Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Book Club

At our local Christian home education group, I run a book club for the over eight year olds. This is only one part of the group and takes place towards the end of the meeting. Each book club session takes about 20-30 minutes.

There are two main components to the group
  • book recommendations
  • discussion of a book which we are all reading

This has proved to be the most popular part of the group.
The children can recommend books and are always enthusiastic about this time.
 I ask the children to include

  • title
  • author
  • setting
  • genre
  • a brief outline of the plot without spoilers!
The group has only been running since September but last term, we voted on favourite books that had been discussed, at the end of term. The winning book had a living author that we were able to email and from whom, we received a prompt reply. 

Obviously, there may be an issue around a child recommending a book which doesn't fit with another family's standards and for this reason, and to remind people of the recommendations, I email the parents a list of recommendations.

This term, the plan is that the children will try to read another child's recommendation and that we will again vote and write to the author of the winning book.

We read a book per half term related to our continent study. The actual reading takes place outside the group time and discussion happens in the group. So far,  we have read Return of the White Book,  A Single Shard and Jungle Doctor to the Rescue. Next half term is due to be The boy who biked the world.

In this part of the club, we talk about the book in question. This might be an introduction to the book, usually with maps. This first session about a book would involve less discussion than the following sessions. Another recent session involved discussing what makes a good  book both in terms of literary issues and from a Christian point of view. I am hoping to discuss plot structure and draw plot outlines. We have spent time talking about the effectiveness or otherwise of books written in the first person.

In terms of price of books, I try to keep to a limit of £5 per book although that may be achieved by buying a second hand book. Ideally, the books would be obtainable from the library but so far, this hasn't been possible. 

It is important to have preread the book that we are going to discuss. 

I am not fussy about whether the child reads the book themselves/ has it read/listens to an audio version and purposely don't ask the children to read aloud. The idea is not to alienate poorer readers but rather encourage all the children to enjoy some books which are new to them. 

A particularly helpful article about running a book club is this from Playing by the Book. 

I am always looking for book recommendations. Next term is Australasia and Antarctica so books about these continents would be particularly useful. Please let me know about book clubs that you have run or enjoyed. I'm very much an amateur at this!

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Friday, 5 February 2016

February in Books

This is the first year that I have set myself reading lists and I'm still reeling a bit. The first book on one of the lists is now completed and I'm a fair way through the first on the other. Reading is feeling a bit more pressurised than usual. Has anyone else ever felt like this with reading lists?

Anyway, the current reads are

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke Volume 2 by J.C. Ryle. These are brilliant. I've just started volume 2. Just a short paragraph as a taster:

If we do pray, let it be a settled rule with us never to leave off the habit of praying, and never to shorten our prayers. A man's state before God may always be measured by his prayers. Whenever we begin to feel careless about our private prayers, we may depend upon it there is something very wrong in the condition of our souls. There are breakers ahead. We are in imminent danger of a shipwreck.

D'Aubinge's The Triumph of Truth: a Life of Martin Luther. This is slow progress perhaps because I read another book about Luther recently.   When Lightning Struck was fictionalised and aimed at older children so, to be honest, I enjoyed it more although The Triumph of Truth isn't unreadable, just long.

Another long book is Bleak House. My on-line book club is reading this book. I've read Bleak House before and enjoyed the twists of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, after all, I'm married to a lawyer. This was already on my Kindle and I'm reading it again. 

Last, I think, although I'm sorely tempted to pick up a short book that can be finished in a day or two, is How to teach your children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. For a non-English literature specialist this is a helpful book explaining how best to teach children a few lines of Shakespeare; some of the background to some of the plays and some information about poetry. I'm not an enormous Shakespeare enthusiast but this is helpful background to use in deciding which plays to study and to learn about their contribution to the language. 

Our read alouds are Jungle Doctor to the Rescue by Paul White which we are reading for the book club; Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley to fit with history and Bronze and Sonflower by Cao Wenxuan. This latter book is set in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Please do let me know about the books that you are enjoying. 

