Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Sacred space

We were counting the daffodils in the garden this afternoon and decided to go and look for signs of spring along the track near our house - our sacred space. There were signs a plenty!

The landscape was dappled with sunlight through the trees, unlike the frosty last post.

We spotted dwarf daffodils the same as in our garden, hanging catkins, white blossom and buds on the trees and we talked about how buds and blossom fit into the life cycle.

We also looked at some of the multitude of blackberry bushes to check on their status - they provide regular feasts for Harry in autumn.

Peter enjoyed some freedom to explore. Harry collected some stones and berries to bring home and loved riding his bike, as usual. He is so proficient now!

Spring, not winter, was dominant today and it gave us a huge sense of wellbeing! I am very interested to see whether there will be a revival of winter weather and the effect it could have.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Chester park

What a great day - our first trip to Chester park which was well worth a half hour journey. Three hours of friends, sun, sand and busy, happy children, finished off with ice cream!

Saturday, 25 February 2012


A good example in our garden today of why my blog is called dancing in the mud!

Alphabet hunt

We had a fun alphabet hunt at home this morning. I hid each letter of the alphabet using our magnetic letters and Harry had to find them

He especially liked the two bonus letters with sweets attached - he said they gave him hunting energy to find the rest of the letters!

When he had found them all, we lined them up and he tried to think of a word beginning with each letter. We played the hiding and finding element of the game 3 more times and there were tears when we had to stop for lunch, so it's safe to say Harry enjoyed it! Very simple but very fun.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Loan box - Ancient Greek Olympics

Tyne and Wear museums have several loan boxes, each with a theme, which contain interesting articles to explore and relate activities to. We looked at an Ancient Greek Olympics box yesterday at the Discovery museum with some other home ed families, which was good as an introduction to both the Olympics and Ancient Greece. I am planning some Olympic activities to tie into London 2012 later in the year, as I am sure many people are, so we will postpone looking further into the Olympics until then. 

Harry was very taken by the story of the 12 labours of Hercules, however, which we had researched in advance and saw depicted on pottery in the box so I am going to buy a book of Greek myth and legend to explore at home. We also liked the discus and jumping weights, having watched videos of these events in advance, and a coin bearing the image of Zeus, which sparked some interesting discussions about whether you can actually throw lightning bolts!

I think we are so lucky to live in such close proximity to several very good museums, which have great learning resources and we will definitely be making the most of them over the coming years.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Reading eggs and literacy

We have been using Reading Eggs, an online reading programme for around six months now and it seems to be working well for Harry. We have been working through it slowly and have completed 16 lessons, each of which covers a letter or sound. 

Harry has a good grasp of phonic sounds now (when we started he had no understanding) and has worked out some letters and sounds for himself before we have covered them in the lessons. He is starting to put the sounds together now to make words and he answered his own question this week - "what does b-a-t make? bat of course". 

I am going to add some printed materials to our reading learning this year. Any recommendations welcome! I am aware of the Oxford Reading Tree series and Jolly Phonics but need to look into others.

We love making up rhymes/poems at the kitchen table and he has been joining in with that a lot. Sometimes they are real words and make a sensible poem and sometimes not, but I don't think it matters in terms of literacy development, and fun of course!

Harry has also been writing quite a lot. He likes writing pages full of the letters he can write well (I am going to get him some notebooks for this as I keep finding many pages torn out of my list-writing book!) and I also came down from upstairs this week to find a note just to say Hi

Harry posted me a letter this morning into the kitchen - I am not sure what the letter says but he had a good attempt at his name

He has also asked me to write a story book with his own story about Peter and seems to love us reading together more than ever - I am sure we could read at least 20 books a day if we didn't have Peter climbing all over us! All positive things I think which show him moving further towards reading and writing and, as an added bonus, we both enjoy it all!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Anyone can do daddy's job!

Harry went with Stuart to drop off some things at work over the weekend and had fun playing daddy "doing tax" (as Harry refers to it) using the desks and vending machine! Here he is talking to me on the phone headset

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A new soup on the hob

We visited a friend last week who made us squash and sweetcorn soup and I have stolen the idea and made some today. I was stuck for a new soup recipe and, being a big sweetcorn lover, this one definitely appeals! I usually combine other orange vegetables and red lentils with squash to make quite a smooth soup but this one is more textured and much more yellow than orange. Yum - it will be added to my soup index!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

In with the new

We have been having some work done in our playroom this week and we are very pleased with the results. Firstly, shelves in two alcoves with the aim of keeping the floor less cluttered.

Secondly, new french doors out to the garden. We have wanted to do this for some time as the old wooden ones were starting to rot and let in water - here they are having been demolished!

