Friday, 17 October 2014

Everything is a Mystery

If I remember correctly, the first mystery series that Tiger read was The Boxcar Children, when he was about six years old.  We started with the first book of the series, and Tiger enjoyed the story so much that we bought him the first set (books #1-4), followed by the second set (books #5-8).  Over the next few years, he has read and reread the children's adventures many times over, and I often wondered how I could bring the story more to life.  Imagine my excitement when, on one of our walks, we chanced upon a disused railway carriage, much like that found in the Boxcar Children!

We went close to the carriage, but didn't explore it because although it looked disused, it didn't look abandoned so we figured it might be in the process of being restored by train enthusiasts so we had better leave it alone.  Nonetheless, it's not everyday that we come up close to a disused train so stumbling upon it was quite an adventure in itself.

That set off Tiger's interest in books about adventures and mysteries, so we moved on to the Enid Blyton series, starting with The Secret Seven, followed by The Mystery Series, The Secret Series, and finally The Famous Five series that Tiger has read over and over again, even today.

With his strong interest in all things mystery-related, he took it upon himself to learn all about being a detective and how to solve mysteries...

while I busied myself searching through library catalogues for mystery stories.  Luckily, it seems that everybody loves a good mystery, so I didn't have to look too hard to find suitable stories for Tiger to read.

As I started paying attention to mystery-themed learning opportunities, I found that they are in abundance!  Almost anything can be turned into a mystery!

Take geography for example.  Tiger has had no problem working through the Great Map Mysteries where map skills were learnt through solving mysteries:

Even music-making can take on a mystery theme, as we discovered at a 'musical mystery' workshop at Wigmore Hall, where the children were first introduced to the idea of musical motifs and combinations of notes before they had to compose their own motifs in their own groups and putting the various motifs together at the end of the day into a combined composition.

The workshop was led by a few professional musicians who were assigned to each group to guide the children in creating their musical themes, in part to ensure that the final product didn't sound too "unmusical".


As we explored more into the realms of mysteries, we found ourselves getting drawn into the darker world of crimes and murders...

A small exhibition about crime fiction at the British Library

It was at The British Library that Tiger got a first real taste of hunting for clues (by following a trail that took us to various palces at the library) and using the information he collected to reduce who the real culprit was.

Encouraged by Tiger's crime-busting, mystery-solving enthusiasm, I started to look for more mystery-related materials for our normal lessons at home.  In our homeschool, theme-based lessons often provide the necessary variation and "sugar coating" required to get some of the fundamentals done.  Maths is one of them.

Tiger tried out the above data handling murder investigation with much keenness.  When given a purpose (the "why") to solving a numeric problem, Tiger is often more motivated to learn the skills required (in this case, data analysis for Year 9) than if I were to ask him to learn a maths concept without him understanding how that concept has any real-world applicability.

While Tiger needed more help with the above, he is currently happily working on his own through a more manageable set of maths mysteries (see below).

I am aware that there are different schools of thought with regards to the necessity of themed studies.   Some theorists love the idea of using themes to connect all the diverse and seemingly disjointed areas of learning, while others oppose the idea on the grounds that having the teacher organise all the learning opportunities into themes will rob children of the initiative to make the connections themselves.

While I don't go out of my way to organise themed studies for Tiger, I don't oppose to the use of themes either, especially when the learning opportunities happen quite naturally and with little effort on my part.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/14/14
  2. Finishing Strong Week 33
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #87
  4. Collage Friday: Homeschooling When Dad is Away
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Frog Guts

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

When There's A Lot of Rain

It has been a very wet two weeks, so looks likely to continue for another week or so.

We have been down with terrible coughs so it has been slow going for the most part, and Tiger's neurological condition has taken a sudden downturn so between figuring out what went wrong to trigger the relapse and getting over our colds, we have managed to get a few things done:

1) Tiger had his birthday party at his grandmother's.

Despite the small-scale nature of the event, it was significant to Tiger in the sense that all the important people he wanted to have at his party (i.e. our extended family in England) were present, and that he is now officially in the double-digit category.  He probably feels rather 'grown-up', being in the double-digit age group, but he has yet to understand that there is a big difference between getting older in years and becoming more mature by way of responsible actions.  He is at the beginning of that journey.

