, I thought it might be fun to record the same week this year.


I get up, let the plumber in, and make porridge. (The plumber doesn’t come every day. Only when 9-year-old boys use their bedroom radiator as a launchpad.)


We’re expecting friends to arrive at around 10:00AM, so we get to work promptly on our daily maths and English routine.

First, I do buddy maths with J(9).

Then after a quick jump around, he does some “French dictation”. This is a Brave Writer idea, designed to introduce children to dictation.

J maths

Next, buddy maths with C(10). She usually uses Ed Zaccaro too, but occasionally we work through British materials instead, to check for gaps and reassure C(10) that she’s on track.

C maths


No sign of our friends, so we head to our local park with the dogs.



Pancake time. I dictate an excerpt from Catching Fire to C(10) while I make the batter. She’s using Brave Writer’s Boomerang this year.

C(10) writes beautifully, but dictation is proving very useful for picking up and dealing painlessly with small errors. Today’s passage gave us the opportunity to discuss how “too” and “to” are used.

Pancakes and dictation

We eat our pancakes while reading about James VI in The Story of the World vol 2. C(10) has been learning about this period in her homeschool group, so she entertains J(9) and I with extra details.


C(10) practises guitar. She and I are both working towards classical guitar grade 5 exams this year.

P1020362  Version 2

While we’re making pancakes, C(10) tells me about an interesting demonstration involving eggs and inertia that she’s been watching on Veritasium. Somehow this ends up in an “experiment” involving throwing eggs  at our garden wall. (We’ve been picking egg-shell off the dogs all afternoon.)

Egg throwing


Our friends arrive! (Loraine, I love your timekeeping. We wouldn’t have had nearly such a productive day if you’d come earlier.)

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Because our day hasn’t been quite busy enough, after our friends leave we decide to head to a local theme park. Seriously though… We save up grocery store points to buy annual passes which cover the three big theme parks near us, and our coupon for C(10)’s pass is about to expire.

While we’re there we have to go on a few rollercoasters, of course.

Can you see C(10) there on the right?

J(9) is so excited that by next spring when the parks reopen, he’ll be tall enough to go on this one, which C(10) rides on her own this time.

6:00PM Tacos for dinner. My guitar practice, then off to the gym for half an hour on the cross-trainer while C(10) does in her karate class.


For more Week in Life of a British homeschooling family, see Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

And see Week in the Life of a British homeschooling family 2013 with children aged 8 and 9.


How was your day?

Perhaps you’d like to share a normal (ha!) day in your homeschooling life?

Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure


My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!


Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg
Inside the Alhambra


View from the Alhambra
Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure
Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
Las Cuevas de Nerja


Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:

Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!


The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.


I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!


Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

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


Electrolysis of water for kids

We’ve all been told that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. But how do we really know that? Can this wet substance that quenches our thirst and cools our bodies on hot summer days really be made up of two gases?

We tried to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolysis. We managed it after a series of experiments that left us with even more questions than we had before we started. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – curiosity is a great learning state!  (See the mysterious case of the missing oxygen, below.)

You can benefit from our mistakes and perform electrolysis the quick way.  Here’s how to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis. Afterwards I’ll tell you about what we did first, which produced a different gas entirely.

How to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen

What you need

  • glass or plastic tub
  • 2 elastic bands
  • 2 test tubes (with lids if possible)
  • bicarb of soda (1 tbsp)
  • graphite pencil leads
  • water
  • battery (we used 6V, a bit like this one)
  • 2 pairs of crocodile clips
  • waterproof tape
Electrolysis of water for kids
Electrolysis apparatus

What you do

See this video for detailed set-up instructions – the elastic band arrangement keeps the test tubes in place perfectly.

If you can’t watch the video, here’s the gist of it: Connect one end of each crocodile clip to a piece of graphite, and the other to the battery. Secure the graphite ends to the bottom of the tub with the graphite sticking up, and place an inverted test tube over each piece of graphite (held in place by the elastic bands). Dissolve the bicarb of soda in the water and fill the tub. Finally, remove each test tube, fill it with the water, and carefully replace it over the graphite. Any gases collected during the electrolysis will replace the water in the tubes, so make sure there are no air bubbles.