Harry took a picture of our lovely joiners at work and this is the finished article


We have had a good tidy tonight and just need to source a couple of extra storage tubs. This is how the main wall of the playroom is looking now, until tomorrow morning when the boys thunder in!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


After a baby-induced 5.30am start followed by trampolining today, I felt we needed a more sedate activity so we got the paints out. Harry had fun driving cars to make tracks and walking animals to make prints

He produced quite an impressive helicopter on his own, which is a great achievement for him as he normally enjoys the process of mixing and painting of itself and doesn't feel the need to produce anything

Peter showed a mild interest then decided that it was more fun to chase a ball up and down the hall without the risk of being knocked over by big brother

A bath for Harry, the animals and the cars rounded off the afternoon well!

That question - why do we home educate?

We went to the trampolining session again today (Harry was very pleased with himself for managing to bounce for the whole hour) and the coach, who is a friendly mid-50's grandma, asked tentatively why we are home educating. I think this is the first time I have been asked by a virtual stranger and I have been thinking about it most of the afternoon!

My response was that Harry is not suited to a classroom environment and needs more active opportunities, which is true and was the first reason I had to question him going to school, but there are now so many more (and better, I think) reasons. We are no longer home educating as a reaction to this initial issue but it is a positive pro-active choice to the extent that I didn't once feel the need to view any primary schools at application time.

I have never liked the idea of primary age exams as I just cannot see much benefit for the children, so I am pleased we do not have to be part of it. One of the many quotes I read somewhere when pondering home education said something along the lines of "comparison to others is not important as X will be the best he can be in whatever is important to him". I like this and think about it regularly and, while I do recognise that life is often a meritocracy, I don't think it has to start at age 7 to foster future success.

I want Harry and Peter to have time - time to play, time to rest, time to work out what they enjoy and time to develop skills in things they enjoy. I want them to have time to spend with their family outside Stuart and I, none of whom live nearby. I don't think this would be possible to the extent we would all like if they went to school, as Harry certainly would be too tired to focus on much outside school. 

I am not sure I will ever be able to put into words all the reasons I have for home educating and I am sure they will change with the times in any case. I am also very conscious not to appear to be "school-bashing" as that is not how I feel, although it seems to be difficult to be passionate about home education without making people feel defensive/offended. I was talking to a friend about this subject the other day and came to the conclusion that actually, if children have engaged, loving and interested parents, they are likely to be fine whether they go to school or not.

I am sure I will have many more thoughts on this issue in the coming months and years!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sacred space

I have been inspired by this post at Love and Light, by our friend Fay, to choose a sacred space and watch the changes there through the seasons.

Sacred space

Our sacred space is going to be a cycle/pedestrian track a short walk from our house. It is close to a playground and we have spent hours of enjoyable time there in all seasons. It is also the place Harry first mastered his balance bike, scooter and real bike, as it is a smooth, car-free long stretch. I am sure this year will be the year we will be walking down the track at Peter pace too. There are lots of trees on each side, which bear a variety of berries and where we can see nature grow and fade.

Frog frenzy

I am getting to the stage of illness where I have forgotten how it feels to be well! 1 week of sore throat, 4 days of lost voice and 1 week of sinus pain and chesty cold brings me to today. Hopefully things will start to improve this week. In the absence of any energy to think up some activities for this weekend, I dug out a frog project I had already prepared.

We read some information sheets about different types of frog, together with a factual book I had found at the library. Harry then matched the names of the frogs to their pictures and completed a frog life cycle diagram

We had some fact cards and we read a few of these, then cut out card to represent the largest and smallest frogs

I had printed some words relating to the reading we had done and asked Harry if he could remember the meaning of each word - he did really well at this

We watched and listened to some different frogs on YouTube, including the poison dart frog and bullfrog. The poison dart video was a David Attenborough offering where frog neighbours were wrestling for territory, which we then had to recreate on the floor! We did some colouring sheets too - Harry wanted his to be the golden dart frog, which is the most poisonous!

We finished by reading the frog library book again, together with a story book featuring a frog character

It turned out to be a good work session and Harry was looking through the lapbook we created later in the day. It was a bit of a random topic but I think we had enough content to make it interesting and coherent, with a variety of activities.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Snowy Day part 2

We made an impromptu visit to the Great North Museum in Newcastle which allowed me to follow up The Snowy Day activities we started here

The museum has a large natural history section with an impressive display of animals divided into type of habitat. As we have been thinking about the snow, we looked for the polar zone animals.

Harry noted that they all were mainly white in colour and that this was the same as the snow. We discussed why this might be and why predators and prey would want to hide for different reasons.