2) A Lego workshop.

Unlike most children we know, Tiger hasn't been overly keen on Lego.  He has been given many different sets of Lego over the years so he is not short of materials to work with, but to my surprise, he hasn't spent hours immersed in it, unlike others boys we know.  Tiger uses his Lego pieces to build his own designs of various structures and aircrafts, but he doesn't like to follow any of the instruction manuals that came with each kit.  I can't decide whether this behaviour is part of his general don't-tell-me-what-to-do approach to life or that it is a show of genuine creativity because some of his own Lego designs are rather good.

As a result of Tiger's tendency to do things his own way, I have not taken him to any of the numerous Lego clubs until this particular structured workshop came up on our radar.  My purpose of taking Tiger to this structured workshop is to give him some exposure to new design and structural ideas that he can take away it to add to his own models at home.

At the 90-minutes workshop, the children were each given a set of pre-arranged Lego pieces and two instruction sheets.  They were to first build a mechanical swing set followed by a mechanised carousel.

The most interesting observation for me wasn't that Tiger could actually follow Lego written instructions to completion without help -- I resolved to stand on the side and only helped when asked, but it turned out that Tiger didn't need any help -- but what he did with his time.

90 minutes is about the right length of time for the children to build both structures at a comfortable, unhurried pace.  All the other children at the workshop dutifully constructed the set of swings, then moved on to the carousel.  Tiger took twenty minutes to build his swings set but instead of moving on to the next task like the other children, he spent the next 45 minutes 'playing' with his swings by altering its design, moving various pieces to different places.  While he was engrossed in his play, I was getting slightly anxious, wondering why my son was not keeping pace with everyone else.  After watching him for a while, I went up to him to remind him that there's another model to be built before the workshop was over.  Tiger just said,"I know!  I know what I'm doing."  What can you say to that?  So I retreated back to my corner of the room and prayed silently to myself that I hadn't made the mistake of driving 30 miles (each way) and paying for the workshop for Tiger to make one model....

Tiger did manage to complete the second structure, the mechanised carousel, in the last 15 minutes of the workshop:


3) Shakespeare in the rain

It bucketed down in the morning of the play.  We were having second thoughts about attending it, unsure of whether the play would be cancelled if the rain persisted.  In the end, we decided to brave the weather, mostly because I didn't want the tickets to go to waste, and I thought we would be alright since we had sheltered seats.

The rain didn't let up.  We were drenched from the waist down from the rain that came sideways as we walked over the Millennium Bridge.  Luckily the weather became better so the people in 'the pit' didn't get wet as the play went on.  I brought extra pairs of socks (but not extra pairs of trousers) so Tiger and I sat rather uncomfortably through the play, but we were glad we made it there because Tiger was soon greatly entertained by the production and had more than a few hearty laughs that afternoon.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Collage Friday - Learning to set boundaries as a Homeschooling Mom
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/14/14
  3. Finishing Strong Week 33
  4. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #87
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Frog Guts
  6. Home Ed Link up

Friday, 3 October 2014

Fascinating Fungi

It all started with Tiger finding some fungi (panaeolus foenisecii) on the lawn one day...

We cut some off to observe indoors before making a print with them.

A few days later, more fungi (mostly Parasol Mushroom and Field Mushroom) popped up on the lawn:

Since there were so many fungi popping up around us, we might as well get to know them!

We made a few trips to the woods to to search for fungi.  Boy, were we in a treat!  Fungi was to be found everywhere!

We found fungi growing on tree trunks:

Moving down a little along the tree trunk, we found fungi growing on the exposed roots of certain trees:

Mostly, various fungi could be found on rotten logs or exposed parts of branches that were starting to rot:

Even on rotting logs, there were many different varieties of fungi growing.  Other than the tubed mushrooms (see photos directly above), the most common type of fungi we found on rotting logs were from the bracket fungus family.

