Tuesday, 31 January 2017

2017 Reading Challenge - January

We have started our challenge, and it has been good for all of us to read books that we wouldn't have chosen without the structure of the list.

Michael has read four books so far, and tells me that he particularly enjoyed The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. I also found this a helpful and enjoyable book, and it was probably one of my favourite books so far, alongside The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.

I asked the boys this evening which were their favourite books so far, and my 11 and 9 year olds both chose The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. They have read six and five books from their lists respectively, so they are doing well. Incidentally, I have asked them to write down everything they read this year so that I can see clearly what they are reading.This means that I know that they have each finished about 15 books in total already this year - so the challenge isn't impacting on their other reading!

My 7 year old has been very sweetly enthusiastic about the reading challenge, and has completed two books so far, with another two on the go. He says his best books so far are his current book, 10 Boys Who Changed the World by Irene Howat, and Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. He reads slowly, but with great determination.

It is only January - so I have no idea where we will be by the end of the year - but even if it all peters out by March, we have all read some great books.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Teaching Drawing (When You Can't Draw)

This year I am taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. This is the fifth week, and the theme is Seeking Beauty: The Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

My posts for the previous weeks have been: Home Education - 10 Ways We Make it WorkChildren Who Love Books, Maths for a Maths-y Boy and Bible, History and Geography.

Teaching Drawing (When You Can't Draw)

Art is not something that I feel comfortable with. I was never a good artist, and I'm a little scared of art galleries - filled with people who know what they are talking about (I assume!).

Nonetheless, I need to teach my children even in these areas where I feel out of my depth. So, I have taken them to art galleries, read books about art with them, and we are learning together. In addition, I have found ways for them to learn to draw and paint and create in spite of my lack of skills in this area. Today I am writing about some of the resources that I have used for this.

Draw Write Now

This series of books is particularly good for younger children (5,6,7 year olds), though older ones will still enjoy them. They teach how to draw simple animals, and give good ideas for creating interesting backgrounds. My older two used them a lot, and their ability to draw increased hugely as they did so.

Draw Write Now Books

A Salmon Fish from Draw Write Now (by a then 8 year old)

Usborne Art Books

I have used a number of Usborne art books for inspiration. Art Ideas and Art Skills have both been very useful - although they overlap a lot, and if I had realised this I would only have bought one of them.

Usborne Art Books

We have used these books many times, and they have been particularly useful in getting us trying out different art materials. We have tried out oil pastels, chalk pastels, watercolours, poster paints; all fun, and chalk pastels are always exciting because they seem to get everywhere. Drawing Faces is better for older children, and has been good for stretching my 9 year old and 11 year old.

Lizard (by a then 6 year old)

Turtle (by a then 8 year old)

Egyptian Face (by a then 9 year old)


This is a series of online art lessons which we have been using this year. We tried out one of the free lessons (The Czech Cat), and we were hooked. It has really helped now that my limited ideas have been running out! I like the fact that all the children can do this together, and the pictures they have produced have been striking - which has boosted confidence in drawing for all of them.

Completing an Art Achieve lesson together.

Bugs (by my 9 year old)

Dragonfly (by my 11 year old)

Sun Faces

I am not a natural at this, but it turns out that my children are all much better at art than I ever was. They enjoy drawing, and love to create for the sake of it, to decorate their walls, or to send pictures and cards to families.

My 11 year old's picture of his hamster.

Now I invite you to visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about seeking beauty in their homeschools:

Links will all be live by Monday at 12 noon EST.
Living & Loving Art by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Putting the Fun in School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Art Fun In Our Homeschool by Amanda @Hopkins Homeschool
Fine Arts Is The Fun Part by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
Washing Dust Off Our Souls by Lisa @ Golden Grasses
Bringing Beauty Into Your Homeschool Through Poetry by Dana @ Roscommon Acres
Seeking out the beauty... by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Joy in Home Education by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Teaching Drawing (When You Can't Draw) by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Homeschool Art for the Artistically Challenged by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Jesus, Peace, Freedom & Our Homeshool by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos
Fine Arts Options in High School by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Reluctant Artist? What do you do? by Annette @ A Net in Time
Making Fine Arts a Priority by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Creative Pursuits by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
Arts and Crafts in Our Homeschool by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Where Do You Find Beauty? by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
Looping our Beauty Topics Saved our Homeschool by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully

Friday, 27 January 2017

Friday Reflections - 40

It has certainly felt pretty chilly here this week, but we have been out and about all the same - though well wrapped up! Last Saturday we spent the morning walking to a playground which is a bit further away, and enjoying the sunshine for a bit. Despite the glorious blue skies, it was very cold, so we had to keep moving.

