Category Archives: History

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. 🙂

Ms Frizzle's Adventures in Imperial China

First Time Notebooking – Ancient China

Ancient china notebooking for homeschool

I’m excited that our study of ancient world history has brought us to China, which I know next to nothing about.  I love learning alongside the children!


This is an area you could easily dive into very deeply; there is a wealth of resources out there (for example, Jimmie’s Squidoo lens).  But we’re passing through Ancient China fairly quickly this time so we kept things simple. (I want to make sure we make it to Ancient Rome before our Rome vacation in July!)

I like knowing that, because we are following  classical four year history cycles, we’ll revisit this time period again before too long, and we can spend more time on Ancient China next time around if we want to.

The Story of the World

We read aloud chapters 10 and 32 of SOTW.

Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures – Imperial China

Ms Frizzle's Adventures in Imperial ChinaWe love the Magic School Bus series and these spin-off “Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures” history/geography books are great too.  Imperial China is a fun story with lots of sidebars about Chinese inventions and customs.

Find Out About Early China

I picked up Find Out About Early China on our public library shelves.  It’s a textbook (rather than a living book) so I haven’t read it aloud from cover to cover, but it’s nicely illustrated and has information about the key areas. We referred to it when we wanted to find out more about the clay soldiers (“terracotta army”) that were buried with China’s first emperor, for example.


This was our first time notebooking!  Before we started, C and I watched Debra Reed’s video instructions on her Notebooking Pages  website (“Our Notebooking Story”, front page).  This fired up C with enthusiasm and helped her understand the purpose and process of notebooking much better than if I had tried to explain it to her!

These are the steps we followed to make our notebooking pages:

1.  Read aloud, narrate

Chapter 32 of SOTW covers several topics relating to Ancient China.  We discussed each topic (narration style, as usual)  after I read the relevant section aloud.

Ancient China notebooking at navigatingbyjoy

2. Elicit keywords

Ancient China notebooking at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blogAfter C and J had narrated each section, I elicited from them a few  keywords, using  “Who?” “What” “How?” type prompts, and wrote the words on our whiteboards. We don’t normally do this step; it was a great way of highlighting names and key facts.

2.  Choose a notebook topic

After we’d read the whole chapter, I asked C and J what aspect of Ancient China they wanted their respective notebook pages to be about. C chose to write about the Great Wall, and J wanted his page to be about the First Emperor’s tomb (I think it was the automatic crossbows that did it).

3.  Choose and create a notebook page

C and J each selected a notebook page from .  I printed off the template and C enthusiastically hurried off to a quiet room to write her page.  Meanwhile  J dictated a couple of sentences for me to write, then added a drawing (an automatic crossbow, of course). C illustrated her page with a photocopied a map of the Great Wall from Find Out About Ancient China and some hand-drawn graphics in Ancient Chinese colours.

Notebooking page on Ancient China
C’s Notebook Page on The Great Wall of China
Notebook page: First Emperor's Grave, Ancient China
J’s Notebook Page about the First Emperor’s Tomb

Verdict on notebooking

Our first time notebooking was a great success!  The biggest surprise for me was how notebooking gave the children real ownership of their learning.  I hadn’t anticipated how much C and J would enjoy selecting topics for their pages, and C (being older) also really liked being able to select the template and how to illustrate it.

I’m always looking for the children’s input as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, but often they don’t know what they want to learn. Notebooking gives them choices that are sufficiently structured so as not to be overwhelming. As they mature, I think notebooking will be a useful tool in helping them on their paths to becoming independent learners.

C’s verdict: “I love notebooking! Can we do it again tomorrow?” 🙂

Extra Goodies

For much more about notebooking, have a look at Jimmie’s excellent Notebooking Exhibit lens and her website The Notebooking Fairy, which has stacks of free notebooking pages.

More Posts About China

Chinese New Year Homeschool ProjectChinese New Year Mini-Project





I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Adventures in Mommydom

Ancient Egypt To Ancient Greece – The Bits In Between

To think we nearly skipped right over Nebuchadnezzar and onto the Persians – the fun we would have missed!

The Bits In Between Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece

Since we finished Egypt, the last few lessons in our history curriculum have been about some of the less well-known ancient peoples who lived and fought in the Middle East, like the Philistines, Phoenicians, Assyrians and Babylonians.   A homeschooling friend who’s using the same curriculum admitted she leapfrogged right over this bunch and got stuck into Ancient Greece.  Her confession prompted my inner headteacher to grant me permission to do the same, but instead of skipping the units completely, I decided to consider whether to do them on a week by week basis.


