Tag Archives: history

Unschooling Plans – Science and History

Unschooling science and history

Here’s what we have planned for science and history this term. My children intend to keep me very busy!

See this post for our unschooling plans for maths and English.



C(10) wants to “explore the laws of physics. Like, what makes vacuum cleaners work? How do aeroplanes and helicopters fly? What charges up batteries?”

I’ll be learning this alongside the kids here. I enjoyed physics it at school but didn’t study it for long. When I was 13 I missed a term of school because of a road accident and had to drop a subject (physics). The time has come to catch up on what I missed!

J(8) threw in, “And I want to learn about quantum physics.”

“Sure!” I replied brightly, wondering where on Earth I’d find resources to teach quantum physics to an 8-year-old (or a 43-year-old).

I needn’t have worried – the scientists have it covered. Just look at this Minecraft Mod, designed to teach kids about quantum physics. And YouTube has dozens of videos on the subject. (The kids may be teaching me some science this term.)


J(8), meanwhile, wants to “make more potions,” so we’ll do more activities like Midsummer Potions, Alien Soup and Fizzy Fountains.

unschooling science
“Potions class”

Science investigations that all students should do before high school

In our spare moments I’ll use Phyllis’s wonderful collections of science investigations that all students should do before high school and concoctions for play. We’ve done many of these already but I’m eagerly following Phyllis’s blog so we don’t miss any fun.

unschooling science and history
Diet coke geyser fun

History (with a bit of English and science overlap)

C(10) and I will continue with our chronological study of world history (we’re two-thirds through The Story of the World volume 2). We’re especially looking forward to learning about the Elizabethan period and Shakespeare.


Shakespeare’s Globe in London is showing Much Ado About Nothing in April so we’re going to study the play and then see it performed. This week we laughed out loud at the Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross retelling.  Next we’re going to read the No Fear Shakespeare (Sparknotes) version, and watch the Kenneth Brannagh movie. And finally – the live performance!

Unschooling science and history

Explorers and navigation

We’ll visit the Royal Museums Greenwich to complement our SOTW study of the early explorers. The children are looking forward to standing astride the Prime Meridian, with one foot in the Earth’s Western Hemisphere and one in the Eastern Hemisphere.

World Wars

J(8) received an illustrated book on the World Wars for Christmas, which prompted him to ask to learn about the World Wars.

He’s more interested in machines and methods of warfare than people and motives so he loves these First World War Fact Cards I recently strewed.

unschooling science and history

There’s plenty of good quality historical fiction about World War I and II. Right now we’re enjoying The Silver Sword in the car, and Puddles in the Lane is our family read-aloud.

I’d like to use videos, too – does anyone know of any good videos about the world wars that are suitable for children?

Our local kids’ history club is running a workshop on the First World War this afternoon, which will get us off to a great start.

Do you have any suggestions for resources we might like? I’d love to hear from you!

Next time, in the last post in this unschooling plans series, I’ll share my children’s project plans for this term.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Weekly Wrap-Up

Collage Friday

Japan – History & Geography

Japanese Ink Wash Painting - Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540
Japanese Ink Wash Painting – Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540

This post is about some “spin-off fun” we’ve been having as we’ve been learning about medieval Japan.

We’re using The Story of the World vol 2 as our “guidebook” for the Middle Ages, but this year we’re not using an accompanying activity guide or curriculum.

Instead, we’re enjoying coming up with our own ideas for spin-off activities. When I say “we” come up with ideas, of course I initiate most of them – but I’m guided by the children’s level of engagement and interest when it comes to how fully we explore each idea, and I’m always open to being led down new paths of their choosing. Sometimes we go off on tangents that take us far away from history, and that’s ok.

Japanese Writing

Japanese writing is made up of three alphabets, one of which is a collection of Chinese characters. We had recently looked at Chinese characters when we learned about Chinese New Year, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Japanese writing with Chinese. The article I found also compared Korean, so we looked at that too.

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids
Comparing Japanese, Chinese and Korean writing

I found two examples each of Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing (using Google Images). We examined one set of examples and talked about similarities and differences. Then we used this article to help us distinguish them further. (In a nutshell, Korean has lots of ovals and circles, Chinese characters are the most complex, and Japanese contains some Chinese characters plus other characters, many of which are curvy.)