A Beautiful Winter Day

Later in the week, I took the children for a walk along the Thames towards Tower Bridge. We were outside for a couple of hours, and it was a very pleasant walk. It took me some hours to warm up again, afterwards - though the children were fine.

Watching the River

Fun and Games

Tower Bridge

By the Tower of London

Walking round the Tower of London fitted with our history activity this week, which was making a castle out of cereal and melted marshmallows. We read about the first stone castles in England in our history chapter this week.

Daddy stepped in to help with castle construction.

Not a masterpiece - but fun to make and eat!

It was fun - and roughly castle-shaped at least.

My 9 year old is very keen on cooking at the moment, and he made us a white chocolate cheesecake from one of the recipe books we gave him for Christmas. He manages pretty much on his own - just asking for occasional tips on what he should be doing.

It tasted every bit as good as it looks!

White Chocolate Cheesecake & The Cook

Today we finished our week with another lesson from Art Achieve. Again, the pictures turned out well, and the children had a fun afternoon creating them.

Drawing Owls

The Finished Pictures

I  usually feel that I am only just of top of everything, but I am managing to fit in some reading too (although it is a bit of a struggle to find space to do so at times). I have been really enjoying Germany, Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor. It is clear, compelling, and fascinating - well worth making time for.

The running also seems to be going well (which I find very surprising). I started the couch to 5k just 11 weeks ago (completing the programme 2 weeks ago), and I ran 4 1/2 miles in 40 minutes this morning. The worst bit is stepping outside the door into a dark, frosty morning, but it gets better once I start moving. Longer, warmer days will be very welcome when they arrive.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bible, History and Geography

This year I am taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. This is the fourth week, and the theme is Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science.

My posts for the previous weeks have been: Home Education - 10 Ways We Make it Work, Children Who Love Books, and Maths for a Maths-y Boy.

Bible, History and Geography

While our children are primary school age (up to 11 years old), we have decided to focus on core skills in English and Maths primarily (and also Bible - at the heart of our home education), as without these they will struggle to study any other subject effectively. Nonetheless, we still have plenty of time for other subjects too, and today I will describe what we do in terms of Bible Study, History, and Geography.


We have daily devotions over breakfast which my husband leads, followed by the children's individual devotions early on in the morning. My eldest is using Discover notes, while my 9 year old and 7 year old boys are using XTB notes (Explore the Bible). These are all produced by the Good Book Company. With my 5 year old, I rotate through our selection of children's Bibles in this slot.

In addition, I am working through the Bible in chunks with the children in pairs: the 9 and 11 year olds are working through the Psalms together at the moment, while the 7 and 5 year olds are working through Exodus with me.

A Bible Picture

I also read a chapter of the Bible each evening to the younger two, while the older two read a chapter themselves before bed each night.


Our core curriculum for history is The Story of the World. I have written here about this resource. I am working through the second book with all the children at the moment, and we have just had great fun reading about the Vikings. It is straightforward to use, which I find a real help, and the activity guide has lots of fun ideas which the children appreciate.

Dressing As Celts

A Gingerbread Parthenon

We supplement our history with the reading that the children are set, and with various trips to museums or other places of interest. Living in London gives us plenty of opportunities for this! The older two boys are also members of an archaeology club, which has been a fantastic way for them to engage with history.
Greek Pots in the British Museum

Archaeology Club - making an animal using bones found on the Thames foreshore.

Looking for Animal Bones

Conwy Castle (Wales)

I am also teaching Latin to the older two boys, and Classical Greek to my eldest. Although it will be quite a while before they are reading Tacitus or Homer, it is a great way to begin to engage with the Greek and Roman cultures.


I have no formal curriculum for geography - there is not time for anything else in our days! However, this doesn't mean that geography is absent from our studies. We have a map on our kitchen wall, and this is often discussed. There is a map activity with every chapter of The Story of the World, which has really helped the children with their sense of where different countries are.

Finally, the home education group that I help to run has been doing activities based on a different continent each term, which each week being focused on a different country. At the end of the term, we have made simple lapbooks to record what we have done. It isn't all done in depth, but it has been a lot of fun and they have definitely learned from the group. In particular, the older two have benefited from the book group which a friend runs, where the books are chosen to fit with the continent for that term.