My kids will happily listen to stories all day (especially when the play dough’s out) and our history spines – The Story Of The World  and A Child’s History Of The World  – are such entertaining reads that we’ve actually ended up enjoying all the “in between” people.

History Odyssey also suggests as a spine the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History.  We find it a bit textbookish so don’t bother much with reading it, but the illustrations are wonderful, so I lay it out on the table with the relevant pages open while I read from the other two  books.

Bonus Learning!

Each week there have been some extra fun or learning titbits:

  • Canaanites and Philistines – gave us an opportunity to read the bible stories of Samson, and David and Goliath.  (Bible study is not a regular part of our curriculum but the bible does contain some great stories that are an important part of our culture so I incorporate them whenever I can.)
  •  Phoenicians –  “the people who invented our ABCs”, without whom we might still be writing in cuneiform.  Here we went down a fascinating bunny trail about glass-making. We enjoyed a few YouTube videos about heating sand to make glass (the clip we watched is no longer available, but I’m sure there are others), glass-blowing  and colouring glass.  And J got a new favourite insult – “You stink like a man from Tyre!” – ensuring that the knowledge of how the Phoenicians crushed snails to make purple dye in a very smelly process will remain with him for a long time!
  • Assyrians – a pugnacious lot, but also invented the first libraries.

…and finally, today’s joy …

  • The Return of Babylon – where Babylon gets its own back on Assyria.  What study of ancient history would be complete with a rendition of Boney M’s By The Rivers Of Babylon?  Which caused much hilarity in our house and led to an afternoon of dancing and guffawing to all Boney M’s 70s hits.  This version  of “Daddy Cool” was our overall favourite.  It gets rather raunchy at the end but C and J were too busy admiring the male dancer’s Afro, and his ability to incorporate nearly falling off the tiny stage into his dance routine, to notice. 😀

Still to come before we get to Ancient Greece – the Persians.  I wonder what gems we’ll find there?


Yay, we got to Britain in our History Odyssey  ancient history study – “Europe Builds Monuments”!  J was quite excited to be finding out about the place Doctor Who’s Cybermen visited … 😐

We’ve passed Stonehenge several times in the car this year, on our way to and from Centerparcs. I now wish we’d taken  the short detour to park the car and get up close – next time! –  but at least I remembered to get the children to pause their car DVD players as we drove by!

The Amazing Pop-Up Stonehenge is not quite a living book, but its cool pop-up and lift-the-flap type features more than make up for anything lacking in the text, and its short paragraphs conveyed enough information to arouse the children’s curiosity.  I was on the verge of losing J at one point during a paragraph about how sloping holes were dug for the stones, so – necessity being the mother of invention – I brought out moonsand, wooden blocks and playmobil people, and the children created their own “Stonehenges” (I did point out the scale inaccuracies!).  They also had fun burying playmobil weapons and armour in the sand and then, as archaeologists, uncovering the artefacts!

Stones were rolled using “logs”
A “barrow” (burial mound) – you can just see the tip of the buried person!

We finished by watching Making History: Secrets of Stonehenge (45 minutes) on YouTube.  In between the historical narrative and interviews, this documentary features a digitally-enhanced re-enactment of how the huge bluestones were moved and erected, and in addition shows how the special effects were created – highly recommended if your children, like mine, have in the past attempted their own green screen effects!

Later I found this in the garden:

Times like this you can forgive the use of your peg basket to carry dirt…


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.

The South Bank

As most of C’s old Y2 school friends seemed to visit the Florence Nightingale museum over half term, we thought we’d go up today to see what it was all about for ourselves.  Even J was enthusiastic, on the promise of a gruesomely realistic black “toy” rat like the one a friend had brought back  last week.

The museum is lovely, with plenty of thoughtful little touches  – peepholes, a treasure hunt,  stethascope audio guides – to engage young children.  It seems to work best with where we are in our home ed journey if I allow C and J to experience places like this in their own way without too much up front discussion beyond some basic context-setting.  I then enjoy noticing, over the following weeks and months, how they begin to refer back to what they experienced, prompting lively discussions on all kinds of subjects; it’s a delight to watch and listen as their mental maps are created, amended and connected.

