27 August 2014


...is for Performance...

...specifically Blackbeard's Tea Party, one of my eldest's favourite bands.  He was very excited that they played two slots at the music festival we were at this last weekend.  It is one of the highlights of my year, I love music, especially live music, so to spend the weekend immersed in music is my idea of heaven.  What would be your perfect weekend?

22 August 2014


We sometimes focus on a topic round these parts.  It hasn't happened so much in recent months but in our early days of home education it was quite a focus of our learning.  One of the first was Castles, it all started with a book, a charity shop find, See Inside Castles published by Usborne Books.  At the time my eldest was probably about five or six and was reading but still liked to read books with me as often there were words he could not yet work out.  That one book triggered quite a journey.

We don't follow a curriculum, I believe in learning rather than teaching. I realised that my eldest was really interested not only in the book but also the subject matter, he wanted to learn more about Castles.  So we went on a journey, one that took us all over the place physically as well as mentally, this is a record of that journey, recorded by subjects as I felt this would be most useful for anyone wanting to do the same.

History it goes without saying that this was the main focus of his learning.  In fact it opened up a new world to him, the past.  Remembering that he was only around six at the time although he was aware of the past, a time before he was born when I was a child and his grandparents were children, it was not a concept he had grasped a good understanding of.  One of the first things we did was to create a time line showing the present day at the right hand end and going back to the time most castles were built.  As he read and learnt about different eras of castles we added them to the line along with other periods of history that he leant about through this topic.  We started with the castles themselves why they had been built, we looked at what was happening in the world at that time, we discussed, in basic terms, conflicts.  He moved onto Knights and reading all about them, which led to looking at the structure of society then and now.  We learnt about what people were wearing, what they ate, I wanted to have a go at cooking some of the recipes we found but he wasn't keen, the tools and transport they were using which led us on to technology and its development through time.

Geography our main focus of learning was about the world.  Before this he wasn't really aware of the world beyond our village apart from the places he had thus far visited.  He learnt that we live on a island and where that it is in the world, about northern and southern hemispheres, seasons, day and night, revolving round the sun and the year.  We looked at atlases, we stuck a map of the world on the wall, which is still there and often looked at.  We found a really old atlas, that I inherited from my granma, published in late 1920s (there is no date in it sadly) and it was interesting to compare that to one from the 1970s and one from now to see how borders had move and countries renamed.  The building materials for castles changed over time, ending with rock.  We looked into rocks and geology, investigating the castles we visited to work out what they were built with and where that might have come from.  We considered how it might have got there, what the roads might have looked like and were there maps.

English our focus for this was entirely with reading, he showed no desire (and still doesn't really now) to write.  I have never wanted to force him to do something he really doesn't appear to enjoy or be ready for.  My mum, a primary school teacher for twenty five years, keeps reassuring me to just wait writing will happen one day when he is ready pushing him will only lead him to reject wanting to do it at all.  So we bought a few books on the subject, The Story of Castles another Usborne book was a perfect book for improving reading skills, Medieval Castle by Gillian Clements was a great second hand book find as was the Horrible History Handbook, Knights in a charity shop.  We also borrowed every book from the local library on Castles, Knights and the Medieval Period.  A particularly good one was the Little Book of Castles another Usborne book.  If we were to be studying this topic now I think we would turn to the DK Eyewitness series (my son is now nine).

Maths there is the potential for all sorts of maths to be introduced when looking at castles.  In our case they were not taught but talked about as concepts and how they were and could be applied in life.  Living maths if you will.  To build a castle you need to understand maths even if you don't realise that this is the skills you are using, the best way to apply maths in my book far less onerous and scary.  I am always sadden by people saying they don't like maths.  It is usually because they felt they were such a failure at it at school, I cannot understand why we do that to our children.  You cannot learn anything if you feel you are going to fail at it.  I digress where was I, castles and maths.  We learnt about circles (towers) and the aspects of those such as circumferences, radius etc.  We learnt about angles (walls) and measuring them.  We talked about 2D and 3D shapes which he already knew about and how you measure their area and volume.  The Sir Cumference series of books is good for this age group (six), we have now moved onto the Murderous Maths series which my eldest loves to read.  We also touched on maps and scale.