We didn't take our field guides with us on our walks but Tiger took many photographs of all the fungi we found so that we could identify them when we got home.

The fungi on the ground were very well camouflaged and we had to look quite hard to pick them out from the piles of fallen leaves.

The most exciting find was the Fly Argaric, the quintessential fairytale toadstool where we almost expected to find a fairy hiding under it.  We also saw a fairy ring made up of fly argaric, which is rather unusual.  The fairy ring was located very deep in the woods where there wasn't much light so the photograph doesn't do the magical atmosphere justice.

After our numerous walks, we collected enough photographs and samples to conduct more close-up investigations of the fungi at home:

We identified all the fungi at hand, looked at them through our hand-lens (I think we'll need a microscope next year) and noted the different types of patterns and gills of each fungus.

Then we covered each fungus under either a glass jar or a bowl (depending on its size) to make a spore print.  Unfortunately, some of the prints did not turn out very clearly.  It was fascinating to see how the Fly Argaric expanded to twice its size to fill the entire bowl.

The fungi were kept covered for a few days to get the spore prints.  By then, they were starting to give off a slight rotting smell.  They were discarded before they became rotten (which wouldn't be a pretty sight) but we became fascinated by the concept of decay for a few days:

Apparently, we were not the only "weirdos" who were enthralled by fungi!  We went along to a fungi workshop conducted by The British Mycological Society, where we learnt various information about fungi, including its life cycle and taxonomy.

At the workshop, Tiger was given some starter culture for the Oyster Mushroom, which he cultivated inside a toilet roll (all of things).  We left the mushroom to grow in a corner of our bathroom and observed it everyday for two weeks, noting changes to its growth.

Watching the oyster mushrooms grow was an amazing experience.  Unlike the picked fungi above with which we tried to get spore prints, these live mushrooms did not smell at all.  Although we were assured that they are completely safe to eat, we didn't eat them in the end because: (1) both boys don't like the taste of mushrooms, and (2) we don't fancy eating anything that was grown in the bathroom, even though our bathrooms are very clean.  Therefore, growing the oyster mushroom remains a scientific adventure.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/30/14
  2. Finishing Strong Week 31
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #85
  4. Collage Friday - Homeschool Moms: Sometimes We Need to Ask for Help!
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the One Direction Concert
  6. Country Kids from Combe Mill

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Few Surprises, Literally

The week started with a creative writing workshop at the British Library.

Tiger and I attended the workshop with much interest.  While Tiger was just generally happy to be out and about and seeing other children, I was curious to see how he fared at a writing activity as we have not done very much formal writing in the past.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Tiger being really engaged throughout the workshop and participating eagerly in the various writing games and exercises, even to the extent of reading aloud his draft towards the end of the session.

The next day Tiger went to the first of a series of creative writing classes held in a homeschooled friend's kitchen.  The class is made up of six homeschooled children, ages 9 to 13, and a tutor who guides them through discussions and techniques.  Tiger says he loves this class for its intimate atmosphere where everyone sat around the small dining table and had plenty of opportunities to discuss their ideas and respond to one anothers' writing.  It also helps that the creative writing tutor is the same man who also teaches Tiger drama at another location, so they are already familiar and comfortable with each other's teaching-learning styles.

The class has obviously been a success, as Tiger came home inspired to write three different drafts followed by two different short stories.  I don't think I've ever seen him write so much and for such a long time at one go.

The good start to the week led to more positive things.  The boy who resisted playing the piano and who hadn't done so for two years suddenly sat and played a few tunes one day.  Seizing the moment, I asked Tiger whether he would like to learn to play new pieces, and he said yes!  So I taught him two more pieces whereby I was amazed at his newfound patience to persevere through the difficult sections to practise over and over again until he mastered them.  Compared to his typical response two years ago whenever we came upon a new, unlearned part ("This is too hard!  I've had enough!"), his sudden willingness to keep trying really took me by surprise.  Needless to say, I am over the moon about this.  I continued to feel really pleased when Tiger practised the new pieces on his own, without needing to be prompted, and couldn't wait to show Tortoise in the evening what he has learned.

