Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Cut Above the Rest

We went to the Tate Modern to see Matisse's Cut-Outs exhibition.

Matisse had a very long art career, but it was in the last 10 years of his life that he focused on collage work, which became his best known works.

When we got home, Tiger read up on Matisse's biographies and discussed the works we saw in the exhibition using the post cards bought at the exhibition.  We discussed Matisse's use of colours, his placements of the various shapes, and his use of representational shapes.  Tiger says his favourite pieces of work from the exhibition are the Large Decoration with Mask, followed by The Sheaf.

While seeing the original works gave us a good personal experience with the artist's creation, we found the following video very informative in helping us appreciate Matisse's collage work at a deeper level:

I wanted Tiger to practise some discipline in his collage work so I gave him a sticker book that requires him to replicate six pieces of Matisse's collage work.  At first, Tiger thought that the exercise could be completed very quickly because the sticker book looked  like it is meant for preschoolers.  However, as he started on the work, he soon found that duplicating a master's work accurately isn't such an easy task afterall.  The level of concentration required to reproduce masterpieces proved too much for Tiger after a while so he took two days to complete all six pieces.

After the initial exercise, Tiger was ready to make his own Matisse-inspired collage.  Matisse went to Tahiti to get inspirations for his colourful cut-outs.  While I did not send Tiger to Tahiti to get inspiriation, I did send him to look at our very colourful flower bed to get ideas on the interactions of shapes and colours.

Once Tiger had his ideas formulated, he started work.  In the spirit of emulating Matisse, Tiger used the biggest pair of scissors in the house and cut the shapes out directly, without any preliminary sketching.

The only suggestion I offered Tiger was to keep using the postcard copies of Matisse's work as his reference.  Once Tiger cut out all the shapes he wanted and arranged them in the way that reflected the ideas he had, he then made a few more changes to the arrangements on the paper before the cut-outs were finally glued down.

Here is the happy artist with his work:

Has anyone noticed the influence of our brief encounter with the jellyfish a week or so ago?

When Tiger showed me his final product, I was quite impressed because:
  • he did it all by himself;
  • he cut all the shapes freehand;
  • the work is very lively and is full of energy;
  • he has paid attention to the lesson and has made mental notes of Matisse's work because the master's influence is clearly identifiable.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 7/22/14
  2. Virtual Refrigerator
  3. Weekly Wrap-up
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Friday, 18 July 2014

A History of Paper Making and Printing

Inspired by Claire's very fine study of Gutenberg and His Printing Press, we followed suit to find out more for ourselves about this remarkable invention that improved literacy in the Western world.

We started by reading Gutenberg's story from the following books:

Some books only have a paragraph or so about the inventor and his invention.  We found the following to be particularly informative:

The two videos recommended in Claire's post are also very useful.  The first gives a short overview of Gutenberg and his printing press:

We particularly enjoyed watching Stephen Fry's investigation into the history of Gutenberg's motivation to invent the printing press:

Being part of a huge homeschooling community has its advantages.  There's always someone else who's interested in a similar topic at the same time as we are.  When an opportunity to participate in a 'history of printing and paper making' workshop at the world's oldest mechanised paper mill came up, we were only too happy to go along!

We were greeted with a short yet detailed presentation of the history of paper making and printing in Britain, and of the mill.

We then went on a guided tour of the mill.  The first machine we saw was the a paper making machine that is still actively in use to make paper.

This machine uses all kinds of recycled paper and even elephant poo as source materials!  The machine was using elephant poo on the day of our visit, but it was certainly busily working away.


We also saw the Fourdrinier paper making machine, which was installed at the mill in 1902.  It's a huge machine.  We were told that when any of the drums needed cleaning, a worker would have to "dive" into the hole (see photo below) to get inside each drum.  Either people were much smaller back then, or they must've used children (child labour was very common in Victorian Britain) because the hole is very small.

The Fourdrinier machine wasn't working when we visited but it is still in working condition, as shown below:

The foundations of the paper mill date back to the Anglo-Saxon period, and a previous mill in the same location has been recorded in the Doomsday Book.  We were able to see the Anglo-Saxon remains of the mill, which is the water wheel part that used to provide power to the mill before steam power was discovered.


Another part of the mill is dedicated to paper recycling, which feeds the pulp as source material for paper making.