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids

Finally, the children looked at “blind” copies of each type of writing (I had cut off anything that identified what they were). They found it fairly easy (and enjoyable) to identify where each type of writing came from.

japanese name translator
Writing our names in Japanese

We then looked up our names in Japanese. This name translator translates into various writing styles, including traditional Japanese and Manga. We wrote out our names in both styles using paintbrushes dipped in black ink, and C also wanted to write hers out using her calligraphy pen.

japanese name translator
Using black ink and a paintbrush to write Japanese letters

Ink Wash Painting

While we had the black ink and paintbrushes out, I showed the children some examples of Japanese ink wash painting and they decided to have a go. We didn’t have Japanese rice paper so we used diluted black ink on wet watercolour paper. (I have to ‘fess up – I did buy some A4 edible rice paper before I realised this is not the stuff the Japanese paint on! Oh well, I’m sure we will find a fun way to use it!)

Hasegawa Tohaku Pine Trees Japanese Ink Wash Painting
“Pine Trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)

I based my painting on Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610). The children’s designs were, of course, were much more original!

japanese ink wash painting for kids
Our ink wash paintings

Origami Kimonos

We were amused to learn that the exotic-sounding word “kimono” actually translates as “thing to wear”! It is composed of two Chinese symbols. “Ki” comes from “kuru” and means “to wear”, and “mono” means thing.

japan lapbook - origami kimono
From C(9)’s Lapbook

C(9) thought this origami kimono girl would look good in her lap book. The directions are simple, and no special paper is required – you just print out the page and then cut out, fold and assemble the pretty patterned kimono pieces. C(9) did comment that it was a bit of a cheat as real origami wouldn’t call for glue!

Japanese Kites

Kites were first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist missionaries, for use in sacred ceremonies. The Japanese developed their own distinctive style of kites, and began to use them for practical purposes, such as lifting building materials and sending messages. They were also used to raise soldiers into the air to act as spies or snipers!

Find out more about the origin of kites here and Japanese kite history here.

Japanese kites lapbook  minibook
C(9)’s minibook on Japanese kites

C(9) loved researching Japanese kites and enjoyed making a mini-book about them.


We learned that Japan is an archipelago – a large group of islands – and we compared the islands’ size with the island we live on, Britain. (See this image for a comparison of Japan’s size with the USA). When we saw that the distance from the north to the south of Japan is the same as the distance from Scotland to the south of Spain, we understood why Japan has such a varied climate.

salt dough map of japan
Salt dough map of Japan

Japan is located on the “Ring of Fire” – the zone of volcanic activity surrounding the Pacific Ocean. We contrasted Japan’s position on the boundary of several tectonic plates with Britain’s location inside the Eurasian Plate, and reflected on what this means for our respective societies. This has also launched a spin-off project on volcanoes and earthquakes!

We’re away next week, but when we get back I’ll be sharing more Japan spin-off fun, involving Samurai and Zen gardening.

To see what other homeschoolers have been doing this week, visit It’s A Wrap at Hammock Tracks and Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners.

For more geography and history ideas, visit Adventures in Mommydom.


Homegrown Learners

How to Make a Model Celtic Roundhouse

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers
This full-size model was not made by us 🙂

Who knew making a model Celtic roundhouse could be so easy?

As our year studying Ancient History draws to a close, we’ve returned – for the first time since we looked at Stonehenge – to the ancient peoples who lived in our part of the world:  the Celts.

I like to use living books as much as possible, but I didn’t find many on the Celts suitable for younger children, so I decided to go hands-on instead.

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolersAt our library we found Step Into The Celtic World.  I asked C which of the projects appealed to her and she chose the model Celtic Roundhouse. This tied in perfectly with my plan to visit a local Celtic Ancient Farm!

We only loosely followed the book instructions, partly because I’m not very good at following  instructions (or even reading them – ahem), and partly because the dowel rods I ordered online took several weeks to arrive.  (Big J later told me I could have picked some up at the local DIY store;  I have much to learn about hands-on project supplies.)

What you need for your model Celtic roundhouse

  • A long strip of card (for the walls of the house)
  • Straw (available from pet shops as pet bedding)
  • Plasticine (for the walls).  I found this animators’ plasticine alternative very cheaply on Amazon
  • A large, thick piece of card for the roof
  • Glue

How to Construct the Roundhouse

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers

1. Cover the long strip of cardboard (wall) with a thin layer of plasticine.

2. Press scraps of straw into the walls. (I forgot to get a photo of this.)

3. Stand the wall up in a circle shape, leaving a gap for the doorway. You might want to use tape or glue to attach it to a base to help it stand up. (The photo below was taken before pressing the straw into the walls.)

how to make a model Celtic Roundhouse at navigating by joy homeschoolers

4. Cut out a cardboard circle for the roof.  Make it into a cone shape that overhangs the walls.

5. Now for the messy bit.  Cover the roof with straw, using glue to stick it on. The picture in our book showed long neat strands of straw coming together in an orderly thatch. I used our guinea pigs’ bedding, which gave a slightly different effect! But as I told C and J, the Celts used whatever materials were available locally to build their houses. 😉


Our Celtic Roundhouse may not be the prettiest ever, but we were pleased with it. We had so much fun working on it together, and it enhanced our later visit to Butser Celtic Farm.