We escaped the cold and wet of the last day of February (winter is back) by picnicking on the London Eye, eating our sandwiches as we admired the views of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey (you couldn’t see much further than that! We didn’t mind though as the trip was “free” with our Tesco-points Merlin Passes and there was no queue; we’ll go again soon when it’s sunny).

Our South Bank adventure was rounded off with tea and cakes at the Royal Festival Hall.  I’ve never been an arty-type, though I’d like to be  –   not enough to actually do much about it, but enough to experience a pleasant wave of wellbeing in places like the Festival Hall.  Today I was rewarded with a double feel-good hit: as we enjoyed the “Shoebox Living” exhibition that had attracted me (colourful junk-model shoebox rooms made by children), some sort of public professional ballet class was going across the lobby. I’ve no idea what it was all about (the children were hurrying me back to Waterloo Station by this point), but there was good-sized audience and I do like the thought of all this Art going on, and being appreciated – even if I, for the time being, am otherwise engaged!


History has changed.  Or to be more accurate, the way it is taught has changed.  The BBC’s Horrible Histories programme, which my children love – blood, guts and all – was my first clue that the stories of the past are no longer told in the same dry way as they were when I was at school.  And since we’ve begun home educating I’ve become even more aware of how history is being brought to life by people passionate about getting children actively involved in discovering how their ancestors lived.

Following our Victorian experience last month, today we were immersed in all things Tudor.  Our “Tudor Activity Day’ was led by Peter, an enormously talented member of Arriere-ban Historic Enterprises.  Dressed in rich Tudor costume, Peter entertained and educated us from 10 this morning until 330 this afternoon.  It is a testament to his genius that even my fidgety five year old was engaged for most of that time!

We had so much fun, I’m certain we all learned heaps.  Here are a few of my favourites out of the many things I personally learned:

(1) Henry VIII wasn’t his parents’ eldest son, and so was allowed to spend his youth indulging in sports and music, rather than studying politics and religion, which was the lot of his older brother Arthur.  This had an effect on the kind of king Henry went on to become when Arthur died.

(2) Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was Arthur’s widow.

(3) The only reason the Pope denied Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon (precipitating the country’s break away from the Catholic church and the establishment of the Church Of England) was because the Holy Roman Emperor was Catherine of Aragon’s uncle. (I’m not sure how I managed not to know these first three facts – I have A grades for history O level and A level! I guess they never lodged in my memory the way they did today when I saw giggling children dressed in costumes and wigs carrying name badges, acting out the parts!)

(4) On a Tudor ship of 150 crew, there would have been about 20,000 rats!

(5) The expression “to have the stuffing knocked out of you” is derived from the Tudor custom of bulking out their middles with sawdust and dried peas, which would spill out if they were attacked.

(6)  Cheese was a crucial food on long sea voyages, because no matter how mouldy it got on the outside, the middle would stay fresh for years.  (This makes me feel better about how we used to carefully cut the mould off certain rarely-requested cheeses in my days as a Saturday girl in a cheese shop.)

(7) It was a legal requirement for everyone to wear hats in Tudor times.  Most people also wore a tie-on cloth under-cap as had been worn in medieval times, so that when they bowed or curtsied, the other person wouldn’t have to look at the fleas and other hair bugs jumping around in their hats!

(8) Since it was forbidden to leave a room before someone more important did, men would  pee in the sides of their high “bucket boots” if necessary.  Women’s skirts saved them the trouble!


We went to a wonderful event at Fulham Palace this morning – a sort of living history presentation in which the children dressed up and took part in various scenes which would have taken place within the palace in the Victorian era.  The main enactment involved the children taking various roles as servants preparing for and serving at a large garden party.  C took the part of head cook.  As part of her duties she had to liaise with J’s gardening team who grew most of the food, including of course cucumber for sandwiches. Some of the children showed us, using tongs, carbolic soap and wooden “dollies”, how washing was done in pre-washing machine days, while others took the parts of the butler and housekeeper and members of their respective teams of footmen and housemaids.

While I know that the best learning takes place when as many senses (“rep systems”, in neuro-linguistic programming speak) are engaged as possible, and try to adopt this approach with my children, I have always personally been quite happy to learn sitting down, from books.  (I used to put this down to laziness but I now know it is actually quite common among introverts, especially highly visual ones – sounds like a good excuse to me.)  But even I thoroughly enjoyed being at an imaginary Victorian party, and I can’t deny how much we all learned through being immersed in the sights, sounds, costumes and artefacts of the period.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...