Thursday, 30 June 2016

All About Reading & Spelling

When my eldest had just turned 4, I began to teach him to read. We were considering home education, and I thought that doing a little gentle phonics each day would give me a bit of a feel for what home education would be like. I knew he was young to begin, and I didn't have huge expectations, but I started anyway.

I bought a Jolly Phonics book, and used the activities, work sheets and flash cards in it. It worked. Within a short period of time, he was reading fluently and beginning to write and spell well. He found reading and spelling unusually easy - which certainly made life easy for me too.

With my second son, I used the same Jolly Phonics material. He learned in a slow and steady fashion, and became a very good reader with a love of books. He struggled, however, with spelling. It wasn't dreadful by any means, but it was an area that we were constantly reviewing. Looking back, a more thorough programme would have been hugely beneficial.

It was clear, however, that my third son would need a completely different approach. He had a significant speech problem. He struggled to hear the different sounds, and there were many sounds he couldn't say at all. When he was 5, he still didn't say any sound clusters at all (tr, fr, bl, cl, etc.). On the advice of a speech therapist, I held off teaching him to read at all until he was nearly 6 and his speech had begun to improve significantly.

Once he was ready to learn to read, I decided that the Jolly Phonics resources I had used in the past would be insufficient. A friend was using All About Spelling, and after looking at the material online, I decided it would be worth investing in All About Reading for my son.

I began with the Kindergarten material, as this covered working on hearing the sounds at a very simple level, which I thought would help my son. Once we had completed this level, we plunged into All About Reading level 1. I am very impressed with this curriculum. It is extremely thorough, and gives a child all the skills they need to decode words. There is plenty of review built in, and you can go at the right pace for your child.

There are flashcards, both for individual phonograms, and for a selection of words that the child should be able to decode.


There are activity books (consumable) which have a variety of games and fluency sheets to help your child practise and practise their reading skills.

An Activity

Readers are also included. The stories are varied, and, importantly, are all completely decodable by your child if you follow the curriculum. My son finds this very satisfying.

A Book From Level 4

The Text

In addition, there are magnetic tiles which are used to help your child divide up individual words into syllables which can be read using phonics rules.

Magnetic Tiles on a Whiteboard

This is not a cheap option, but in my opinion it is worth the investment. Everything is included, and it is a very thorough phonics programme.

My now 7 year old has flown using this material. We are now part way through the 4th and final level, and he reads everything in sight. He tries to sing the songs at church, and reads the Bible to himself during his devotions. He is reading Stig of the Dump to himself (though slowly). It is astonishing to see. His speech has also improved as he has learned to read words with the correct sounds.

Once we had completed level 1 of  All About Reading, we began to use All About Spelling too. Again, this has been very effective, and my 7 year old is now very happy writing letters to friends and relatives with minimal help, and reasonable spelling.

In addition, his older brother now joins him for spelling lessons, and there has been a very marked improvement in his spelling since.

I am extremely happy with these resources. They are fairly expensive, and very time intensive for me, but they work for us. It is a joy to see my son reading and loving reading; well worth the time and money invested.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Friday Reflections - 9

As I right this, the news is full of the UK vote to leave the EU. No doubt this is a momentous decision, and a fascinating time for those of us who are interested in politics. The news has been followed closely by my older two boys, as well as by my husband and myself.

Earlier this week, we had a Bible study in Philippians, just the day before the polls opened for the referendum vote, and we read Paul's words to the Christians in Philippi:
 But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21
It is good to be reminded that our ultimate identity is found in our citizenship of heaven, not of any earthly realm, and that we share that citizenship with men and women from every nation on earth, with whom we are united in Christ.

This week has also meant a 9th birthday for my second son. He's a lovely, gentle soul, and had a birthday celebration with a couple of special friends. We played pass-the-parcel, the chocolate game, and consequences, and ate a birthday tea.

Birthday Boy with a Birthday Book

Birthday Cake

Then, on Monday, we were all back to work in earnest. By the end of next week, we will be starting to finish up the curriculum for this year, but this last week was a full one. Everyone is doing double maths at the moment, so that the maths curriculum for this year will be finished soon. This has added to the workload, but they are mainly happy with this as they know that they are nearly at the end.

My 7 year old (who loves maths) had to work harder than usual to grasp how to do simple long division this week, but he is now pleased with himself now that he has mastered it; he shed a few tears of frustration along the way - partly because he could do most of the sums very quickly in his head and I insisted he needed to learn the method anyway!

Maths ( For my 7 Year Old)

We are also nearly at the end of the first volume of The Story of the World. This week the children all designed shields with a Chi Rho device on as we learned about Constantine's conversion to Christianity. This was even more popular than I anticipated, and they produced some striking designs.

