Saturday, 22 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 65

We have enjoyed the first week of our summer break, although it always takes me a few days to adjust to the change of pace!

The children have spent much of the week building Lego together, followed by playing with their creations. My 10 year old also made a stop motion film with the Lego one afternoon.

In addition, there has been plenty of reading happening. Books are always popular anyway, but we have begun our annual Summer Reading Challenge, which has added to the enthusiasm. The children are already making very good progress, while Michael and I are just about keeping up with where we need to be if we are going to complete our challenges!

For me, the summer means getting on with lots of household jobs, as well as planning the children's education for the following year. I have a number of sides of A4 paper with jobs on. I've only managed a few so far, but there is still quite a lot of summer left. The planning for curriculum is going well, and I have managed to choose and order most things for next year already. Parcels of books are arriving most days.

Next week will be more of the same for a few days, followed by setting off on holiday. We are hoping to climb a mountain or two again this summer, and enjoy a complete change of scene in the Lake District and then North Wales.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Home Education Resources

Our eldest child is now almost 12, and has completed his primary education. Of course, the change from Year 6 to Year 7 will be less marked for a home educated child (though there will be differences), but nonetheless it feels like a significant milestone. At this stage, I thought it might be helpful to describe the core curricula that we have used for our primary school aged children over the last few years. 

All primary school aged now - but not for much longer!
Here are the key resources that have formed the basis for our teaching while our children are primary school aged:


Singapore Maths

We have used the Singapore Math Standards Edition since we began home educating our eldest when he was 4 (he's nearly 12 now). This has been the core curriculum we have used for all our children. It is thorough and stretching. Here are some of its main strengths as a maths programme:

  • One of the key features of Singapore maths is the way it explains concepts from concrete to pictorial to abstract.
  • It is also very good at giving students good techniques for tackling difficult word problems. 
  • I also like the way that a number of methods for tackling different questions are given, which aids understanding of the concepts involved as well as equipping the children to handle problems in different ways. 
  • Often a topic or concept is approached from a number of different angles, so that you really need to understand the maths involved, not just memorise a technique for answering a particular type of question
When we began home education, this edition was available in the U.K.. We also bought the incredibly helpful Home Instructor's Guides to use too. There is now a U.K. edition of Singapore maths (available from Icthus Resources here) which we would probably use if we were starting again now (it wasn't around when we began!).

Beast Academy 

My 8 year old is an able, and enthusiastic, mathematician, so I spent quite a while researching extra maths for him to do last year. My key criteria were that I wanted something that he could do fairly independently, a curriculum that would stretch his maths in new ways, and something that didn't involve being on the computer. Beast Academy was an expensive choice (I could only import it from the U.S. (here)- not cheap!), but it is brilliant, and he has loved it.

The guides explain the topics in a comic book form. There are then exercises to work on in a separate book. The exercises have been pretty difficult at times, but this has been great for a boy who enjoys the challenge. He has, on the whole, been able to work independently, though asking me to help when he needs it. If I can't help, then we go to Michael (PhD in maths)! The answers include explanations of how to tackle the problems, which is helpful for when we all get stuck.


Squeebles Times Tables is an app that we use for practising times tables. We have also used the app for addition and subtraction. It's simple, but has been very effective supplement to the maths curriculum for the children.

Maths Whizz

This is an online programme which I initially used as a supplement for my eldest when he wasn't enjoying maths very much for a while. It's quite a good extra for the children, though no replacement for a thorough maths curriculum. I only use it for the youngest (nearly 6) now, and she will probably outgrow it in the next year. It's strength is that it teaches a topic and progresses the child at their level. However, there isn't much practice at each level before you move on, and sometimes I think my children move up the levels quicker than they should! However, it is fun, and introduces lots of different topics in entertaining ways.


Building Christian English Series (Rod & Staff) 

This is a thorough grammar curriculum, comprising a series of text books covering grammar and some writing for Grades 1-10 (Year 2 and up in UK terms). We have begun with the Grade 3 book (Beginning Wisely) with our children once they have reached about age 7, and this has worked well. This contains clear explanations of all key points of grammar, and plenty of exercises for practice (more than we have needed, in fact).

We chose this because it is rigorous in terms of its content. As Rod & Staff is a Mennonite publisher, the examples used are often Christian. Often this is a real advantage, as Bible stories are used as examples, and there is a section in each book about using Bible dictionaries and so on, which is quite fun. However, some of the stories are a little moralistic in tone, though usually they have been fine. Sometimes the exercises assume a knowledge of farming, or an ownership of livestock (!) etc that doesn't apply to us - but this has been either informative or entertaining, and hasn't taken away from what is a good English programme.