Art most of what we did was drawing as that was my eldest's favourite at the time and still is.  He hates having his hands dirty or touching things that are not firm so many artist's mediums are not accessible to him.  He drew castles from many different angles, learning in the process about birds eye views, which moved us from there on to maps, about perspective particularly backgrounds and foregrounds but most of all as he was fairly new to controlled pencil skills it did wonders for his drawing skills.  We bought him some good quality paper, a sketchbook so all this drawings were kept together, and some good quality pencils.  He used scrap paper to practice some of this pictures.  It was at this time that I put together pots of drawing materials that were easily accessible so that he could sit and draw whenever he chose to.

Physical I know that the focus of physical education in a school environment is centred on playing sport or games often in teams but that doesn't mean that has to be how you define a physical education, for me it is about being active in whatever form that takes.  We visited many castles as part of learning about them, it was surprising (or perhaps not given where I live, near the Scottish border) how many we found locally to us when we started to look for them.  I searched for Castles in my area on the Internet, looked at local OS maps at scale of 1:25000 (they are usually marked), English Heritage and the National Trust are good websites to look at too.  A visit to a castle usually involves a bit, or sometimes a lot, of walking.  We played games in the grounds, storming the battlements, bit of jousting or plain old tig or hide and seek.  At home we also had a go at learning how to use the implements a knight would have used properly finding out about the moves, how to hold them etc.

Crafts  I wasn't sure what to call these as this is all the bits that don't fit under any of the other headings, it is also not generally a school subject in itself but may come into other parts of the curriculum or be something you want to try at home!  We made a few bits and pieces from wood learning some skills along the way, a sword or five and some shields which were both decorated.  Then we needed some way of carrying the sword so a leather scabbard was sewn, a new skill to all of us.

One other resource we acquired was a puzzle (ours has 96 pieces) which comes with a accompanying notes.

Although it was some time ago that we started on this particular journey it is not one that has come to an end.  We still continue to read about, visit and learn more about the world through this wonderful topic.

20 August 2014


...is for Orchard...

...a rare sight these days.  At one time many villages and farms would have had an orchard to provide the community or a family with a source of fruit and sometimes nuts.  This orchard is mainly apple with a few pear trees.  The trees would be grown as standards* with grassland underneath which was grazed by livestock or cut for hay.  Most of the orchards that are still around today predate the second world war when small scale mixed farming was the dominant form of farming.  Sadly they are now very much in decline as a result of funding to make land more productive, which often meant they were destroyed or because they are often positioned near to villages and towns and are vulnerable to development, they are classed as agricultural land so have limited legal protection.  I was lucky enough to work right next to an old orchard as my office was in a converted farm building.  We still go and pick the apples every year.

Joining in with the Alphabet Photography Project.


*a tree that is large about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide and therefore widely spaced in an orchard setting, with a crown high enough to allow animals to graze beneath without them reaching the branches.

18 August 2014


...this week of...

...happiness meals with veggies from the garden, play games with the children, a tidy house, days out with friends

...sadness at the continued blood shed and hatred in the world

...reading The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons, to the children The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and these picture books* you can read a short review of them here, 203. Delphie and the Birthday Show by Darcey Bussell, 204. Party! by Jess Stockham, 205. Zoe and the Fairy Medicine by Jane Andrews, 206. Lila and the Secret of Rain by David Conway, 207. L'ours au Soleil by Stella Blackstone, 208. Weasels by Elys Dolan

...creating a shawl off the needles and now blocking, the beginnings of two sewing projects, the arms on a cardigan, a slipper

...learning about castles, the body, digestion, bees, penguins, Antarctica

...thinking about our rhythm for September

...hoping that I can get all the things done that I want/need to do this week

....wondering about things to do in the Autumn

...looking forward to music festival this weekend

*as part of the 300 Picture Books Challenge


I hope you have had a lovely week too......................enjoy the one to come!

15 August 2014


Some of my earliest memories are wrapped up in gardens.  The garden of my childhood was a large one with trees for climbing, dens behind old fence panels, a concrete half buried Anderson shelter which was often knee deep in water, it was also a garden of produce, veggies, a homemade cold frame fashioned with old bricks and window frames and fruit, apples picked from the tree as an after school snack. My grandparents had productive gardens, a wigwam of runner beans covered in red flowers, a pot of parsley by the pack door always full like a green hairy head for the pot, picking or digging up the veg for a family Sunday lunch.  One of my aunts living in North London had a long thin garden full of produce.  When I left home I always wanted a garden of my own.