The pulper wasn't working when we visited but, like the Fourdrinier machine, the Watford Pulper is still being used on other days.

We were also given detailed explanation of original printing presses that were installed at the beginning of the 1900s,

as well as the development of different type cases.

After the guided tour, we were given a detailed demonstration and talk on more about history of printing, engraving, paper making by a man who had worked in the mill since 1966, so he knew everything about every machine that was used in the mill and every step that took place in the printing process there.  We learnt much from his intimate knowledge of the mill and its processes.

Another part of the workshop has to do with paper making.  Tiger has made his own paper before, but that hasn't stopped him from enjoying the process again, after a demonstration by the workshop leader.

Tiger and I knew that the Chinese had invented paper making and printing a thousdand years before these methods reached Europe, so it was interesting for us to see this fact acknowledged in the exhibition gallery.

It was fascinating to read that T'sai Lun, who invented papermaking in 105 A.D., was inspired by how wasps make their nests, so we looked up the history of how papermaking was invented in ancient China:

Along with papermaking, printing technique was also invented ancient China, the basic method being individually engraved characters lined up to be printed on papers.  The same principle is used by the Western letter printing method.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday: How to Make a Candy Spine
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 7/15/14
  3. History and Geography Meme #126
  4. Weekly Wrap-up: the one where we talk curriculum and the first day of school 
  5. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (7/19/14)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Beach Jellies

We finally got to the beach at the weekend.  I think that is our first trip to the beach in 2014, and that means that the summer holiday is coming soon!

While the boys were busy paddling in the sea or building tunnels in the sand,

I went scouting for interesting wildlife to see on the shores.  There were plenty of shells and plant life, but the following caught my eyes that day:

  1. oystercatcher - despite its name, this bird doesn't actually eat oysters!
  2. what's left of a green crab or shore crab
  3. what's left of an oyster
  4. razor shells

The boys had better luck in the shallow parts of the sea.  They saw quite a few of what I thought was the common jellyfish.  After reading my blog post, Tiger promptly corrected me by telling me that what he had seen was actually the compass jellyfish, according to this jellyfish ID chart.

The compass jellyfish the boys were still alive, but we wanted to see what it would look like in its natural state, i.e. in the deeper water.

I then remember Tiger and I used to read a lovely story called Night of the Moonjellies, which tells about a boy's magical experience of seeing the moonjellies under the moonlight.  Unfortunately, our experience isn't as magical.   The squiggy and legless creature just doesn't appeal.


However, that doesn't mean that we can't learn about how jellyfish work, or about the moonjelly's life cycle,

or that the jellyfish isn't interesting in its own right:

More importantly, not only did we learn about the dangers of a jellyfish's sting, we now also know that its venom may have some medicinal value:

Friday, 11 July 2014

Our Kind of Yummy Mummies

When I told Tiger that we were going to see some mummies at the British Museum, his immediate response (although he knew full well that I meant the Ancient Lives exhibition) was, "Are they homeschooling mummies?"

"Well, I suppose you can say they were homeschooled, since mass schooling didn't exist in those days,"  I replied.

The British Museum's Egyptian mummies gallery is easily the most crowded gallery at any time.  It is always packed with tourists, visitors, and school groups.  This time, the exhibition focuses on the latest technology made available to historians and archaeologists to study the insides of the mummies without unwrapping the linen.

I am blown away by the clarity of images and the amount of new information that is made available for further research because of the use of CT scans.

Since this is a "revision" topic for us (we studied ancient Egypt in Year 1), we also reviewed the ancient Egyptian's mummification process:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 7/8/14
  2. History & Geography Meme #125
  3. Weekly Wrap-up: The last one of summer break
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (7/12/14)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Love, Generically and Specifically

A conversation took place between a boy and his mother at bedtime last night.

Boy  : I love you generically, Mummy.

Mum: That's nice.

Boy  : But I love Daddy and Nanny specifically.

Mum: Oooohh?  What's the difference between loving someone generically and loving someone specifically?

Boy  : There's no difference, really.  It's all love.

Mum: Surely there's a difference, otherwise why would you use two different terms?

Boy  : Well, I love Daddy and Nanny specifically because I don't see them so much.

Mum: What do you mean?  Daddy comes home from work every evening, and he's here all weekend.