Shield Designs

We have also had trips to the park, friends visiting for a Latin class, and swimming lessons.

Park Trip

In addition to teaching the children, we have had a full week of church commitments. I was leading Young Church last week, and again this Sunday and we have had meetings in our home Monday to Thursday, three of which I attended with Michael. We are definitely back from holiday and into the thick of ministry and home educating responsibilities! I am, however, much less tired - or I was until I stayed up late to watch the first results of the referendum come in. It required some restraint not to stay up most of the night, but I'm glad that I'm still functioning today.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

10 things that (probably) wouldn't happen in school....

1) You work with your pet hamster on your shoulder, or wandering round your desk.

Spelling Work with a Hamster to Help

2) You can go to the park almost every day, and it's usually quiet.

The Park Today

3) A sudden hailstorm means that everyone grabs raincoats and dashes outside.

4) If you finish your work early, you can enjoy a spontaneous trip to the zoo.

Fun at the Zoo

5) You find your little sister has drawn on your work.

6) You can double up on your maths lessons so you can have an early summer break.

7) 1-1 teaching in every subject.

8) Your siblings are among your best companions and friends.

Fun Times Together

9) Reading the Bible is a core part of your education.

10) You may be able to negotiate not to work on your birthday.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Friday Reflections - 8

We have arrived home, and once again back to life in London - somewhat different from our break in Wales and then the Lake District.

After a few days under canvas, it was good to enjoy a week in a house too. We visited a church in Keswick for the Sunday service, then had a picnic by Derwent Water afterwards. The children played in the water or read books, Michael went for a run, and I managed to read too for a while. It was a very restful Sunday.

Paddling in Derwent Water

On Monday, we visited Aira Force. We have been here quite often with the children over the years, and I mentally thought the walk would take us a little while. After only ten minutes, we had reached the waterfall. I think it took longer when we had toddlers with us! We extended our walk further upstream, and the older two boys managed to lead us up a bit of a hill too.

Aira Force

After our successful climbing of Snowdon, we all wanted to tackle another mountain. We made it up Helvellyn, which was very satisfying. The weather was perfect, and we could see the spectacular views from the top. We went up the most straightforward route as our youngest is only 4, but perhaps we'll consider Striding Edge in a few years.

Helvellyn - we made it!
At the top of Snowdon the previous week; a bit cloudy, but still brilliant fun.

Two mountains in a week was an achievement for us all, but especially for my 4 year old, who showed a lot of stamina.

We also had a good day with my dad and his wife - the children always love to spend time with their grandparents. They got grubby building sandcastles, spotted oyster catchers and herons, and had fish and chips for tea - happy times for all of us.

Playing in the Sand

Happy Times!

Now we're back. We love to go away, but there is something satisfying about being home, and ready to go again. We have a 9th birthday this weekend, and we hit our final half term of work on Monday, so there is plenty to do. After a genuinely refreshing break, I feel much more motivated to press on with the tasks and responsibilities that I am called to, both at home and at church.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Friday Reflections - 7

We seem to have managed to squeeze in a lot this week; hardly surprising as we reach the end of our first week of holiday!

Last Saturday, I took the three boys to the open air theatre in Regents Park to see Running Wild, an adaptation of a Michael Morpurgo book about a child rescued from the tsunami by an elephant. It was absorbing, moving, and brilliantly done using life sized animal puppets. The boys loved it, as did I.
Sunday meant church lunch, for which my 8 year old made hedgehog shaped bread rolls. I was leading Young Church, which had a number of extra children, and which went much better than last time I led. I thank God for both these things!

Monday was packing.

On Tuesday we travelled to North Wales to stay in a teepee. It very much lived up to expectations. We enjoyed cooking marshmallows on the wood burner (and using a penknife to prepare sticks for the purpose).

Wednesday was taken up with climbing Snowdon, on Thursday we went to the beach. We also visited my cousin and his fantastic family at their cafe in Porthmadog  (The Big Rock). They also home educate their children, and made us very welcome although their seventh little one was only 4 weeks old.

Today we began our journey to Appleby, where we are staying (in a house) for our second week of holiday. We stopped at Conwy castle, which is great fun. There are lots of towers to explore, and one of the most fun children's trails I've seen.

All in all, we are feeling refreshed; tired from walking and a few late nights, but refreshed. I hope by the end of the week that we all feel rested, and ready to go home and serve the Lord and one another with renewed strength.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Climbing Snowdon

Today we climbed Snowdon. I was a little apprehensive as my daughter is only 4. However, we had a great day, and all the children managed the walking well. Although they were clearly tired at times, and sometimes very hot, they pressed on without moaning at all. I was really impressed with them!