The museum also has interactive computers which give information about the animals. Harry chose the snowy owl and we read the information, which said that the owl has a thick layer of feathers and down for warmth. We noted that the other animals have thick fur for the same reason.

In the Five in a Row curriculum, we are really supposed to read the book before the activities, but the museum was a last minute idea so we read the book again at bedtime and talked about whether we might see any of the animals when playing out in the snow at home. The conclusion was no, which is reassuring, as I do not relish meeting a wolf, reindeer or polar bear while pulling the sledge!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Michael Rosen on poetry

I have been prompted to write up some notes I took recently at a talk by Michael Rosen, the former children's laureate, by a link to this post on his own blog from one of our home ed groups:

Michael Rosen blog post

The evening I attended at Seven Stories involved a talk on the role of poetry in education and had some useful ideas for engaging children in poetry so I thought I would post my notes here for future reference or in case anyone else finds them useful:

1. Children should have regular access to different styles of poetry and be allowed to do with
it whatever they please.

2. The adult "teachers" should try to make themselves equal in learning about the poetry, by not suggesting that their ideas are superior and admitting that there are elements that they too do not understand yet.

3. Children should have time to play with sounds and rhymes using their voice. They can try to guess sounds, use a sound as a starting point for a poem/song or as a theme. They can use loud or quiet sounds, music, echo and props. Rhyme and rhythm are the starting points for the cohesion in poetry so children need to be able to find their own matches.

4. It helps understanding to be allowed to perform poetry and to listen to others perform.

5. There are several questions which can be used to allow children into poetry:

    a. Ask any questions you don't know the answer to;
    b. Does anything in the poem remind you of something that has happened to you?;
    c. Is there anything that reminds you of a book/film/song?;
    d.Would you like to ask anybody or anything in the poem a question? Is there
    anything you would like to ask the poet? Is there anything that puzzles you      
    about the poem? Can the adult or children answer any of the questions (the answers do
    not have to be found in the poem)?

6. An interesting project can be to display a variety of words, from which the child chooses a selection to create their own narrative/poem/rhythm. This allows play with the flexibility of language. 

I will definitely be trying out some more of the above. We already enjoy thinking of rhyming words (often made up) and my first step will be to extend this to playing around with sounds.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Snowy Day part 1

The few scraps of snow remaining on the grass this morning were enough to inspire me to row the Five in a Row book The Snowy Day. I had prepared the activities some weeks ago and have been awaiting some (any!) snow, so today we were ready.
This is a lovely gentle book, actually part of the pre-school Before Five in a Row programme and the activities reflected that, but Harry was bright eyed throughout and we really enjoyed it together while Peter had a nap. We made a small lapbook and Harry chose his favourite page from the story to print for the front

We read the book then did some snowman size and shape matching sheets

We used some resources from Homeschool share

Harry designed his own snowman using cut out shapes, glitter and snowflake stickers, some of which 'landed' on the snowman's head as per the story! He circled and counted the letter S and matched pictures of white objects to the correct word, which I made a little harder by asking Harry to say the sound of the letter at the start and end to try to figure out each word. He is doing really well picking up phonic sounds, but the next step of putting the sounds together to make words has not clicked yet

To finish, we read the story again and I asked him to listen carefully to the snowy activities then tell me them and which would be his favourite. As I could have guessed, he would like to climb the snowy mountain and slide down it! We will await more snow and that can be our physical snowy day activity.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A day of firsts

We had a day of firsts yesterday....

First shoes for Peter - he has a bit of catching up to do to big brother

First marbles for Harry

Which gave us even more uses for our long tubes

And taught Harry that some sizes of marble will not fit down every tube!

First snow of the year.... at last! Not much yet and it has brought very cold weather. I fear we may not be able to enjoy it too much yet as everyone except Harry is suffering from cough and cold!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A bouncy morning

I remembered recently about a drop in trampoline session at a local sports centre we have been to before so we went along this morning. It was a big hit with Harry who bounced for the whole hour, managing some seat drops and rainbow arms, which impressed him by making him go higher! Peter was desperate for a turn too but he is not quite big enough yet and I don't think his new found standing skills would last long on the huge trampolines!

I think we will be going along again, as it's also a bargain at £3 for the hour with a coach around to help out. I have been looking into gymnastics classes for Harry, although most start at age 5, so this might be a good introduction to enjoy this year.

We have also been watching some YouTube videos of blacksmiths at work, following our discussions about it. We were both very interested in seeing the metal turn red hot in the fire and then change shape under the blows of the hammer - it looked like hard work!