Europe Lapbooks

This is what Bible, History and Geography look like for us at the moment, while all our children are primary school aged. Next year, my eldest will be secondary school aged. While I anticipate plenty of continuity, I am beginning to form plans for new ways to explore these subjects. My plans are a little nebulous at the moment, though I expect to continue with The Story of the World, add some kind of formal geography, and continue with our Bible studies, possibly adding in some basic systematic theology reading.

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Exploring Our World this week:

Note: all links will be LIVE by Monday 1/23 at noon EST.
Notebooking Our Way through History by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Studying the Where and How by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
The History of Our Mysterious Struggle With History by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
Social Science, Science and Exploring our World - Our Path by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Learning History Through Fiction by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
History in Our Homeschool by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Exploring Our World Through History And Science by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Bringing History to Life! by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
History, Living Books and the Imagination by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Exploring our world comes in many different forms. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Bible, History and Geography by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Beyond the Books - Social Studies and Science by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Exploring the World with Living Books by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
High School History & Science without Textbooks by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Exploring the World Starting with Canada by Annette @ A Net in Time
Visit The World Through Video by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
Nature Study is Our Favorite Way to Do Science by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully
What A Wonderful World by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
The Time we got Lost in the Woods by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acres

Friday, 20 January 2017

Friday Reflections - 39

Last Saturday, I took my daughter to visit my Mum so that she could play with Grandma's new dolls' house. She had a fantastic afternoon. The boys all joined us later for tea (and they quite enjoyed the dolls' house too!).

Playing with a Dolls' House

Most of the week, we have been enjoying out usual activities and studies. The children have settled back into routine well, and are getting on with their work. I'm particularly pleased that my daughter's reading is making progress at the moment, not because I am especially concerned, but because she's very keen to be able to read! She's got a way to go yet, but it feels like she's suddenly finding it a bit easier.

On Wednesday, my two older boys had a day out with their grandparents to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, tickets for which they received as their Christmas presents from my mum and her husband this year. It has been much anticipated, and they had a great day.

Meanwhile, I took the younger two out for a special trip to the British Museum. We went to some galleries that we haven't explore before, including a room of artefacts from Mexico, as well as
visiting some of their favourite exhibits.

British Museum Trip

Lion Hunting - A Favourite!

Dressing Up in the Shop!

We also had our home education group meeting today. We made pinatas as part of out Mexican themed session, which was very popular! Some children also decorated foil covered plates to imitate Mexican tin art, which worked well.

Paper Bag Pinatas

"Tin Art" Plates (By my 5 year old)

I've also managed some running, reading and crochet this week - though not quite as much reading as would have liked. I particularly enjoyed reading The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond this week - a clear, thoughtful, and helpful read. I'm now reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne as my classic novel for our reading challenge. It's not a book I would have chosen to read, but I can see why my 11 year old likes it so much!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy

This year I am taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. This is the third week, and the theme is Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science.

All our children are fairly comfortable with numbers, but today I am writing about our 7 year old who takes "comfortable with numbers" to a new level!

When he was younger, and until fairly recently, he had quite severe problems with his speech. This in turn meant he was behind with his English in general, though his reading is now very good and his other language skills are catching up. Although he now speaks clearly, he still doesn't sound completely natural - but he loves being able to communicate his thoughts effectively now, even struggling to stop talking at times.

Perhaps because his delay in this area has been so marked, his ability with mathematics has always been particularly striking. When he was little, this showed in how he ordered his toys according to colour, or followed Lego instructions for far more difficult models that his siblings managed at similar ages. As he got older, his confidence with numbers became more obvious.

50 Piece Puzzle (aged 2 and unassisted)

Hama Beads (now aged 3)

Initially, I taught our 7 year old in the same way as his two older brothers, starting with Singapore maths at kindergarten level when he was about 4, then continuing to work through the grade levels at about 1 year ahead of where he technically should be. In addition, he used an online programme called Maths Whizz, which is linked to the English national curriculum, and which our children have all enjoyed as a supplement to their ordinary maths workbooks.

He loved his maths, but clearly wasn't finding it at all challenging. I have always been slightly averse to pushing the children on huge amounts past the expected level for their age in maths just for the sake of it, but my husband persuaded me that I should let him move on more quickly if he wanted to. I asked him if he'd like to do two maths lessons a day, and he was thrilled - so it seemed wrong not to do so! He is now working through Singapore maths 4A, and still managing it largely effortlessly. We're continuing to do two lessons a day - though I plan to slow down at some point, probably this year (though I'll see how he's doing).

