Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Imperial War Museum

The London Imperial War Museum was closed for months, until the end of last week. New First World War galleries have been opened to commemorate the centenary of the start of the War. Since we plan to learn about the First World War in the autumn, this seemed a "must visit" place. So, having managed ten pin bowling, first,  we wandered off to the Imperial War Museum.

Once we reached the atrium, I realised that I needed to give instructions to the children about what to do if they were separated from me-it was very full. Thankfully, my admonitions were unnecessary.

 I hadn't been to the Museum for ages but thought that there were fewer objects on display in the atrium. 

The labeling seemed a bit confusing with video displays in front of each item. It wasn't always clear, to me, what the item actually represented. I don't think that seeing the exhibits with children and worrying that they might get lost actually helped!

We wanted to see the First World War galleries. However, we arrived just before 1.30pm and all the day's timed tickets were gone. We could have waited until 4pm when admission is allowed without tickets but it seemed a long wait and there was no guarantee that it wouldn't have been very crowded.

Instead, we went to the Horrible History spy exhibition,

the exhibition of medals, First World War art exhibition (Truth and Memory) and the Family at War section. I don't have photographs of the exhibition of medals or the First World War art as photography isn't allowed in these galleries. Both exhibitions are well worth visiting. The medals tell the story of heroes who won the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. The art shows differences in attitude to the War and is thought provoking. 

The Family at War section isn't new but documents the life of a local family in the Second World War. There is an Anderson shelter which my youngest was keen to sit in. While we were in the shelter, another visitor told us that this was clean unlike his family Anderson shelter which had become very muddy with use. There was information about rationing of food and clothing.

My thought is that we should visit again once the Museum has been open again for a few weeks and after the school holidays. Many state schools only broke up today so I imagine that the difficulty getting into the new galleries will get worse before it gets better.

We also found that the first two levels were very crowded but that this was less of a problem further up in the Museum.

Has anyone any recommendations for educational trips about the First World War for younger children?

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Six ways to learn tables

Times tables are something that, in my opinion, need to be learned. This is one of the things that the younger children will be working in the autumn. Each day, in addition to saying the table, we plan to do other activities to help with learning. Here are six. We will probably do one per day.

  1. Group sets of objects corresponding to the table. We have used shoes, money (2ps, 5ps and 10ps), stickers and the abacus for 5s and 10s. Hopefully, we will find more!
  2. Times Tables Snap: this has cards with four different ways for making a number e.g. 24, 2x12, 3x8 and twenty four, and can be played as matching pairs or snap. So far, we have used the matching pair game but need to work on speed so that the snap game can be played.
  3. Colouring or circling 1-100 squares with the appropriate multiple. This is a great way to see patterns. It is worth making one 1-100 square and then photocopying them to save time and effort! Different patterns can be superimposed in different colours. My daughter went on to add the 10x table to this grid.
  4. Times table sheets. Ubersmart Math Facts has free sheets to print off.
  5. On line practice. We are currently using Ubersmart Math Facts. Review coming soon!
  6. Fizz-buzz. This game needs no equipment. A number and its multiples is designated as fizz and another as buzz. For example, two can be fizz and three can be buzz. The child/children and an adult then count substituting two and its multiples with fizz and three and its multiples with buzz. So counting would proceed: one, fizz, buzz, fizz, five, fizz buzz, seven, fizz, buzz, fizz, eleven etc.
We haven't sung tables but I am interested to know how this might work and recommended tunes/recordings.
Please do add other suggestions-the more the merrier and the more interesting times tables will be this autumn!

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Saturday, 19 July 2014

Curriculum choices for Year Three.

Recently, I wrote about our choices for Year One curriculum for Youngest Son. His sister is just over two years older, aged seven. The choices for Year Three have been difficult: there is so much that Younger Daughter finds interesting and so many fascinating choices. Then there has been a difficult balance around reading. Younger Daughter has found reading difficult. Yes, she has made progress particularly over the last six months but she hasn't achieved her long standing ambition to read The Secret Garden. Perhaps, this year. So, trying to balance reading and other subjects has been challenging. 

The curriculum here is the skeleton. We fill in with many other resources. For example, we use literature to support English and history.

 I am currently reading Leading Little Ones to God with the children and hope to continue doing this. We work on learning a verse a week. My plan is to continue doing this from a psalm so we can learn larger portions. We have a hymn of the week using hymns that are often sung in church.

This year, we plan to carry on using the Rod and Staff reader with the accompanying reading and phonics workbooks. I hope to link spelling in with the phonics. The reading will continue to be daily whereas grammar, writing and comprehension will take turns though the week.
I have recently reviewed WriteShop and I hope to continue using this flexible curriculum for writing.
Much grammar will be informal in our morning Circle Time but I have Galore Park Junior English One to use if we need something more formal and also for comprehension. 

This coming year, I plan to spend ten minutes each day practicing tables and mental maths. I have several plans for working on tables (hopefully a post, at some point).
In addition, we plan to use the Galore Park Junior Maths book 1. Middle Son used the Galore Park books and this worked well for him. I don't bother with the answer book for the Junior books but found that having one saved time, once we used the main So you want to learn maths books.

