After a lovely holiday in SE Asia and a long Easter weekend, we’re now back into the swing of our normal weekly schedule (minus some of our sports activities which are on a break for the normal school holidays). I often get asked what we do on a day to day basis, what home ed looks like, so I thought it might be helpful to share what we got up to this week.
Following on from trekking in the jungles of Thailand, the kids asked to learn more about rainforests, so this has been the focus of our Morning Basket and science studies since returning from our trip. In Morning Basket, we’ve been reading our way through a lovely selection of books about the rainforest, taking it in turns to read various sections aloud, and remembering things we spotted and marvelled at, such as the enormous leaves of the understory flora and abundant epiphytes present in the forests (100 Facts Rainforests, Rainforest Animals, Traditional Stories from the Amazon, In the Rainforest, The Great Kapok Tree, The Shaman’s Apprentice and the Vanishing Rainforest). I’ve been amazed at just how much information they already know about the rainforest fauna thanks largely to their addiction to Deadly 60 and David Attenborough documentaries (I swear a large part of their learning happens through the medium of the humble documentary!).
Also in the Morning Basket were prayers; attempting to sing There is a Green Hill Far Away together and in tune (we have some way to go with this…); reciting from memory the poem If by Rudyard Kipling (one of our favourites, which they memorised last week); and practising our Spanish with these Michel Thomas CDs. We rounded off our favourite part of the day with a walk around the woods, optimistically spotting signs of spring, hopeful of the promise of better weather!
On return to the warm, Bean8 worked quickly and diligently through a Math-U-See maths lesson (Greatest Common Factors, so an easy one for her), mental arithmetic, piano practice and a short Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson, so she could get to the best part of her day as quickly as possible – writing!
Bean8 is my writer, she’s obsessed with it – her dream is to be an author or playwright. Over the holiday, she dreamt up a plotline for a book, which is really quite good (she made me promise not to reveal any of the detail though!) and, after helping her flesh out the storyline, she’s plunged straight in and is completely hooked on the process of writing her first novel. She spent several hours today tapping away at the computer. I watched her for a while, relishing the complete and utter focus, punctuated with little gasps of, “Oh I LOVE doing this, it’s so much fun!” or a reading out of one of the lines she’d written with a Shakespearean flourish (an actress is the other job she’d like to do when she’s grown up!).
Bean8 was keen to write her story alone on the computer, which allowed me some one to one focussed time with Bean7. We worked together through his spelling lesson about the i before e rule (he’s using All About Spelling Level 5), a maths lesson on long division (he’s using Math-U-See Delta at the moment), piano practice (OK I’ll admit I’m pretty much useless when it comes to helping them with piano; fortunately they have an excellent piano teacher and a Daddy to help in this regard!) and a long Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson.
Although they can do the Rosetta Stone lessons alone, I like to sit with them from time to time to check they fully understand all of the vocabulary introduced. For example, you are often given four pictures and then a selection of four written or orally spoken sentences to match to the pictures. Bean7 will always look for the easy route (actually an important skill in life!) and sometimes (although not always) takes a guess based on an understanding of just one word in the sentence.
Sitting down and working through the lesson together, more slowly, gives him the support and reassurance to fully translate each sentence before moving on. Having the time and space to work on a one to one basis with your children is certainly another major advantage of home education. In this example, if I left him to work alone, he may well get a high enough score on each lesson to move on to the next, but would possibly miss many of the new vocabulary words/concepts introduced.
After finishing their work for the day, we popped over to a home ed friend’s house for a play – they whittled sticks together, discovered a hidden den, climbed trees, shared magic tricks and put on a play!
Morning Basket today was similar to Tuesday’s, but with the addition of a new Christina Rossetti poem to discuss and learn (Have you Seen the Wind?). The Michel Thomas Spanish sentences increased in complexity, with the children having to translate sentences such as: I want to know why you don’t have it for me now or, as the children correctly translated: Quiero saber porque no lo tiene para mi ahora.
They then practised their piano duet before moving onto their individual work.
After completing her maths sheet, mental arithmetic questions, piano practice and learning some new vocabulary words, Bean8 rushed to the computer to carry on with her story. She has such a fevour for this real work of writing her novel, that I’m keen to just let her run with it and have the time and space to follow her passion, supporting her where she needs me (which to be honest is not a lot at the moment!).
Bean7 worked hard on his division questions and word problems, before completing his piano practice and a short grammar lesson about prepositions (we use First Language Lessons Level Two), and then moving onto his Writing With Ease work. Both my children love the Susan Wise Bauer Writing With Ease/Skill curricula, and additionally the programs have exposed them to some first-rate fiction. At Bean7’s level, I read a passage from a high quality piece of literature (today’s selection was about Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus), he then answers some comprehension questions before summarising the main points of the passage into three of four sentences. This is repeated for a second excerpt from the same book, although this time I dictate his narration back for him to write down. In this way, he can practise the first part of the writing process: putting an idea into his own words, in a well constructed sentence, without having to hold these sentences in his head long enough for him to physically write them down. Furthermore, it helps them practice the fundamental skill of identifying the main points in a passage, and ignoring the extraneous detail, a skill essential for many other subjects and indeed in many real life situations and jobs!