Boy  : I mean compared to the time you and I spend together.  I only see Daddy for a few hours each day, and Nanny a few times each month.  You and I spend more than 12 hours together every day!  That's why my love for you is 'generic'.

Mum: I see.... That makes sense.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Playing (with the Bucky) Ball

As we've enjoyed our Kitchen Chemistry class, I bought this book as a extension to our current interest in chemistry.

The first we looked at was the buckyball, a soluble type of carbon molecule coded C60.

Here's what the man who discovered it has to say about it:

We tried to build a model of the buckyball, first with toothpicks and plasticine but they were too flimsy to stay up.

We then tried to construct the model using magnets.  That didn't succeed either because (1) we didn't have enough magnets to make 60 carbon atoms, and (2) we couldn't hold the molecular structure up long enough to form the ball shape.

Even though we did not manage to put the buckyball model together, we did get a good idea of its properties,

 as well as an interesting history leading up to its discovery:

 While learning about the properties of the buckyball from the good people at the University of Nottingham, we were led to watching the following video about graphene, which is essentially a one-layer, an-atom-thick size of carbon molecules.

The video made us feel a little better because we have at least managed to get a model of graphene, although we did it without realising what we were doing, or that the flat layer has a name!

In the end, to salvage our crumbling sense of self-worth, we put together a model of the water molecule using an orange, two toothpicks, and two plasticine balls.

The clip below shows a quick explanation to the make ups of water molecules and how the different strengths of chemical bonding result in water being in different states.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday: 10 July Summer Ideas
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 7/1/14
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the amazing new dryer
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (7/5/14)

Friday, 27 June 2014

A Week of Duality

It has been a week of:
  1. being at home and going out; and
  2. learning about two very different cultures
At Home with Chinese
We spent most of this week at home focusing on Chinese. 

As the school year is coming to a close, Tiger has to prepare for his end-of-year Chinese exam and to complete the end-of-term projects set by his Chinese teacher.

There are six projects to complete, which contribute to 20% of his yearly assessment:
1.  to draw and label various parts of the body;
2.  to construct sentences using specific words;
3.  to translate a Chinese nursery rhyme into English;

The nursery rhyme that we chose to translate is a traditional one to Chinese children, in much the same way as Jack and Jill is to a Western child.

4.  to make a greeting card based on a traditional Chinese festival and write appropriate greetings inside the card;
5.  to research and write about a traditional Chinese festival;
6.  to research and write two sets of questions and answers about some geographical aspects of China.

Tiger wanted to make a Chinese New Year card because, being a typical boy who seeks the shortest way to get a job done, he finds that the illustrations of this year's (Year of the Horse) card can be easily done by a few brush strokes so that was what he did, using a reference photo from a google search and following along using gold paint.  The result turns out alright, as seen in the red card above.  The illustration shows a combination of the year 2014 with the word 'horse' in traditional Chinese character.

We decided to look into another traditional Chinese festival for our research project.  There are so many festivals to choose from, but we decided to learn more about one that has just passed (the Dragon Boat festival) quietly in our household because I couldn't get all the ingredients together to make the rice dumplings...

Note to myself: please stay on top of the festivals!

Why the dragon boats and rice dumplings?  Many traditional Chinese festive customs have to do with actual historical accounts.  It is no different on this occasion:

Outside with the Vikings
We just managed to catch the last bit of the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum before it closed.

Although we're not officially studying the Vikings at the moment, the flexibility of homeschooling has allowed us the opportunity to visit this rare exhibition -- the first Viking exhibition in England in 30 years -- and to see for ourselves the longest Viking warship that has ever been found!

Hence, even though Vikings are not on our current schedule, we feel it is certainly worth taking a little time out to refresh our memory about what we've learnt about the Vikings (we studied them two years ago) in addition to looking at real Viking artefacts that we hadn't seen before.

While we were at the exhibition, we were treated to additional interaction with the learning coordinators, both inside the exhibition and afterwards, who provided more directions and suggestions on looking at the exhibits to the children.

I wasn't sure whether Tiger remembers what he learnt from two years ago, but he apparently does, as shown by his enthusiastic and accurate responses to the quiz at the end of the visit.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 6/24/14
  2. History & Geography Meme #123
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the relaxing week at home
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (6/28/14)
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