The Apologia, Flying Creatures book is our plan. We found the Human Anatomy and physiology a little difficult for a seven year old. I'm hoping that Flying Creatures  is a little easier!

This is where life starts to get complicated. We were gradually working through to modern times and were due to study the First World War this autumn. Then, I had the offer to review the lovely Veritas self-paced history. We looked at the modern course but this was US history so went for the Greeks/Romans and New Testament. We loved this course so now I have to decide whether to go on with the First World War or carry on with the Veritas. I'm hoping that it might be possible to call Veritas Classical Civilisation and manage both!

This is much simpler, I think. We have purchased the Veritas geography curriculum, Legends and Leagues. A lesson a week should get us happily through the course. Of course, there will be some geography in with the history and just in life.

In the last term, we started to use Artistic Pursuits. Younger Daughter loves this and would do a lesson a day. I haven't moved art into the everyday category although I'm not going to stop her doing extra later in the day.

I'm really in two minds about this. We have done a little Spanish over the last year. Younger Daughter finds phonics difficult in English so I have some reluctance about doing more formal language. However, I don't want to take away the opportunity to learn another language. I was impressed with Homeschool Spanish Academy which I reviewed last year. The final decision needs to be made in the next few weeks!

We plan that this will be the year when Younger Daughter starts piano lessons. I have been teaching her, very slowly, on our American organ but she is ready for something more formal. I also hope that we will listen to our History of Classical Music.

Physical activity
Younger Daughter has swimming lessons and we try to go outside most days. There are various ideas around about more sport but nothing decided yet!

Do you have any curriculum that you would recommend for this age group? I feel that I have left out a fair amount. For example, at some point, in the next year or so, we need to fit in some typing. There is a limited amount of time and I don't want to cause overload. Any thoughts on balance?

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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Old and new

Yesterday, my husband and I had the gift of a trip up the Shard. This was really special as this area is important for us. I trained at Guy's Hospital Medical School (now part of the big GKT-Guy's, King's and Thomas's-Medical School) which is just yards from the Shard and spent a large part of the first year of our marriage working at Guy's Hospital.

My first job was as a medical house officer and I started work three weeks after my wedding. These are now called Foundation Year 1 posts but then were colloquially known as house dogs. Just to give you an idea of the status of my first job! My husband's secretary earned more than I did and didn't work a 1 in 4 rota. Now, these rotas don't exist anymore but twenty five years ago, junior doctors worked on rotas which no one else really understood: a 1 in 4 really wasn't bad. Many doctors worked  1in 3. One of my senior house officer posts was a 1 in 3.

Anyway, just to explain, a 1 in 4 means being on call every fourth day and weekend. This meant going to work at 0900, working through the day and then through the night. If things were quiet then it was possible to get some sleep but there was no guarantee. The next day was worked as usual and the young doctor went home when the work was finished. I wasn't very fast and hadn't learned that skipping lunch made me slower so often my finishing time as 8 or 9pm. 1 in 4 rotas being so much better than 1in 3 were almost always internal cover rotas which meant that the juniors had to work extra nights and weekends to cover their colleagues' annual leave.
 The middle window, on the top floor, was my first on call room. It seemed symbolic to come back almost 25 years later.
 Looking up, there is the Shard. Of course, it wasn't around 25 years ago.

This is the Medical School which is now just called the Hodgkin Building and part of a big medical school. Over the door, the words Medical School are still carved.

The Shard was fantastic. The lifts were fast and the views fabulous. We worked out the streets and landmarks. We found our church and identified the green spaces.
Spot the Tower of London.

The winding Thames

The beginning of sunset. There is artefact at the top of the picture: the Shard has circular glass and it is difficult to avoid all reflection.

Looking up further

The sun going down

 Almost set

Night on the Thames

In memory of walks along the Thames before we were married. The actual Thames walkway hasn't altered much until past the Belfast and then the buildings are all new.

A special evening and a mixture of old and new.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

25 years

Today, my husband and I are rejoicing at the gift of 25 years of married life.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name. 
Psalm 103v1

Life hasn't always been easy although there have been plenty of blessings, not least, the gift of five children. Still, there have been challenges and sorrows: miscarriages, redundancies, moves, health challenges, long hours, career changes and becoming carers. There isn't anyone else who has shared so many experiences with me. I am grateful to my husband for being there when I worked stupidly long hours and fell asleep over my dinner, night after night. I am grateful for his presence when I was gloomy and anxious over our babies; for being a loyal listener; a sounding board for ideas and always someone to pray with me and for me. 

Even more, we both give thanks to God for all His blessing to us. 

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Saturday, 12 July 2014

On the edge of the Cotswolds

A short trip to the edge of the Cotswolds, minus children.


In the countryside


Tapestry celebrating the Duke of Marlborough's victory at Blemheim. These tapestries are fabulous and were made in wool and silk. The bright colours are in silk. They were made in Belgium and only male workers were allowed.

Birth place of Sir Winston Churchill at Blenheim. He is buried in the churchyard of the adjacent church. The strange picture attached to the head of the bed contains his curls, cut aged five.