All About Reading & All About Spelling

I started using different materials with my older two, but in the end even my second eldest is working through All About Spelling, and doing very well with it. I have written here about these resources. They are excellent phonics programmes teaching reading and spelling respectively. Although time intensive, and relatively expensive, they are very good and well worth the investment of both time and money. These resources can be purchased from Conquest Books, here.

Writing With Ease

This is a method of teaching writing outlined in The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise & Susan Wise Bauer. The book The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer outlines the principles in detail. The idea is to learn to write really well, though in small amounts, before you move on to writing more extensively.

There are also workbooks available in 4 levels, which contain a combination of copywork, narration exercises (summarising narrative), dictation exercises, and, eventually, writing original sentences. We have used the 4 workbooks with our children, which include all the texts you need and student pages for the children to write on, and is very much open-and-go. I have been able to buy these books from Amazon.

Writing With Skill

This year, our eldest began to use Writing With Skill, which follows on from Writing With Ease. Although it follows on, it is a big step up. Although it has worked well for our eldest as a year 6 writing programme, our next boy will be using Writing With Ease Level 4 in year 6, and I will be more than happy with him beginning Writing With Skill in year 7. It teaches key skills such as writing scientific descriptions or taking notes. Recently, my son has been learning how to write footnotes. We're taking it slowly, but it has been a good fit for my eldest this year. This resource is available from Amazon (you need a copy of the Instructor Text and the Student Workbook).


XTB/Discover Bible Notes

XTB works well from 5/6 up, and we have found that Discover notes have been popular with our older boys who really liked XTB, but outgrew it. They consist of simple activities focused on a number of different books of the Bible, with ideas for application and prayer at the end. We have bought these from 10ofThose or The Good Book Company.

Bible Teaching

I've written here about how I teach my way through the Bible with the children, mainly by reading chunks, asking questions, and getting the children to draw or write about what we have read together.

Morning Devotions

Each morning Michael leads devotions for the whole family. We have used a range of different materials for this, and sometimes Michael has just taken us through a book of the Bible a little at a time. When the children were younger, we have used Table Talk notes (which tie in with XTB). More recently, we have enjoyed The Big Picture Family Devotional by David R. Helm and Wise Up by Marty Machowski. We have bought these from 10ofThose or The Good Book Company.


Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

I have written about this curriculum here.

This is an excellent curriculum, and science lessons are very popular. It's both hands on and highly logical and structured, which is brilliant. There are 3 volumes, and we have nearly finished volume 2 for our older two boys, and plan to use the third volume as our eldest enters year 7. The lessons follow through four different streams of scientific study in parallel (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science) , with each lesson building on the work covered in previous sessions. It has provided a very solid grounding in science for our children, as well as producing considerable enthusiasm for science.

Exploring Nature With Children

Exploring Nature With Children
 has been a new addition this year, and has worked well for all ages. It is a book (available as a PDF) which contains weekly ideas for a nature walk, covering the whole year. There is a helpful explanation of the subject each week, tips for what to draw or write in a nature journal, and several ideas for extension activities.


Latin Prep (Galore Park)

This course is heavily grammar based, which is why I like it so much. A thorough grounding in good grammar is key for learning Latin. It also has lots of translating from English into Latin (as well as Latin into English, of course) which, again, helps with strong grammar. Nonetheless, it isn't a dry course, and my boys have enjoyed it. It has now been replace by a new Galore Park Latin course, which I have been using with another family that I teach Latin to, and which seems equally good. These books are available from Amazon or from Galore Park directly.


Introduction to Classical Greek (Galore Park)

I've just started using this book with my eldest this year. It's pretty good on the whole, though I would have preferred more careful explanations in places. Again, there is a good focus on grammar, a good amount of English to Greek required, and lots of practice exercises.

However, it introduces new concepts without explaining them from time to time - presumably relying on a prior study of Latin. Since I know Greek, and my son has been studying Latin for a while this hasn't been a problem, but I don't think it's ideal. There are also a strangely large number of sudoku puzzles (with Greek letters) - but I now leave these out!

These books are available from Amazon or from Galore Park directly.

Computer Stuff

This website provides a free series of coding lessons, which a child can work through step-by-step once they have been signed up. There are lots of puzzles to solve by putting together bits of code.

Another free resource, this enables children to learn to touch type as they move up the various levels available. There are also games to play which rely on good typing, which my children have enjoyed.