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

February Inspiration

February is a month that brings mixed feelings; maybe more greyness but hopefully, the very early hope of Spring. 

I hope that these links will provide encouragement.

Over at Se7en, there was a useful and inspiring post about a 365 day photo project. I find that taking photos is a great way of finding the beauty around even in the grey times of year. My personal plan isn't to take photos every day but perhaps, a slightly lower target.

There has been a fair amount of debate, here in the UK, about regulation of home educators and the profile of home education, after a particularly sad case in the news. This article, from a head teacher, brings balance to this.

Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will find this article about the science behind her books interesting. It looks at the location of the school where Laura taught; the severity or otherwise of the Long Winter and Mary's illness.

Becky, at This Reading Mama, has written about Five things that Struggling Spellers need. The second point about spelling being organised in a logical way makes so much sense. We have abandoned a spelling curriculum where the words seemed to have little connection after the first four or so on the list. All about Spelling, which is mentioned in the article is the programme that we use with one of the children.

Tanya has written an article that I feel too guilty to write about starting late in the morning. Yes, maybe I should just accept that we tend to stay up late and not feel bad that we don't start at eight.

Finally, Lizzy has written about home educating without losing your head.

I hope that you all have a joyful February.

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Monday, 1 February 2016

How to Unplug your Child

Like many parents, I am concerned about the amount of screen time to which children are exposed.

Yes, there are plenty of learning opportunities involving screens and we do use screens for history (Veritas self paced), for occasional YouTube science videos and for reading (Kindle Fire for immersion reading and Kindle/laptop for ebooks). Still, computers tend to encroach on leisure time. I would be the first to admit that I haven't been the best at controlling this. Younger children in a family also tend to benefit from older siblings' skills at doing up old computers/putting on the lastest software and the general accessibility of screens. In view of all this, I was delighted when I saw How to Unplug your Child: 101 Ways to help your kids turn off their gadgets and enjoy real life by Liat Hughes Joshi on sale with the BookPeople.

When the book arrived, my child who is least interested in screens, took the book off to read and soon returned with a wish list, including a games night, a spa day, borrowing a dog, making sushi and charades.

Cardboard stair sliding has proved immensely popular including with the child who most likes screens.

The ideas vary from incredibly easy, for example, bath time at the wrong time to challenging, start their own business.

My only concern is that I would have loved some more ideas for the children to do on their own. There were some, for example, the cardboard sliding and making a mini-parachute that the children can do alone but probably, most of the ideas do require parental help e.g. stories around a camp fire and geocaching. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to abdicate parenting but there are times when, like other parents, there are phone calls to be made or the freezer needs defrosting and then it would be helpful to have a section that children from about five can manage on their own. 

Overall, this is a helpful book and should provide plenty of ideas for activities. I plan to try to work through many of the ideas. 

  Disclaimer: I purchased this book for the use of my family. The opinions are those of myself and my children.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gifted Mind: The Dr Raymond Damadian Story: Inventor of MRI

When I heard about Gifted Mind: The Dr Raymond Damadian Story-Inventor of the MRI by Jeff Kinley with Dr Raymond Damadian, published by Master books, I was interested to find out about the man who invented MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). I hadn't previously heard of Raymond Damadian nor knew anything about the story of how MRI was invented and wanted to find out more. My hope was that I would either be able to read the book or parts of it aloud to my children or be able to tell them about Damadian having read the book.
Gifted Mind
Raymond Damadian was born in the US to parents of Armenian descent. The story of his father's escape from Turkey is hair raising. The death of his Grandmother from cancer left your Damadian keen to help find a cure for cancer. Obviously, a very bright student, Damadian qualified as a doctor before entering research. During his study of sodium and potassium transport in the cell, he realised the potential of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to scan whole human beings. The story of how the first whole body MRI machine was made is worth reading as well as the details of the first attempts at scanning a human.

