Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today was the 10th birthday of our local HE group. I was so busy that I didn't take any photos - nor do I have any photos of our first meeting. We also did Christmas crafts and played some party games. (I love the Hokey Cokey - it makes children smile).

It was a very busy session with lots of new families and old friends that I haven't seen for a while. It was lovely to see everyone there sharing memories and looking at old photos, including three families who were at the very first session, us being one of them.

The theme of our first session was Bats. We did some craft activities and had a speaker come from the Bat Trust. Some of the older children can still remember him :) The craft activity I took was making bat mobiles with coat hangers, brown card cut-outs of bats and cream card cut-outs of moths.

Whilst looking through old photos to take today, I came across the original guidelines for our group and was surprised to see just how much it hasn't changed. We had to add a few more ground rules and put up the price when we changed venues and the children don't wash up any more, but other than that, it's still pretty much the same. Sadly, we did lose the closing circle somewhere over the years but opening circle is still an important part of the day as is the communal meal and constant supply of fruit for people to snack on.

I remember the discussions and planning meetings we had at first, how we decided what was important, how we found an affordable venue. We don't have planning meetings now, but we do vote on the themes that we will cover and use email to organise related trips.

I've really enjoyed this group over the 10 years. I've made some good friends, met some interesting people, had a lot of fun, stressed about what activity to take, played, sang, danced, cooked, painted, crafted, seen children grow up, eaten lovely food (the shared meal is so important and probably my most interesting meal of the month), learnt loads, covered topics I would never have thought of (Toilets) and developed skills I didn't know I had.

I'd just like to say 'Thank you' to everyone who came today; to everyone who has ever been to our local HE group, even if they only came once; to everyone who has ever brought an activity to share; to everyone who has brought food to share - especially food that I would never dream of cooking myself; to everyone who is, and has been, involved in the organising. I'd like to say thank you for the support and friendship I've found in this group and thank you for the ideas and inspiration.

I'm really looking forward to more good food, good friends and interesting topics over the next few years :)

My top 10 tips to starting up a local HE group :)
1. Find some like-minded parents and share the load;
2. Decide what kind of session you want - purely social or learning activities?
3. Find a cheap venue, preferably with storage - church halls and scout huts are often a good bet, especially as they're likely to have outdoor space too;
4. Pick a regular date - once a month works well, it allows for other activities to happen, nobody feels overworked, and people who want to come don't keep putting it off till 'next week';
5. Do some fundraising before you start to give yourselves a cushion - a sponsored walk and jumble sale worked for us;
6. Ask parents to donate any unused art materials, pinnies, cooking equipment etc.;
7. Buy a teapot and cosy :) ;
8. Communal meals are great :)
9. Work out a fee that will cover costs - we started out at £2 for the 1st child + £1 for each sibling age 3 and up. We now charge £2.50 and £1.50 respectively.
10. Take photos - lots of them!

I'd love to hear of other peoples experiences when it comes to setting up and running Home Education groups. What tips would you add to this list?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Typekids Review

This is a really thorough programme if you really want to learn to touch type. It spends a few lessons on a combination of a small number of letters making sure that you have got those letters off pat before moving on to the next set. One thing I did like about this programme is that you can sign up for a free trial before you commit to buy to make sure it's a good fit for your child.

Typekids is an online course of 30 lessons that will teach your child to touch type. This seems to be becoming an all important skill these days as more and more writing happens via technology. I was pretty keen to try this out with my children to give them this skill.

The programme has a pirate theme complete with animated boats, canons, sharks and rousing music.
The instructions are pretty straight forward and graphically illustrated to help make them even easier to follow

As well as the exercises, there are games to play which build on the lessons. After completing so many lessons students get to unlock new games. There are also badges to be earned and chapters of a story that become available to listen to as you progress. Parents/tutors are emailed a progress report after each lesson so that they can check on their child's progress. There's a review screen so children can check their accuracy for themselves too.

Boykin had a go on this programme. He enjoyed the games and the story, but found some of the exercises a bit repetitive for his liking. He can type faster with two fingers though at the moment so learning to touch type hasn't got that much appeal to him at this stage. However, I'm hoping that he will persevere and will, hopefully, begin to see the benefits soon. seem to have everything pretty much covered in terms of thoroughness, progress reports, ergonomics information and incentives - there's even a Diploma at the end of the course. Now it's just down to the Boy to keep at it and finish the course :)

Disclosure: I got given a free account at Typekids in order to write an honest review. No money changed hands. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Evacuee Workshop

It's been a full-on week this week with a Home ed groups every day. Monday, The Girl went bowling with the new teen group; Tuesday, we went to Bankfield Museum in Halifax to do an evacuee workshop; Wednesday was our local HE games group; today was Ninjas and tomorrow we will go to our last film of the Into Film Festival. I think next week will be a bit quieter and I'm planning for them to do some actual written work. Boykin has mostly spent his time playing out or making games and animations on Scratch when he has been at home this week. The Girl has mostly been sleeping (as teenagers do), listening to music, drawing and making games on Scratch.

The evacuee workshop was fun. I think it is the fourth one we have done over the years and each one has been different. As a family, we enjoy dressing up and they both enjoy the role-play aspect of these types of events. Not only did we all go in costume, we even packed a 1940s wartime lunch in a proper picnic basket. I did cheat a little and put a piece of cake in our basket because I decided that if my children were being evacuated, I'd use the whole weeks sugar ration to make sure they had a good feed on the train :)

The session was divided into two parts. The first part of the morning they looked at what an evacuee might pack and had a chance to try on some of the clothes. They also had to be inspected and receive their billets.  My children were going to work with a barber and they sent a postcard 'home' to let me know and also to tell me that Boykin had been sick on the train ;)

They also got to look at the kinds of toys that children in the 1940s would have played with. I was quite surprised to see Boykin's hand up insistently to look at the wooden spitfire. I hadn't realised that he liked planes quite so much. We also listened to a short section of The Children's Hour and learnt the song "Run Rabbit Run".