What happens

Bubbles of gas quickly start to form at each electrode. More gas collects at the negative electrode (cathode) than at the positive (anode).

How to test your gases

When you’ve collected plenty of gas at each electrode, carefully put the lids on your test tubes (while they’re still underwater).

To test for hydrogen

We hypothesised that the gas at our (negative) cathode was (positively charged) hydrogen. Hydrogen is explosive. It won’t wreck your house in these quantities, but it will make a cool popping noise in the presence of a lighted splinter of wood. You can hear it in the video below.


To test for oxygen

We test for oxygen with a glowing splint. If enough oxygen is present, the splint rekindles. The gas we collected at our anode gave a brief glow which confirmed it to be oxygen, but after the excitement of the popping hydrogen, we were a bit disappointed. We produced much more oxygen later using a different method – see below for a video of our relighting splint.

How does electrolysis work?

Water is a covalent molecule (H20) held together by shared electrons in covalent bonds.

During electrolysis, the molecules are reduced at the cathode to to hydrogen gas, and oxidised at the anode to oxygen gas.

Pure water doesn’t conduct electricity, so we need to add an electrolyte, like bicarbonate of soda. (You wouldn’t believe the number of websites that tell you to use salt. We tried it, and collected a completely different gas. More on that later.)

Twice as much hydrogen as oxygen is produced, reflecting the molecular composition of water.

Electrolysis of Water
Credit – J Squish


Here’s a fairly easy-to-follow explanation of the electrolysis of water.

If you’re looking for a more detailed explanation, see Wikipedia.

{Thank you so much, Sarah, for pointing out my earlier misunderstanding and for making this post more accurate!}

The mysterious case of the missing oxygen

(Or, what happens when you use salt as an electrolyte.)

Before we successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the method above, we tried adding salt to help our water conduct electricity. And not just a pinch of salt. I decided that if a little salt would help a bit, then a lot of salt would be even better. (It works for crystals, after all.)

We set up our electrolysis using the same apparatus as above but this time with a saturated salt solution.  And there we sat, eagerly looking for our bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen.

What happened? Well, plenty at our cathode. Gas quickly began to fill the test tube.  We tested it and discovered it was hydrogen. And at the positive electrode? Not one single bubble of gas! What had happened to the oxygen from our water molecules?

I did a bit of research overnight.

It seems that during the electrolysis of sodium chloride (salt) solution, sodium chloride breaks down at the positive electrode to form chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide solution. (Click the link for a more detailed explanation.) Chlorine dissolves easily in water, so won’t collect as a gas until the solution is saturated and can absorb no more chlorine.

So if our positive electrode was busy attracting chlorine, and hydrogen was collecting at the cathode … what had happened to the oxygen? Or to the sodium from our sodium chloride (NaCl), for that matter?  According to the chemists, the sodium and oxygen combine to make sodium hydroxide solution. Further investigation was called for.

We’d left our apparatus set up – disconnected from the battery – overnight.  We decided to examine it for clues.

Further investigations

What changes had taken place as a result of electrolysis?
Our salt solution had turned a brownish colour. Was this dissolved chlorine? Broken down graphite? Corroded  crocodile clip (which had been attached to the anode)?

Electrolysis of water for kids
Changes as a result of electrolysis

Filtering the solution.
Some of our positive electrode (anode) broke down, leaving black bits in the solution. We use graphite in electrolysis because it is an inert (non-reactive) metal, but perhaps the large amounts of chlorine we produced had caused it to react? We filtered the brown solution to see if any insoluble bits remained. They didn’t. But we did notice some white spots on the filter paper – the chlorine produced at our positive electrode must have bleached the paper!

Electrolysis of water for kids
Bleached filter paper
Electrolysis of water for kids
After electrolysis our solution was slightly acidic

Testing the pH of the solution
We hypothesised that the solution would be slightly alkali due to the sodium hydroxide. But when we tested it, we found the opposite. It was slightly acidic – like chlorine. We guessed this meant the solution must contain more chlorine than hydroxide.

More fun with oxygen

I’m going slightly off topic here, but I promised to say how we created enough oxygen to successfully test for it. We got the idea from going to The Magic of Oxygen show at the Royal Institution. I’d love to share with you one of the demonstrations we saw there.