Tortoise is of course very happy to see Tiger's renewed interest in playing the piano, so the two of them have been spending some time in the evenings doing improvisations at the piano. 

We also did a bit of maths -- looking at patterns and square numbers.

The irony about having such a seemingly 'great' (i.e. productive) week at the start is that it leaves this mother thinking, "Why can't we be so productive every day?"  Success breeds success, doesn't it?  I was all geared up to give Tiger a tonne of work when I stumbled upon this article that made me say to Tiger, "You know what?  The days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling down.  Wouldn't you rather be in your 'fortress' right now while the sun is out?"

Tiger's "anti-wind, anti-rain, structural fortress".

With that, Tiger spent an entire afternoon and a few more hours afterwards playing in the "fortress" that Tortoise helped him put up at the weekend.  My decision to let Tiger play outside in the middle of what seemed like a terrific week almost certainly disqualifies me to be upheld as the epitome of discipline, I am at peace with it because I am keenly aware that Tiger's childhood is quickly passing by.  I don't recall any of the formal lessons I had as a child but I remember the sights and smells of my childhood playtime.  I doubt very much that Tiger will remember any of the superb maths lessons that I give him or the delightful vocabularly pages that he has to fill in, but hopefully he will have fond memories of hours spent under a big blue sheet of tarpulin on a warm, sunny day.

Still, there are ways to combine fun and learning if one looks hard enough.

At Shakespeare's Globe, again!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/23/14
  2. Finishing Strong #30
  3. Collage Friday - Improve Your Homeschool: Know Your Child's Love Language
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the hair, the clay pots, and the guitar solo
  5. Home Education Blog Link Up #17
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/27/14)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane?

Since we did not see enough air vehicles at the military show and Tiger is most interested in the air combat aspect of warfare (see below for the related books he has read so far),

we made up for the gap by going to the air show at the IWM Duxford.

There were many aeroplanes on display and in flight that day, I'd say the distribution between historic planes and modern aircraft is about 70-30.  That is fine by me because both Tiger and I find historic aircrafts to be more relevant to our history study, but Tortoise is much more fascinated by the modern planes.

For example, I appreciate that triplanes and biplanes were flown at the beginning of the air show so that we could see for ourselves what the dogfights in the First World War would have looked like:


We were astonished at the slowness of the planes, but considering that planes were cutting edge technology 100 years ago (as was the Mark IV tank we saw at the military show), we were able to get some perspective on how quickly military technology has been advancing since then.  The following documentary on the dogfights in the First World War uses CGI to recreate the air combat scenes but there's nothing like seeing the WWI planes in action for ourselves.  The next best alternative is to use the dogfight simulator, which Tiger is allowed to play for 10 minutes each time, three times a week.

The highlight of this year's air show is the fly past of the last two airworthy Lancaster Bombers, escorted by two Spitfires.  Many people stood up and applauded at the sight of the planes that represented hope and victory for the British people in WWII.  As a non-British attending a very nationalistic event where feelings of patriotism run high, I pondered upon the thought of how those very same planes would have stirred up a totally different set of emotions in those on the receiving end of the planes' missions.

There were many different types of planes flown on that day, but the most iconic has to be the Spitfires.  Before Tiger's interest in military history took hold, I wouldn't have been able to recognise this plane at all.  Now, thanks to numerous exposure (via books, documentaries, visits) I am able to recognise the Spitfire from the distinctive sound of its Merlin engine.


The finale was a splendid display by the Red Arrows.  Everybody loves the Red Arrows, which is an acrobatic team of the RAF.  Their presence brought a sense of fun and skill to the show, which was a refreshing way to end the day, having spent four sombre hours watching military combat aircrafts displaying their growing capabilities and thinking about who really benefits from the never-ending military campaigns around the world throughout history.


After all this running around, we really ought to buckle down and do some real work by staying at home next week...