The next part of the session took place upstairs with an Air Raid Warden who showed them how to use a gas mask and what to do in the blackout. They were given the opportunity to handle gas masks, headlight covers and shrapnel. There were four stations with different activities to do on each. They all had a go at building a Morrison Shelter; working in the hospital; trying on Home Guard uniforms and investigating Fire brigade equipment. The ARP showed them how a stirrup pump worked and got them to form a human chain to put out a fire.

We went back downstairs just in time for the air raid siren when we all got taken to the dark air raid shelter where we had a sing-song with a rather out-of-tune rendition of "Run Rabbit Run" :)

This was definitely one of the better evacuee workshops we have been on and I was reassured by The Girl's knowledge of all things Home Front. It shows that our rather haphazard style of studying history is working and that not only is she learning stuff, but that she is also retaining the information. We first visited World War 2 in a deliberate way when she was only 4 with one of our very early local HE group themed sessions. It's very much been an ongoing topic that looks to have no end in sight.

<!-- WGCC788 -->

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Bingo maths

Bingo is a great game used in all kind of learning. We've used it for learning foreign languages; shape and number identification; letter recognition; matching words and pictures as an early reading game; we've even got an Animal Soundtracks version.

My children often want to play maths related games instead of doing their workbooks - especially for what they call Friday fun maths. They can be quite inventive sometimes :)

The Girl came up with a great way to play Bingo. We have a basic set with a pretty large selection of cards. We played a few times coming up with several variations.

The basic premise is to cover the numbers on your bingo board. The caller draws numbers from a bag and the other players cover that number if it's on their Bingo card. The caller also covers the number on his Caller Board to keep track of what has been called and to check when someone shouts Bingo!

The Girl put only the numbers 1 - 12 into the pot to be drawn. She then pulled out 2 numbers which we had to multiply together. The product was then the 'called' number. As we continued playing, we extended our equations to include addition, subtraction and division so that we could get all the numbers on the caller's board. It worked pretty well :)

You can buy a print-and-play version of The Girl's game with full instructions for variations and extension activities here.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Maths Manipulatives - Pattern Blocks

We have a nice large set of sturdy, wooden, pattern blocks that Boykin got for his birthday one year, probably when he was about 2 or 3. (Thanks Mum :D) The shapes in our set are hexagon, equilateral triangle, two sizes of parallelogram, square and trapezium. Did you know that in America they call the trapezium a trapezoid?

They have been very well used over the years. When we were doing workboxes, they appeared quite regularly along with a selection of printouts for Boykin to make pictures on. I put the printouts in a clear plastic A4 page protector, changing the top one so that he had different patterns to work with each time. He simply placed the pattern blocks on top of the page protector which helped make the printouts more durable, so durable that they are still perfectly usable 5 years later :)

We've used them to explore symmetry, both by looking at the shapes themselves and by creating symmetrical patterns.

This is what we got when we played the symmetry version of game 3 below.
We've used them to create and explore repeating patterns and sequences as well as using them to explore shape, area and angles.

The blocks have been used as building bricks, and even glued together to make a sculpture.

And, of course, we have used them to explore tessellation. There's something so satisfying about creating a pattern from just a small selection of shapes that could go on into infinity, if only we had enough tiles :) They came in very useful for the maths activities in Picture Book Explorers - The Mousehole Cat.

Yesterday, the Girl came up with the idea for a game, which we have further developed today giving us two or three variations. What other variations can you come up with?

Game 1:
Start by placing a hexagon on the table.
Take it in turns to draw a shape from the box without looking or trying to identify the shape by feeling.
Place the shape on the table so that it touches at least one other shape on the table.
How big a pattern can you create with no gaps?

Game 2:
Follow the instructions given for game 1.
The variation is that you have to keep a running total of the sum of the internal angles of the shapes as you place them.
For instance, there is a triangle and a square on the table. Their sum of their internal angles is 180 degrees and 360 degrees respectively. This gives a total of 540 degrees.
Younger children could add together the number of angles/sides.
Useful information:
The internal angles of a triangle = 180 degrees.
The internal angles of a quadrilateral = 360 degrees.
The internal angles of a hexagon = 720 degrees.

Game 3: The most popular version in our house.
You will also need two different colour dice - we used red and white.
There are 6 different shapes in our set, so we gave each one of them a different numerical value.
The white dice determines the shape to be used and the red dice determines the number of that shape to be used.
For instance, using the picture below, a white 6 and a red 5 have been thrown. The hexagon is number 6. Therefore, 5 hexagons would be added to the pattern being built.
Take it in turns to roll the dice and build the pattern.
To make it more challenging, try working together to keep the pattern as symmetrical as possible.

Other Pattern Block Activities:
Click on Pattern Block Pictures at Kelly's Kindergarten
Ideas for using pattern blocks to explore shape from Scholastic
More pattern block printables from ABCTeach - not all are free
Online pattern block activity at Math Playground
Game and sequence pattern printables at the end of this post from Confessions of a Homeschooler
Using pattern blocks to explore fractions
Pattern blocks matching game
Exploring tessellation

Friday, 24 October 2014

Don't Forget the Discount!

That was the subject heading on an email I received today :) You may remember I posted about Picstick photo magnets about a month ago?
Well, the discount code WEATHER25 is only valid until November 5th 2014. Don't forget to use it to get 25% off at the checkout at Picstick