In addition, after quite a bit of research for additional maths that would stretch him, this year I invested in Beast Academy workbooks for him. I bought Grade 3 books, and these have been about right for him so far. There is a student guide and a student workbook. The guide teaches the maths in cartoon format, and the workbook gives lots of exercises which test the skills taught in the guide. I like them because they get him thinking in new ways, and test his maths skills thoroughly. He has had to really think about some of the questions, and even has to do corrections from time to time - which is a good thing to learn to do!

Beast Academy this Week

Cooking this week; weighing ingredients is his favourite bit!

We also use an app called Squeebles for times table practice. I like this app because you can take as long as you need to fill in the answer (which helps you to remember for next time), but it still rewards you for speed. It works well for us.

So maths for our able 7 year old means that each day he does: 2 lessons of Singapore maths, Beast Academy, Maths Whizz, Mental Maths, and sometimes some Squeebles for times tables practice. Most of this is because he likes it!

What I have learned most from teaching my 7 year old is that I need to adjust and adapt all my successful resources for both a child who struggles more, and for a child who excels. It is interesting to have both these problems in one child - and a little expensive at times! What a joy, though, to see someone grow in a subject, and grow in love for what they are learning.

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and the Mathematical Sciences this week:

Finding Our Math Equilibrium: Our Plan for 11th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Grades + Free Printables! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Math Resources and Programs for All Ages by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Math (doesn't) Stink! by Jennifer King @A Peace of Mind
When Math is NOT Your Thing by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Math U See and All the Supplements by Laura H @ Four Little Penguins
Discovering Patterns in Our World: STEM Studies by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Junior High Math by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Science & Math for Struggling Learners by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
Maths: a subject in progress by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acre
Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Practical Math by Annette @ A Net in Time
One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Math, How I Loathe Thee by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Math and Logic in Early Elementary and Preschool {virtual curriculum fair 2017} by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos
Low Stress High School Science and Math by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Are these toys or manipulatives? This is math? by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully
When You Don't Have a Math Plan by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Clear Horizons by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A Few Thoughts on Teacher Math by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Friday, 13 January 2017

Friday Reflections - 38

Our usual routines have begun again, and we have had a busy week with work. As ever, I like to start with a full week while everyone is full of energy, and the children have managed to get a lot done.

We have started studying the Vikings in our history, which is fun. My daughter thought that "flat bottomed boats" were hilarious - so we ended up with lots of giggles every time they were mentioned!

Colouring a "flat bottomed boat".

My eldest has moved from doing 4 days of Latin and 1 day of Greek to doing 3 days of Greek and 2 days of Latin for this term. He's really enjoying the change. I plan to do both evenly in the summer term - but I'll see how this term goes before I decide. The aim is to really consolidate his Latin for a term before moving on to the next level, while pushing on with Greek a bit.

We have also maintained out walks most days, in spite of some pretty grim weather. The children don't really mind the rain, and it is good to get out.

A Wet Walk

We've still had time for plenty of baking. Last Saturday, the three boys spent the day baking so that we could have afternoon tea together. My 9 year old made mini chocolate gateaux from a cookery book that we gave him for Christmas, my 7 year old made scones, and my 11 year old made shortbread biscuits using his new Dr.Who cookie cutters. It took most of the day, but was very enjoyable. The children are keen that we do this again some time!


Today my 7 year old made cupcakes for us.

My 7 Year Old Baking

More Cake!

Today we also had an art lesson from ArtAchieve. These have been extremely popular, and once again the children were able to produce some very striking pictures.

Drawing the Designs

Colouring with Oil Pastels

The Finished Pictures

Our church meetings have begun again. Although it is busier, it is also a real encouragement to meet up with our church family during the week, and it is good to be having those regular Bible studies and prayer meetings again.

I am still finding time to read, and enjoying the reading challenge that we are doing - though we are only in the second week, so I have a long way to go! More work for the children also means I'm getting more crochet done as I sit and listen to them or read out sentences for spelling, or supervise an art lesson. I'm not far off finishing my 7 year old's blanket, which he is pleased about.

It has also been a week for running success and (minor!) disaster; I have almost managed to complete the couch to 5k running programme, with my final run in the 9 week course tomorrow morning. It has been surprisingly fun! Michael, however, managed to fall quite badly during a run, and got a nasty cut on his head. We were very grateful for a friend from our church who appeared 10 minutes after a text at 8 a.m. to take him to the Minor Injuries Unit where his cut was glued. He now has an impressive black eye, but is otherwise fine!