My wish came true, eventually, and the small patch of land I call home has been turned from a patch of grass to a more edible (to humans) one.  It will never make us self sufficient there is not the room to do that and coupled with frosts as late as May and as early as October it would be tough to make it a reality without several polytunnels.  There are often a couple of weeks of the year when all the vegetables we eat are taken from our garden.  This last week has been one of them.

I am a menu planner.  Each week I get an email detailing the contents of a veg bag we have delivered to the house which is how we buy our veg.  I use the contents of the bag to plan my menu and shop for the specific ingredients I need to make the meals I have planned.  I don't plan our meals for specific days but obviously as the week goes on there are less meals left on my list.  This week my plan was based on my own veggies and those I had in the fridge, leftovers from a recent scout camp.

It never ceases to amaze me how one year you can grow something successfully and the next it will either fail or produce little.  I love french beans and usually grow dwarf varieties, some years they have bought a whole new dimension to the definition of dwarf and barely produce a meals worth.  This year they have been, excuse the pun, highly productive and we have been picking them for weeks.  This week I cooked them in a Bengali style, and with a potato dish of yellow spiced potatoes, dahl, rice and naan made a delicious meal.  We have also eaten our potatoes with a quiche and a Lentil Salad.

We live in one of the wettest parts of England, our annual rainfall is over a metre of rain.  We have had very little rain in the last two months and coupled with high temperatures the garden needed constant watering.  The rain has finally arrived but sadly it has bought with it much cooler temperatures dropping to below 10°C overnight.  The courgettes which have been doing so well seemed to have stopped growing.  I had planned on two meals based on the number that were on my plants, but best laid plans.......we did manage one meal a simple pasta sauce with slow cooked onion and garlic, chopped courgettes and grated parmesan cooked on an open fire by the side of a local lake on the only dry evening of the week.

I tried growing broad beans this year for the first time, my father in law always grew them and told me they were easy to grow, we usually get ours from a local pick your own most of which I freeze to eat over the following months.  They are easy to grow, well this year they have been, and like the french beans we have had several meals from our plants. I have made several different salads with them and a delicious pâté.  This week I tried a new salad recipe, one with an interesting list of ingredients, which I wasn't entirely convinced would taste good together but I was proved wrong.  We didn't have many beans by the time I made it, darn that cooler weather, so I reduced the quantities but it was delicious.

The cooler weather means that I have added soup back to our lunches.  I had some lettuces that I bought back from scout camp.  They were rather past it to be honest and most people would have probably thrown them in the compost days ago.  But I cut off the worst bits and was left with a rather sad small pile, another raid on the fridge and I found a small piece of cabbage so that went in too.  So it was cabbage and lettuce soup loosely based on this recipe.  The children were a bit non plussed, I thought it tasted great.

So that has been my week in the kitchen, next week I am hoping that the garden carries on producing enough to make a stir fry, some courgette fritters, a bean salad, pasta alla genovese, cucumber soup and lots more leafy salads.

13 August 2014


...is for notebooks...

...it seems I have quite a collection.....

....one for shopping lists, another for keeping track of things I need to do for the Scouts, one for bloggy things, one for keeping track of learning,  a book for homemade cleaning recipes, another a list of birds we have spotted on days out and the last a list of books and resources for our home education journey.....

...I wouldn't be without them what about you?

Joining in with the Alphabet Photography Project 

11 August 2014


...this week of...

...happiness finally making it to the waterfall for a walk - with friends, taking the canoe out for the day and cooking supper on a fire by the lake, veggies from my garden

...sadness that the weather has turned wet and wild preventing us from going on our wild camping trip, when the weather was hot I was too busy with volunteer commitments

...reading Citadel by Kate Mosse, to the children The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and these picture books* you can read a short review of them here, 197. Yummy Scrummy by Ashley Birch.  198. Star Seeker by Theresa Heine, 199. Autumn by Anita Ganeri, 200. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, 201. Betty and the Yeti by Ella Burfoot, 202. Felix the Fast Tractor and the Coal Delivery by Catherine Cannon

...creating homemade toothpaste, a christmas present, blackcurrant smoothie, rows on a shawl

...learning about river flow, weather, clouds, the solar system, alphabet, autumn festivals, our bodies

...thinking about christmas presents, yes I know it is early but as I make as many as possible I have to start now!

...hoping to harvest my whitecurrants and garlic this week

...wondering if I have enough veggies in my garden to cancel my veg bag for another week

..looking forward to a day out on a classic coach with a visit to a castle

*as part of the 300 Picture Books Challenge


I hope you have had a lovely week too......................enjoy the one to come!