Whilst the outline of the story is fascinating, I found this a difficult and somewhat irritating book to read. The first chapter  is called The Truth and spends some time discussing Creation vs Evolution. I firmly believe in the Biblical account of Creation but this chapter is written in such a way that I do not think that it would do anything other than anger someone who believes the Theory of Evolution. For example, phrases such as
  Evolution is merely the scientific community’s “sideshow,” with a
few mythical freaks and some smoke and mirrors thrown in to divert the audience’s attention .

appears to me to be unhelpful.

A whole chapter is devoted to patents and patent battles. Some of this was highly technical and could have been condensed. Similarly, whilst it may well have been an injustice that Dr Damadian wasn't awarded the Noble Prize for Medicine, I am not sure that it is profitable to devote a chapter to this.

It would have been helpful to have had more information about Dr Damadian's return to faith and particular, around how his thinking changed. 

The penultimate chapter has some fascinating figures about the probability of evolution and the last chapter has some interesting MRI images particularly those involving the Upright MRI scanner.

In many ways, this book would be improved by heavy editing to take out the unhelpful and circuitous comments and leave a concise biography of someone who has made a major contribution to science and some introductory information about the importance of MRI in medicine today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an e-copy of The Gifted Mind for the purposes of this review. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions stated are my own.

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Friday, 29 January 2016

Morning Time

In our home education, I have a first section of the morning for both younger children together. We have always had this in some format but after reading a book about Circle Time, I expanded this. This time has developed over time. We don't really have a name for this time but some people use Morning Time as a synonym for Circle Time.

This time is ideal for subjects

  • that I want to do with more than one child
  • that would otherwise not be done
  • that need regular review
Currently, there are daily items and others which happen most days. The non-negotiable part consists of prayer, a reading from Catherine Vos' The Child's Story Bible, work on the Trinitarian Bible Society learning scheme and a hymn from our church Children's hymn book. Some weeks, we sing the same hymn each day so the children can learn it but more often, either I or one of the children choose.

If there is going to be a complicated day, for some reason, then we don't do the extras but generally, about four out of five days we add in
  • art appreciation. This was requested by one of the children. We either read a book, generally, either one of the Katie books by James Mayhew, or a short book about an artist from the library or a section from the Usborne book of Famous Artists or look at a card from the Usborne Famous Paintings set.
  • a grammar point. Most recently this has been about homophones and before that suffixes. We have also covered basic  parts of speech. I sometimes include action games. Something rather like Simon Says works well with a/an. The children do an action if a is appropriate but not if they ought use an.
  • times tables. This isn't our main tables activity but just some re-enforcement. The children usually just recite the table, sometimes jumping to the table seems to help.
  • a poem. Sometimes, we use this slot to learn a poem. Currently, we are using this slot to become more familiar with Wordsworth's Daffodils.
The whole session is quick and usually lasts no more than 40 minutes, sometimes closer to 30 minutes.

Other items that we have added in the past include
  • learning capitals
  • learning names of the continents
  • reading a short book about a country
  • working on the date
  • working on the order of the months
  • telling the time
Of course, there are many more things that we could add but I don't want to overload a time of the day that we all enjoy. Have you a similar time in your day? What works particularly well for your family?

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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Coming soon: Caring for an Elderly Parent

Last year, I was asked to write a booklet about caring for older people at home, by Pilgrims' Friend Society. Pilgrims' Friend Society is a Christian charity which runs homes for older people and also publishes resources with information and practical advice on caring for older people. This is a subject very close to my heart. Additionally, I was delighted to write for the Society as my Mother had been cared for,ably and lovingly, in one of the homes in the few years before her death.

My booklet Caring for an Elderly Parent: When Grandma Came to stay...  should be available from Pilgrims' Friend Society around the beginning of February. I pray that it will be useful for people who are caring for older people at home and for those who are considering taking this step.

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