I’ve been wanting  to do more hands-on projects as part of our homeschool.  They’re memorable and fun, and this is the age to do them (my kids are 7 and 8). My lack of practicality – combined with perfectionist tendencies – has held me back in the past, so I was very pleased that we got round to making our roundhouse!

Have you made a model Celtic Roundhouse? I’d love to hear how you got on. 🙂


We got our Ancient Egypt unit off to a great start today.  This is our third week of the History Odyssey: Ancients (level 1) curriculum and I feel ready to start adapting it a bit to best meet our family’s interests and learning styles.

C and J love secret codes so we leapt straight into hieroglyphics (which fit nicely with the curriculum).  I pinned up a copy of the hieroglyph chart from Pepi and the Secret Names and without any prompting the children eagerly began writing their names on their whiteboards.  They carried on writing for about an hour – everyone’s names, messages to friends who are following the same history curriculum, and messages to each other.  J even wanted to play “consequences” in hieroglyphics! (I must admit I didn’t go with this one… we stuck to the English version!)

While they wrote, I read “The First Writing” chapter from The Story Of The World vol 1 and a section from Horrible Histories’ Awesome Egyptians.  I like the way Awesome Egyptians talks about how hieroglyphs were deliberately complicated so that those who were able to read and write them were more important, and how scribes were trained in temples, so that when the last temple was destroyed, the ability to understand hieroglyphics was lost for many hundreds of years.  This led nicely into finding out how the Rosetta Stone was the long-awaited key to cracking the secret hieroglyph code!

J enjoyed deciphering this message from Awesome Egyptians – he insisted on writing out the hieroglyphics before the English 🙂
“I love you mummy”, by C 🙂

C and I finished up by watching the Ancient Egypt chapter of the DVD Time Life’s Lost Civilizations (from LoveFilm) – not the highest quality documentary in the world, but the visuals brought what we’d been learning about to life, and the commentary about early European plunderers fitted in nicely with our recent learnings about the key role archaeology plays in our understanding of history.

We’re looking forward to continuing our Egyptian unit soon.

Home And Away

Inspired by the fun we recently had at Centerparcs, this week I’ve been attempting to strike a balance between stimulating new experiences and the comfort of our normal home routine.C with a snake at Putney group Feb 11

On Monday we went to our weekly London home education group, where we were this week joined by a menagerie of snakes, spiders and rodents.

Then, yesterday, we recreated a few of my favourite elements of Centerparcs with a morning walk in Bracknell Forest and then a proper, (my) hair-wet, session at the local swimming pool in the afternoon.  Usually I do 15 minutes with the children after their swimming lessons, sporting a bright yellow silicone hat to save the need for a subsequent hair-wash.  A hair-wet swim is so much more fun than the bobbing-on-the-surface version, especially as C and J spend most of their time underwater.  I even did some lengths of front crawl and breast stroke when the children joined their classes – my upper body felt satisfyingly “exercised” when I woke this morning!

After such an active start to the week I was tempted to stay at home today, but Wednesday is our best day for field-trips and we’d been intending to visit the Milestones living history museum in Basingstoke for some time so, fuelled by my new intentions, off we went.  We had a great day; Milestones had something for each of us.  C revelled in dressing up in an array of Victorian and Edwardian costumes (actually I quite enjoyed that too!). The exhibits showing how real people lived fascinated me – the tiny “workman’s cottage” complete with Victorian washing tub (“copper”), mangle, and outside privy,  and the shops filled with ordinary objects so evocative of their times.  J, meanwhile, was thrilled to be given sole use of an “Opus Click”, a small audio-visual gadget which kept him utterly captivated hunting for exhibit numbers and solemnly listening to the accompanying commentaries as C and I ooh-ed and ah-ed and played dressing up.

Tomorrow, a relaxing day at home.

C at milestones Me at Milestones

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