There are also selected sentences from the passage for the child to first copy and then write after dictation, often with a grammatical/punctuation discussion point. In today’s sentences for example, the punctuation surrounding direct speech was highlighted.
This writing curriculum teaches some of the fundamental writing skills – i.e. expressing an idea in a comprehensive, properly structured sentence, the physical writing process and some of the grammar and punctuation – but in discrete activities completed at separate times. The student develops these distinct skills before combining them into the complex task of writing his own story or non fiction article.
To develop their creative writing skills, we use the excellent Writing & Rhetoric books (Bean7 is working on Book 1:Fable), along with writing poetry together and composing stories for the annual Radio2 500 word competition and the Wicked Young Writer’s competition (750 words). Additionally and probably most importantly, their imagination and creativity is constantly being developed through their complex play with their friends at our home ed groups, as they have the time and space to construct wonderful imaginary worlds and stories.
But I digress, back to Wednesday! We only had time for a short section of a Writing & Rhetoric lesson, but it was fun. We read together a rhyme of old sayings from Chance Hits by Norman H. Chance. The meanings of some of these were clear, such as, “as proud as a peacock”, but others were less obvious, for example, “as dark as a pall”, so we discussed these in more detail, looking up any unfamiliar vocabulary. He enjoyed analysing these sayings, although obviously he had to be jumping on the old mattress or doing a roly-poly at the same time (apparently all the best thinking happens in this way…).
After lunch, they both had a lesson with their lovely piano teacher and, on their return, played in the garden, practised some archery skills and read numerous picture books and their chapter books (The Deathly Hallows for Bean7 and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm for Bean8) over dinner. Both the children are bibliophiles; they read an incredible amount of books, from the simple picture book to Shakespeare. As they’re both fluent readers and have such a love of literature, my role here is really one of sourcing literature they might like, strewing interesting books around the house, and helping them find a good book from the library when they ask for help. Other than that, I just leave them to their own devices.
After dinner, it was back out for a Karate lesson, and home again to read some more of our current read aloud, Journey to the River Sea, a story about an orphan who is sent to live with cruel relatives a thousand miles up the Amazon, and about her adventures when she meets a mysterious boy living on the wild river shores.
Thursdays are their favourite day as it’s our home ed meet day! We started at 8am and they completed a shortened version of Morning Basket, piano practice and a sheet of maths each, before moving on to our science topic – rainforests. Today’s session was fairly short and involved learning facts and information about the Amazon rainforest, the distinct layers of a rainforest, products provided by this biome and all about chocolate – the cacao tree, how the seed pods grow, its discovery by the Mayans and how the love of chocolate spread across Europe after the Spanish Conquistador Don Hernan Cortes brought the cocoa drink recipe back to Spain.
At 11am, we headed out for the rest of the day to enjoy the beautiful sunshine with our local home ed group friends. They played beautifully together on the beach, creating all sorts of imaginary games, collecting special rocks, discovering some geodes (this caused great excitement!), carving the limestone and just generally having a very happy time together for over four hours. No adult direction, just play. There were no arguments or bullying; children drifted in and out of the different groups, enjoying the freedom and pleasures of an afternoon on the beach in the sun. Oh and I got to have some mummy chatting time, another essential component of our week!
Friday started slowly as we all needed a lie in! We started our Morning Basket at 9am with prayers, singing, Spanish and poetry, followed by learning 4 new words from our Latin/Greek word card selection along with some of their English derivatives & meanings (for example, scio, scitum = Latin for know; one English derivative is prescience, meaning foreknowledge). We then looked at our next vocabulary word in Phenomenal! The Small Book of Big Words, which was frugal. They find this book hilarious; the example sentences showing how the new vocabulary could be used, tend to be funny and therefore very memorable for them.
To finalise Morning Basket for the week, they watched a lesson from their How to Draw Rainforest and Ocean Animals DVD and spent a happy 45 mins drawing two beautiful Scarlet Macaws.
Next on the agenda was maths (this one for Bean7 and this one for Bean8), more piano practice, a short grammar lesson, and finally our history focus for the week. We’ve been enjoying studying about the explorers of the New World: Christopher Colombus, Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan. This week’s history lesson (Story of the World:The Middle Ages) touched on the colonisation of Central and South America by the Spanish and Portugese along with a focus on the interactions and battles between Cortes and Montezuma. This was particuarly timely given their rainforest project had touched on Cortes and his spread of the cocoa drink to the rest of Europe only the day before. I’d love to say that this was beautifully planned and aligned, but alas I have to admit that it was a complete coincidence! Having said that, it’s not unusual for our studies in one area to cross over into studies in another, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch the children make these connections, enthusiastically telling you anything they already know about the topic/individual.
To finish off a lovely week, they had some home ed friends over to play in the garden and take advantage of the gorgeous weather (sadly I was enjoying the conversation with their mum too much to remember to take any photos of them altogether!).
What have you been up to this week?