We had planned this walk with care. We know that climbing a mountain, even if there are clear paths and there is a shop at the top, can be dangerous. We packed plenty of food and water, and a map and compass, and waterproofs for everyone.

We also made sure that the children were ready for our walk. We explained the route we would take, and made clear just how far they would have to walk. I walk quite a lot with the children, so I was fairly confident of their stamina.

We had a fantastic day. However, that doesn't mean that everything went as planned. The car park was full when we arrived,  so we had to park further away and get a bus. This was straightforward,  but meant we left an hour later than planned. We were also plagued by midgies at the top, and a couple of children fell and scraped their knees.

It has been a lovely day, full of precious memories. It has also been a chance to practise perseverance and patience, and an opportunity to see that when something doesn't go as planned, this doesn't mean that everything is going to go wrong!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Packing, Packing, Packing...

Holidays - great. Packing - not my favourite thing.

This holiday, we have managed to work it so that we have one clear day together before we head off, and it has somehow taken the whole day for us to get ready to go. It may be that we are going to two different places, and one of them under canvas, but it seems to have taken longer than usual.

However - we're finally finished, the car is packed, and we are ready for an early start tomorrow.

Essentials that we each have to take (as well as the obvious stuff, and our Bibles):

The girl - her baby doll (Katy).

My 7 year old - Big Brachi (a large cuddly brachiosaurus).

My 8 year old - Chestnut the Bear, and his kindle.

My 10 year old - Meerkat, his kindle, his MP3 player (full of stories, not music).

Michael - books to read, usually some Christian books, and sometimes some popular science books.

Me - more books, usually a mixture of good quality fiction and Christian books.

We're all set to go - ready for a rest and a chance to spend some time together, and to enjoy being outdoors and out of the city for a couple of weeks.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Friday Reflections - 6

We have been working this week, although most people are taking a break for half term. This has been a long half term, and we are all exhausted. However, we have managed to get quite a bit done, and had some fun along the way in spite of this.

On Saturday, we visited my grandparents. They had celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary a few days earlier, so we visited in order to mark the occasion. The cake which my Mum had ordered for their celebrations had turned up late, so they saved it for our visit - and it was both beautiful and extremely tasty!

Diamond Anniversary Cake

My eldest makes board games as a hobby, and has recently spent the last few weeks making a Dr. Who version on Monopoly which we played together.

Dr,Who Monopoly

We had friends round on Monday for a Latin lesson (I am teaching Latin to their children), and for lunch. We also had visitors for the afternoon on Wednesday, so the children have enjoyed having their friends round to play.

We also explored a new adventure playground this week (with more friends). It is quite local to us, but only open on Saturdays or during the school holidays. It has bigger equipment than most of our usual parks as it is designed for older children, which was lots of fun for the older boys. My daughter, though only 4, loved it too. Her favourite bit was the ladders, which wasn't great for my nerves - but she was fine.

In an attempt to keep some fun in our week in spite of our tiredness, we made a dreidel from The Story of the World activity guide as part of our session on the Jewish nation. We used the rules from the book and lots of smarties to play the game after tea, and it was popular. Eating smarties afterwards was also popular.

Playing with our Dreidel

The Dreidel

I have also started a new crochet blanket. I have let my eldest choose a blanket for me to make for him, and he has chosen a simple stripe blanket. Conveniently, he wanted the same colours I used for my last blanket, except for purple, so I have already started it.

A New Blanket

Although I have had a quiet week in many ways, as we haven't had meetings in our home this week, I have been preparing for Young Church today. After a long term, and a tiring week, putting together visual aids and activities feels like a slog, not a joy. However, I know it is a privilege to be involved in teaching children from God's Word, and this is what keeps me going. Serving Without Sinking was a very helpful book for me as I fit in ministry at church with ministry to my own family.

Young Church Preparation

Today, I realised that the children really were shattered, so I reduced their work down to the essentials, though they still had their rooms to clean as it's Friday. They are currently crashed out in front of a film with some popcorn - a very well earned treat.

I'm also making everyone's favourite dinner - chilli - in celebration of reaching the end of this long half term.

Now we have TWO WEEKS off. We are off to North Wales next week, where we have booked a teepee to stay in. This is the closest to camping that my husband will consider - I just hope he likes it! It is on a camp-site that I spent many of my childhood holidays on, so I am really looking forward to a bit of nostalgia. We are also planning to climb Snowdon - I will report back on how we get on!

After 3 nights in a teepee, we are heading off to stay in Appleby (in a house!) for a week. We are looking forward to escaping the city, spending time outdoors, and rest.