I've written in more detail about our art resources here.

Draw Write Now

These books give step-by-step instructions for drawing various creatures or people as well as good ideas for creating backgrounds. They are particularly good for younger children (5 and up).

Usborne Art Books

In particular, The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas has been a rich source of inspiration, and a good way to introduce different art techniques.

Art Achieve

These online lessons have worked well for us, and it has been worth investing in the lessons. The instructions are clear, and the artworks the children have produced have been good.


Story of the World

I have written about this curriculum here.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer is a narrative history of the world told in four volumes, with an activity book that can be used alongside it.  It is really good for getting an idea of how history fits together. The activities have also been a lot of fun to do together. The map work that is included in the activity book has also been very good. These books can be bought from Amazon.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 64

The highlight of the week for us was our visit to the Summer Science Exhibition, hosted by the Royal Society. We spent much of Saturday there, and the children had a fantastic time.

One of the exhibits was about imaging the heart, and the children enjoyed holding beating "hearts" which beat in time to their own heart beats.

Here is my daughter having her turn:

We looked at fluorescent coral, tried out a HoloLens (augmented reality), looked at models of molecular cages, and learned about Mars - and many other things too.

Wearing a HoloLens

Some of what we collected.

After such a fun Saturday, the rest of the week has been fairly ordinary as we have been determined to get all our work done so that we could get to the end of all our books by the end of today, and earn an extra week of summer holiday. We did it! Everyone worked hard, though some had more to finish than others.

I am pretty tired, but the planning for next year is already underway. Over the weekend, I plan to write my list of jobs for the summer - both household and home education related tasks. It may be a few days before I have the energy to actually start the jobs though - but at least I'll have some lists!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 63

Last Saturday, my 8 year old ran his first parkrun. He has been inspired by his sister, and was very excited to go for the first time. My husband kindly ran with him and our 5 year old so that I could run quickly, which was fun for me. After I had finished, I met the children near the end of their final lap so that our daughter could sprint to the end while I ran with our 8 year old. Both my daughter and I managed our fastest runs yet, which was very satisfying.

Tired After Running!

At the moment, our aim is to finish as much as possible by next Friday, so we are pushing on through the final pages of the books. Some have finished up some subjects, others still have a bit more to do - but we are on track. I am as keen as the children for our summer break to begin - we are really ready for a few weeks off!

In the midst of all the work, my eldest has been making cardboard weapons for all the children, with a bit of help from his siblings at times. It's been a lot of fun!


Lots of Weapons

Today we had our final home education group of term, and of the year. It's been good - but a break for the summer is nonetheless welcome!

Today we did our final South America session, making cookie dough maps and planting rainforests in jars (we'll see if they actually grow!).

South America

Rainforest in a Jar

This was also our final session focusing on different countries in the world as South America was the last continent left to cover. We have plans for next year, but they will need quite a bit of work before we are able to implement them!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Four Excellent Books (My Committed Reader Choices)

I am half-way through the Christian Reading Challenge that I am working on this year. It has required quite a bit of discipline to keep going at this rate; two books a week is fairly challenging. However, it has been very much worthwhile. I have read lots of good books, and a few excellent ones. Here are my top four from the last set of books:

The Whole Christ by Sinclair B.Ferguson

I picked up this book because one of the categories on my reading list was A book by Sinclair Ferguson, and my husband had bought it because he had heard good things about it. I chose it without really knowing what it was about - but it was one of the most enriching books I have read this year.

The central hinge of the book is a subtle, and obscure, theological debate from 18th century Scotland called The Marrow Controversy. The careful explanation of the issues at stake then - issues of law and grace and what it means to live as a Christian - is crisp and clear and accessible.

Furthermore, Sinclair Ferguson demonstrates the relevance to today of these issues. In particular, he helpfully shows how a tendency towards antinomianism springs from the same fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel, and of the character of God, that a propensity towards legalism does.

Reading The Whole Christ certainly stretched my mind. However, the quality and clarity of the writing meant that I looked forward to picking it up. This is no small thing when your reading often happens late at night, or in short bursts of time found in the midst of the mayhem of a home educating household!

I also found this a deeply encouraging read, a book that pointed back to Jesus again and again, and which showed the joy of free grace and forgiveness, and the same joy of being freed to live for Christ.

Invest your Suffering by Paul Mallard

Invest your Suffering is a moving, warmly written account of the goodness and kindness and love of God in the midst of suffering. Paul Mallard writes about the pain and difficulties faced by his wife as she has endured chronic illness over a number of years, and about the lessons the Lord has taught them both as they faced these difficulties while clinging to Christ.