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/16/14
  2. Finishing Strong #29
  3. History & Geography Meme #135
  4. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  5. Collage Friday - A Well Rounded Homeschool
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Officially Have 3 Teens
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/20/14)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Heaven! (for a military history buff)

By looking at my plan for Tiger this academic year, it may appear to many that I am overriding his  interest in military history, or that I am abandoning the interest-led learning environment that dominated our household last year to a more classically-driven environment.  Contrary to these appearances, my goal this year is to find a way forward to amalgamate both approaches to provide Tiger with a rigourous foundation in his area of interest.

It seems that military history is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  To bring the life the information in the books that Tiger has read,

I took Tiger to a military machines and vehicles show to look at and touch the various machines up close and to talk to those who are as keen on this subject as Tiger is.

There was so much to see that we spent a whole day (10am to 6pm) there.  Never in a million years would I have thought I would attend such an event, but there you are, I was there walking around the grounds with my boy for eight hours.

There were so many different military vehicles on display that the many hours we spent were necessary just to look at everything.

A sample of the military vehicles on display.

The best thing about going to such a show is that the vehicles are not static displays but are actually in excellent working conditions so we could see them in action:


I was amazed at how fast some of these tanks can go, so I really appreciate being able to see them in action.


Besides watching the tanks and other military vehicles roll by, Tiger also got to go on a 'tank ride' (it's really an armoured personnel carrier).

Tiger really enjoyed the experience, although he admitted that ride was very bumpy and rather uncomfortable when compared to riding in a normal car.


There were also many soldiers' tents set up to depict the weapons and machinery used in different regions/conditions or in different historical periods:

With bombs and weapons at one end of the conflict, at the other end we find the Anderson shelter.  The one on display there was kitted out inside so we could get a really good idea of the amount of available space inside the shelter:

The site was roughly sectioned into different areas of:
  • land vehicles
  • air vehicles
  • shelters
  • tents
  • weaponry

In the weaponry section we saw many different types of guns and explosives, including land mines.

Many of the displays could be touched and felt, so Tiger had a good time working his way through the various types of guns.  I was fumbling about with a hand gun at a stall where different guns were taken apart and the event-goers were challenged to put them back together, not quite sure which part goes where, when Tiger decided it was too painful for him to watch his mother struggle with it so he asked, "May I show you?"  I promptly passed the gun over to him and watched him assemble it together and showed me how to hold it, load it and fire it, all under 30 seconds.  I don't know where he's learned how to do this but I'm guessing it's from all the military books and documentaries he has watched.

Interspersed with the moving vehicles display were reenactments of battle scenes throughout history, which helped us understand the development of warfare tactics as a result of the advancement of weaponry.

It started off with guns in the Hundred-Year War:


Then the next big leap forward in technology came in the First World War when the British developed the Mark IV.

Tiger has read about the Mark IV tank in the various historical books but this was the first time he came up close to it, to be able to touch it, walk around it, look inside it, and best of all, to see it in action.  Although the Mark IV is very slow compared to the modern tanks, it must have been a terrifying sight to the soldiers 100 years ago when they had never seen anything like it before:


Closely associated with the First World War is the trench warfare.  We saw a few "desmontration" trenches on site. These were not the full size trenches of the First World War but they gave us some ideas of the equipments used and the hardships endured by soldiers who have to fight in that condition. 

From the First World War, we moved on to the Second World War.  The majority of the vehicles and machines we saw on site were from WWII.


We also wtached a reeanctment of a WWII skirmish between the British and German troops:

The reenactment went on for about half an hour and gave us a realistic idea of what the numerous WWII skirmishes might have looked like:


While the majority of the displays were land vehicles, we did see a few planes and helicopters.

What we saw, which we haven't seen anywhere else, was a working life-size plane engine:


It was a very long day but Tiger came away at the end of it saying that it has been his best day out so far.  Tiger's love affair with military history continues.  All I can say is that I am grateful to find such opportunities where Tiger's keen interest is supported and where he can meet and talk with fellow enthusiasts to his heart's content about something that both my husband and I aren't particularly knowledgeable or enthusiastic about.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/16/14
  2. Finishing Strong #29
  3. History & Geography Meme #135
  4. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  5. Collage Friday - A Well Rounded Homeschool
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Officially Have 3 Teens
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/20/14)

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