Tag Archives: Grade 5

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.

IMG 2862w
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!



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


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.

Easy Halloween Craft – Cute Rock Monsters

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

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

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

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

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters
8-year-old C making Halloween rock monsters

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

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

What You Need

Flat pebbles

Acrylic paints

Stick-on eyes


White-out fluid (optional)

What You Do

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

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

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

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters
C(11) and J(10) making a pumpkin-carving YouTube video

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters

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

Easy Halloween Craft - Cute Rock Monsters


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

How to make quick crystals

How to make quick Crystals

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

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

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

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

Easy Crystals - equipment
All you need to make quick crystals

What you need

Epsom salt (1/2 cup)

Hot water (1/2 cup)

Food colouring (optional)

Glass, spoon

What you do

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

How to make quick Crystals
Dissolving the Epsom salts

What happens

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

How to make quick Crystals
Epsom salt crystals

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

How to make quick Crystals
Taking a closer look at the crystals

How do crystals form? The scientific explanation

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

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

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

How to make quick Crystals
Epsom salt crystals

More crystal science

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

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

Sugar crystals
Sugar crystals
Salt crystals
Salt crystals
Borax crystals
Borax crystals

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


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

How to make quick Crystals

How to make quick crystals

Fizzy Drink Science

Fizzy drinks science

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

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

fizzy drink science
Concocting ‘fizz powder’

What You Need

Fizzy drink science
Fizzy drink ingredients

Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Citric acid (food grade)

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

1/4 cup measure

Clear plastic cups or glasses

Wooden stirrers or spoons

Sugar or sweetener

Digital timer

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

Flavourings (optional)

What You Do

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

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

fizzy drink science
Adding water to our fizz powder

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

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

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

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

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

See Science Buddies for more detailed instructions.

What happens

What do you see?

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

How does it taste?

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

fizzy drink science
Fizzy drink flavourings (if your’e feeling brave)

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

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

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

fizzy drink science
Taste testing our fizzy drinks

The scientific explanation

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

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

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

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

The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry:

Fizzy drink science
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry

More fizzy fun – Making sherbet

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

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

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

fizzy drink science
Taste testing our fizz powder

More fizzy drink science

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

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

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

More fun chemistry for older kids

Make hydrogen and oxygen from water using electrolysis


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

BBC GCSE Science

How to make sherbet


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

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

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


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Science Sunday at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

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. 🙂

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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

Img 8478b

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.

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

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


A young man walks towards me

he takes his final step

his eyes clouded with fear

his shoulders heavy with dread.


His eyes look down to the damp ground

he knows his life is done

and all I can think about is

what we have become


We’re monsters in human form

about to take a life

to end his troubles

his thoughts and worries

to shoot away his strife.


My kindly thoughts don’t save me

as the weapon kicks

I turn my head away

and moisten my dry lips.


The man collapses to the ground

I look at him with sorrow

I wonder though deep inside

Would I do the same tomorrow?


The poem made me cry.


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


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



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.





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