Column commemorating the victory of the Duke of Marlborough


Underneath this tomb is another carving of a skeleton. Burford church was fascinating as a piece of history: records of the donations to alms houses, lists of clergy from 1200 and the memorial stone of a man murdered in the 1690s. 

 Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Psalm 90 verse12

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014


Teaching writing is something that I find difficult, to say the least, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review a writing curriculum from WriteShop.

WriteShop Review
WriteShop produces materials for children throughout their education but I reviewed Primary Book B. This includes the Primary B Teacher's Guide
WriteShop Review
 and WriteShop Primary Book B Activity pack.
WriteShop Review
WriteShop B is designed for students in first and second grade (UK years two and three) and reluctant students in grade three (year four). There is a placement advice and a placement chart on the WriteShop website.

I used WriteShop with my five and seven year old. Like many other home educators, I often don't bother with teacher books. Usually, it seems, they just list the answers but this isn't the case with WriteShop. The teacher guide is really important and contains the crux of the programme. In my opinion, it really needs to be read before the programme is started and then used frequently throughout. It would not be possible to use the programme properly with only the Activity Guide.

There are several suggested lesson plans so that each of the ten lessons can be covered in either three weeks, two weeks or one week. We chose to use the one week lesson plan where some writing activity takes place daily. What was also helpful were the lesson plans for teaching children at different levels-just right for us!

The Teacher's Guide describes how to make a writing centre. We chose to have a portable writing centre but having new writing paper and stickers available, in itself, precipitated my seven year old into some spontaneous letter writing.
The Guide then goes onto outline the way to teach the lessons. One thing that I love about this programme is that it is so flexible. For example, it suggests that the lesson theme can be altered to fit in with other learning. This suited us well when we came to the lesson about nursery rhymes. My seven year old has learned and loves the Eleanor Farjeon poem Cats sleep anywhere. She used this as the basis for her writing rather than a nursery rhyme. 
Each chapter has 
  • lesson objectives
  • materials needed-it was so helpful to have this at the start. Each chapter also has a suggested type of story book, for example, a book about space. An appendix has a list of suggested titles. Many of these are well known books but other books on the suggested theme can be used.
  • advance preparation needed
  • activity sets: there are eight of these per chapter. These are not done all on one day but usually one per day.
  • advice for customising the programme for children who need to be stretched and for those who need something rather easier.
What components are there in the activity sets?
  • initial worksheet. This might be making a mini-book of a nursery rhyme,
    an acrostic
    or writing words connected with space travel.
  • The back of the worksheet has lines for the child's independent writing. WriteShop suggests that this can be used either on the same day as the initial worksheet or later in the lesson.
  • Pre-writing activities. These usually include reading a picture book and another activity such as making Word Family Flowers. These are flowers made of card with words belonging to one sound group e.g.-at endings, on the petals. My five year old is interested in rockets so his words were placed on the flames coming from a rocket. Another activity was making a Super Speller which is a book or poster with important words for writing and spellings which cause difficulty.
  • Brainstorming about the writing topic.
  • The actual writing project for example writing a letter or an anagram.
  • Editing and revising
  • Publishing the project.
  • Assessing the child's work. Charts are provided to aid with this. I've always found assessing writing challenging so this is valuable for me.
How did the programme work for us?
I think that one of the chief benefits of WriteShop, particularly for my seven year old, was to encourage a culture of writing. The Writing Centre encouraged spontaneous writing and some of the projects particularly caught her imagination.
My five year old was slightly young for level B but he learned from this and particularly from the Guided Writing Practice. 
We used the programme daily. Part of most days was Guided Writing Practice when the parent models writing for the child. The child supplies the words but generally the parent writes. The child might add in a word or so but the purpose is to model how to write. I find that taking away the physical effort of writing helps the child to put ideas together. The Parent Guide has helpful suggestions to encourage children who find putting together some sentences for the parent to write, difficult.
Most of the projects went well. The letter presented some difficulty when it came to publishing the project: one child wrote a letter which was only relevant for the day in which it was written. Not correcting spelling on the day of the actual writing can lead to difficulties if no one can read the spelling the next day-just saying!
Overall, the children enjoyed this programme. The space theme for the second chapter caught the imagination of my youngest and the anagram chapter led to making a special birthday card for Grandma.
We plan to continue using this useful and flexible curriculum.


  • Flexible primary writing curriculum.
  • Does need parent input to set up lessons.
  • Can be used with more than one child.
  • Includes evaluation charts for the child's writing.
  • Can be used with children who have done very little writing before.

The Teacher's Guide costs $29.50 (around £17.19) as an ebook (pdf) and $35.95 (around £20.95) as a print book. I received the ebook but suspect that it would be much easier to have the Teacher's Guide in book format particularly in terms of flicking through different sections. The Activity Set workbook worked well as an ebook as it was easy to print off individual pages. This costs $4.50 (around £2.62). The print version costs $5.95 (around £3.47).

Highly recommended.

Click to read Crew Reviews
Crew Disclaimer
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