The presenters asked me if they could borrow a £10 note from me – and then they set fire to it! Here’s a video of my flaming money.


Not long afterwards the scientists returned my £10 note – completely undamaged. The trick was the scientists first soaked the money in alcohol. The alcohol burning in oxygen produces heat, light, carbon dioxide and water. The temperature the alcohol burns at is too low to evaporate the water, so the water protects the note from burning.

Electrolysis of water for kids
Unharmed £10 note

The Magic of Oxygen scientists also demonstrated how to make “elephant toothpaste” by breaking down hydrogen peroxide. We remembered how we once made our own elephant toothpaste. When we got home we decided to make elephant toothpaste again, and use a glowing splint to test for oxygen gas.

Electrolysis of water for kids
Making elephant toothpaste

When you place a glowing splint into oxygen, the splint re-lights.


Why this is my favourite way to do homeschool science

As you can tell, this was not the the kind of homeschool science demonstration where mum knows exactly what’s going to happen and why. I studied chemistry until I was sixteen – nearly thirty years ago!  I didn’t know the answers to many of the questions generated by these experiments.

But not knowing what would happen made me curious and inspired to learn more, and the children were definitely caught up in my excitement. And I’m glad we made the “mistake” of using salt as an electrolyte first, because if we hadn’t we would have missed out on some very cool science!

Have you done any fun science recently?

Have you ever investigated a case of missing oxygen?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners
The Home Ed Link Up #16 – Adventures in Home Education
Science Sunday – Adventures in Mommydom
Finishing Strong – Starts at Eight

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

A writing game for all ages

Writing game

I don’t know how she does it. Every day Julie Bogart drops into my inbox yet another pearl of wisdom that makes our homeschool more fun. A game, an idea for stimulating big conversations, or simply words of encouragement reminding me to appreciate what’s going well in our homeschool, instead of worrying about what’s missing.

In last Sunday’s Daily Writing Tip, Julie suggested using the game Boggle to generate words to use in stories.

We don’t have Boggle, so I downloaded the free app Popwords to use instead.

How we played

First, we used Popwords to generate a list of words. We let J(9) spot the three-letter-words while C(10) and I searched for longer ones. I wrote all our words on a whiteboard.

When we had 15 words, we grabbed paper and pencils. We each set our own goal for how many words to  include in our piece of writing. J(9) decided on six words, C(10) thirteen, and I tried to use all of them.

The game was so much fun. We all smiled as we wrote, and giggled as we shared our writing. We created such different pieces of writing from the same set of words!

What we wrote

J(9) wrote a movie promo, which he read in his best “big movie” voiceover voice:

“It’s the sun trial – the kills of a pig in a wig … Coming out soon.”

C(10) made a vampire poem:

“I run from the pale animals who never see the sun

With their fangs glinting, ready for the kill

Theirs is the trial which inflicts awe

The dots of blood on the hen – no, pig

No human – yes, human, beware

They are everywhere

In the eggs, in your wig, at the gig


I wrote a silly story, which started:

“It all began the day I came home from my run to discover the hen, Suki, wearing a blonde wig. She’d been quite an ordinary chook when I left home as the sun was rising. And now here she was – dancing on the toaster, with the pig playing on Uncle Solomon’s banjo.”

Games at teatime

Fun writing games are always a hit in our house, and they’re by far the best way to inspire J(9) to pick up a pen. Over the last week we’ve got into a pleasant routine of meeting for afternoon tea while we play a game or enjoy a story. On Monday lunchtime we returned from a long weekend away, and I found myself ignoring the unpacking while I made scones to eat over a game of Consequences. I’m starting the school year as I mean to go on!

Where to find Brave Writer writing ideas

You can sign up for Brave Writer’s daily writing tips on the Brave Writer homepage. Julie has compiled her first set of tips into Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 which can be downloaded for $4.99.  (I’m not affiliated to Brave Writer, I just love Julie’s gentle wisdom and want to share the inspiration with you.)

 What writing games does your family enjoy?

Do you have a favourite teatime snack?


 I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Home Ed Link Up #15 – Adventures in Home Education

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

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