For a short book, it covers a lot of ground: the brokenness of the world, the gospel of hope, the lessons we learn as we suffer, our hope of  the new creation. Each chapter is framed by a little more of the personal story of the author and his wife, which gives poignancy to the truths that he explains. However, the book is first and foremost about God and his character - and our reasons to put our hope in him in the midst of suffering.

The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

This is an excellent book about the reformation. It introduces the key issues at stake, some of the key figures involved, and explains how events unfolded in Europe at the time. It deals with both the historical events and the theological issues clearly and fairly succinctly, but without being simplistic. The writing is engaging and fresh, which makes it enjoyable to read.

I also found the way the material is arranged in the chapters helpful, in that each chapter is divided into short sub-sections. Again, I often get to read in short bursts throughout the day, and this makes it much easier for me to manage without losing the thread of the narrative.

A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison

Glynn Harrison's book examines the story our current culture tells about sex and sexuality, and looks at the promises it makes (and fails to keep) in these areas. He looks at the roots this narrative sprung from, and how it appeals to our hearts. He does this with both clarity and compassion.

More importantly, the central theme of the book is how we as Christians need not to focus only on winning the intellectual arguments about issues to do with sexuality, but also to engage people's hearts as we tell a better story; a story bound up in the gospel, and a story that speaks better to our desires for fulfilment, or to our concerns about injustice, or to our search for our identity than any story that our culture tells us.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Obsessed Reader Books (My Choices) - 2017 Christian Reading Challenge

I'm embarking on the final stage of the Christian Reading Challenge that we have been working on as a family this year.

Here are my choices:

1. A book you have started but never finished: Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

2. A book about church history: Luther and the 9.5 Theses by Kenneth Brownell

3. A book about holiness or sanctification: Discipline, The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot

4. A book about science: Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

5. A book used as a seminary textbook: The Doctrine of God by John M. Frame

6. A book on the ECPA bestseller list: New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp

7. A book about productivity or time management: Time for Everything? by Matt Fuller

8. A book of your choice: Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis

9. A book about spiritual disciplines: Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

10. A book about parenting: Age of Opportunity, A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp

11. A book about Christian living: The Radical Disciple by John Stott

12. A book by Iain Murray: J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray

13. A book about business: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

14. A book about theology: Union With Christ by Robert Letham

15. A book about marriage: Glorious Union: Flourishing in Marriage and Ministry by Adrian & Celia Reynolds

16. A photo essay book: Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

17. A book of comics: The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson

18. A book about the Second World War: The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu

19. A book by a Puritan: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

20. A book about preaching or public speaking: The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts by Dale Ralph Davis

21. A book of your choice: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

22. A book about suffering: Where was God when that happened? by Christopher Ash

23. A book about evangelism: Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice with Carl Laferton

24. A book by your favourite author: Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkein and Christopher Tolkein

25. A book you have read before: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

26. A Christian novel: War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond

27. A biography of a Christian: John Newton by Jonathan Aitken

28. A book about the natural world: The Birds Our Teachers by John Stott

29. A novel for young adults: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

30. A novel longer than 400 pages: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

31. A book about history: Great Britain’s Great War by Jeremy Paxman

32. A book about the Bible: Bible Delight by Christopher Ash

33. A book recommended by a friend: Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward

34. A book published by P&R Publications: The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism by Gregg Strawbridge

35. A book with an ugly cover: Grow in Grace by Sinclair B. Ferguson

36. A book by or about a martyr: Thomas Cranmer by Colin Hamer

37. A book of your choice: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

38. A book about Christian living: A New Day by Emma Scrivener

39. A book about church history: The English Puritans by John Brown

40. A book about money or finance: Money Counts by Graham Beynon

41. A book about leadership: Ready Steady Grow by Ray Evans

42. A book by John Piper: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

43. A book about theology: The Scriptures Testify About Me: Jesus and the Gospel in the Old Testament Edited by Don Carson

44. A book for children or teens: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

45. A book about sexuality: What does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung

46. A book about writing: Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

47. A book about current events: Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

48. A biography of a world leader: Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography: Volume One by Charles Moore

49. A book about the church: Stop Dating the Church by Joshua D. Harris

50. A book of your choice: Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor

51. A book about a hobby: The Northern Fells (Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells): 5 by Alfred Wainwright and Chris Jesty

52. A book written in the twentieth century: A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel