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 tri-planes and bi-planes 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 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

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

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Moon, Poetry and Tea

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar.

There are many legends about this festival, the best known one being the legend of Chang'e:

As with many ancient Chinese legends that were originally orally transmitted, there are many different versions of the same story.  The version that is depicted in the clip above differs slightly from the ones that Tiger learns from the books or from the ones I heard as  a child:

I asked Tiger for a narration of the various legends about the festival and he rattled off three superb narrations of the various stories he has read.  I was so amazed by his new-found willingness to provide a long narration that I forgot to type them out as he spoke, so unfortunately I have no record of them but at least I now know that Tiger is able to narrate beautifully when he can be bothered to.

After his narrations, I told him the different versions of the legends that I learnt as a child.  Using these different versions, we discussed about the beauty and drawbacks of the ancient oral tradition to transmit knowledge and wisdom.  I also told Tiger about the lesser known, related stories of:
(1) the only other human occupant on the moon (besides Chang'e), Wu Gang (吴刚), and his divine punishment of having to chop down a self-healing osmanthus tree, and
(2) the Jade Rabbit (玉兔).

These two stories are beautifully depicted below:

As with all major Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival is to celebrate family togetherness with specific symbolic foods.

The food that is specifically tied to the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake (月饼), so called because of its traditional round shape that symbolises the moon, union, and togetherness.

Our double-yolk and walnut mooncakes with date paste.  Yum!

There are many varieties of mooncakes, depending on the regions in which they originate.  The type that is most widely available in the West is the Cantonese type.  Other varieties of mooncakes are explained in the clip below.

Other than the traditional custom of consuming the mooncake as a symoblic festive food, there is also a more political association in medieval Chinese history.  In the 14th century, the ethnic Chinese used the mooncake to conceal revolutionary messages that led to the toppling of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, and the subsequent establishment of the Ming dynasty.

Besides the mooncake, the other symbolic item of the Mid-Autumn festival is the lantern.

In a similar fashion to the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节) that marks the end of the Chinese New Year, lanterns are lit and displayed at the Mid-Autumn Festival, with riddles to be solved.  However, the difference is that the public display of lanterns at the Mid-Autumn Festival encompasses all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours.  Moreover, Chinese children in the Southeast Asian countries also have the additional practice of carrying lanterns in a procession.

The traditional custom is to sit outside in the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival to admire the moon whilst enjoying tea and mooncake.

We stood outside for a short while to admire the full moon and the very bright moonlight.

It has been very chilly in the evenings here so we decided to alter the tradition slightly to suit our circumstance by having a Chinese version of poetry tea in the afternoon instead.

The format follows that of our usual English version of poetry tea, except that:
  • we ate mooncakes instead of scones or biscuits;
  • we drank rose tea instead of peppermint tea;
  • we used our traditional Chinese tea set instead of an English tea set;
  • we worked on Chinese classical poetry instead of English poetry.

I used this opportunity to show Tiger the proper procedures of using the Chinese tea set and to some of the Chinese tea etiquette:

An additional aspect of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the poetic connection, which lends itself very well to the format of poetry tea.  There are many classical Chinese poetry about the moon and the feeling of home-sickness associated with not being able to be with one's family at this particular time of the year, the most basic of which is Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思):

I taught Tiger to recite the poetry, followed by discussing about its structure, rhythm and rhyme, as well as the poet's choice of words.  Naturally, we also worked on its meaning. 

The final piece of work Tiger was to do was to write the pinyin (phonetic tones) for every character of the poem and to write below each verse its English translation in coherent sentences without losing the poetic meaning of the original verses.  He was given the tasks prior to my showing him the clip above so he was pleased to see that he has completed the tasks correctly.  After some practice (and a few pieces of mooncake), Tiger is able to recite this poem fluently in Mandarin as well as translate it instantly.  This poem is now part of his daily memory work. 

Since we have learned this poem, it makes sense to know a bit more about the poet, Li Bai (李白), the 'immortal poet' from the Tang dynasty.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is such a poetic time that this post will be incomplete without leaving you with another beautiful depiction in sand art:

The song that accompanies the clip above is set to verses from another classical Chinese poetry (水调歌头) by Su Shi (苏轼), a famous poet from the Song dynasty.  These verses are more complex than Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思) so we will only learn them in a few years' time, after Tiger has acquired sufficient knowledge of the Chinese language to meaningfully appreciate the sentiments described in the verses.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/9/14
  2. Finishing Strong #28
  3. History and Geography Meme #133
  4. Collage Friday - Classical Education: Making the Transition in Our Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one in which I have a kid who's not a teen
  6. Home Education Blog Link Up #15

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Hanging On to the Summer

This summer seems to have gone past very quickly.  The first half of our summer felt very busy, so I am glad that we spent the second half of our summer fairly relaxed.  We didn't do very much apart from spending time with family and being in nature, two very wholesome activities.

At the beach:

In the woods:

By the rivers and fields:

I feel slightly reluctant to start Year 5, given how much work we're going to have to do to get up to speed to where I think we need to be.  My plan tells me that will be an interesting year, but I won't underestimate the amount of work that's required to deliver the results that I'm looking for, alongside the constant effort needed to bring Tiger's neurological challenges down to the minimum level.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/2/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Week 27
  3. Collage Friday: When You Have a Bad Week
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where Break Week Passed Too Quickly (Again)

Monday, 25 August 2014

Our Routine for Year 5

As we haven't started our new term yet, I am not able to write a day-in-the-life post.  However, I do have some idea of how our day should turn out when we start.

The basic structure of our day goes like this:
  • Wake up
  • Breakfast
  • Morning chores
  • Morning lessons part 1
  • Break
  • Morning lessons part 2
  • Lunch
  • Lunchtime chores
  • Afternoon lessons

However, no two days are the same, as most homeschoolers will tell you.

The timetable above reflects the emphasis that I feel is needed in Tiger's Logic Stage years: English, specifically writing.  I have been very gentle with Tiger when it comes to the process of writing in his elementary school years, giving him time to develop his fine motor skills and build up his stamina to write more than one sentence at a time.

This past summer we have done a few dictation sessions and some copywork.  The outcomes of those far-and-few sessions show me that Tiger is now ready to write for a longer time than before and is ready for some formal instructions to get him started on the road to writing.  While some children are natural writers who can write long compositions with zero or minimal instructions, Tiger is not one of them, and he recognises this in himself.  To this end, he feels more comfortable having some kind of structure to guide him along (as do I!) and he sees the value of using a formal writing programme to bridge the (very wide) gap between his reading level and his writing level, so we'll be spending most of our time in the new year to develop his writing ability.

This seems like a U-turn from our more autonomous approach from a year ago.  It is in some ways, in that there are certain basic skills that Tiger needs to master before he can confidently progress onto the next level of learning.  Acquiring these skills (e.g. writing) isn't always going to be fun or easy, so if I didn't plan them into our week, there is a very high chance that they will get pushed aside and we will not have progressed at all on those specific areas by next summer.  The timetable helps us stay focused on our tasks but we are not bound by the clock to move to the next subject if and when a topic really takes our interest.  Homeschooling allows us to maintain a high degree of autonomy and flexibility in our learning approach while keeping a focus on achieving the goals that we have set for ourselves.

Having a timetable while maintaining an interest-led approach makes perfect sense to me but perhaps not so much to the reader yet.  Afterall, I do have the advantage of having all my plans, schedules, activities and calendar at hand so I have a clear view of what's going to happen.  We shall see how the new year pans out.  It promises to be a very busy and exciting year of learning.

Each year our approach seems to alter just ever so slightly:

This post is linked up to:
  1. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (8/23/14)
  2. 6th Annual "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop: Day-in-the-Life Week
  3. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/26/14
  4. Finishing Strong #27 - Electives
  5. Collage Friday - Who Let the Homeschoolers Out?
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: Pre-Break Week

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Spirits of the Summer

The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar is known as the "ghost month".  It is the month where the spirits of the deceased from netherworld are allowed to roam the living realm.  More specifically, a festival of rituals and offerings is held on the 15th day of the seventh month, when (according to traditional Chinese beliefs) the gates of hell open.

This festival is observed by both Taoists and Buddhists, for slightly different reasons.  To the Taoists, the festival is called Zhongyuan Jie (中元节) while the Buddhists call it Ullambana (盂兰盆会).  While there are certainly differences in the Taoists' and the Buddhists' rituals to honour the deceased, they share the goals of:
  • deliverance of suffering of the deceaseds' souls;
  • reminding the Chinese people the importance of filial piety and compassion;
  • bringing hope to those who are alive that their loved ones are in a better place.

As this is one of the traditional Chinese festivals, practices and interpretation of the festival have been amalgamted with folk traditions of ancestral worship to form a rather unique, grassroot type of mixed practice for the layman (i.e. those who are neither strictly Taoist nor strictly Buddhist) where many taboos are observed and a lot of paper offerings are burnt with a view that they will bring the deceased an 'easier' life in the netherworld.

I personally prefer the Buddhist story that explains the origin of the festival, because it emphasizes filial piety and the importance of living a life guided by moral principles.

In Asia, the rituals of the seventh lunar month are widely observed.  With many ghost stories and folklores being told amongst friends at this time, alongside the frequent sights of burning paper offerings and religious rituals, whether you like it or not, you will feel a slightly different atmosphere in the air.  There is not a hint of this festival in the UK, and it being the summer here, there is none of that ghostly feeling that one gets in Asia during this time.  However, I would like Tiger to know about this significant Chinese festival in relation to some of the important moral values in the Chinese tradition so I asked him to read up on this festival:

before showing him the clip below to let him have a sense of what it would be like to be watching an actual street performance of the Buddhist story of Mulian saving his mother:

Other than street performances, there are other more formal Chinese opera performances of the same story.  We watched one of them (see the clip below) and talked about the similarities and differences between a formal performance and a street performance in terms of the quality of the stage, costume, props, and skills required by the actors.

Of course, one cannot make a fair comparison between a street performance (where anyone can stop by and watch the show for free) and a formal performance (with a much bigger budget and crew, and where people pay to watch the show).

Tiger has watched La Boheme at the Royal Opera House before, so it has been interesting for him to note the differences between Chinese operas (in general) and Western operas in terms of style and stage techniques.

While we are not going to burn any paper offerings or observe any religious rituals while we live in the UK, I was still able to observe the festival in a small way: by making a simple stir-fry vegetarian dish using 10 different ingredients:
  1. bean sprouts
  2. bamboo shoots
  3. water chestnuts
  4. toufu
  5. green beans
  6. carrots
  7. pak choi
  8. courgette
  9. green pepper
  10. celery

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/19/14   
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #25  
  3. History and Geography Meme #131
  4. Collage Friday
  5. Weekly Wrap Up: The one with all the cell division
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (8/23/14)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Half Way Through Our Summer

How has your summer been?  I hope it has been a very good one.  I know that most of our American friends have started their new academic year.  In Britain, summer holidays last until the end of August or early September, so we are just in the middle of our summer break.

Our summer break has been a good one so far.  We've managed to do all that I said we would do for the summer, so that's great.  This must be the first time we have kept to our summer plan, and I rather like the sense of achievement that comes with ticking off the boxes (in my head) even if that applies to summer activities.  I might try to replicate this stick-to-the-plan approach when we start the new academic year, some time in September, and see how we fare.

Anyhow, here's a quick round up of what we've been up to in the past few weeks:

1.  Classical singing school

This went spectaculary well for us.  During the week-long course, Tiger was exposed to much singing techniques, musical games, and music history.  The repetoire of songs was quite wide -- the children were taught Latin songs, Swahili folk songs, a medieval choral, and a few contemporary (not pop, or anything to be heard on popular radio stations) songs set to poetry.


Before the course started, I wasn't sure how Tiger would respond to it, as he was rather shy about singing out loud and in front of other people.  At the end of the first day, he told me that he enjoyed it very much and he was very receptive to all the games and musical history that were taught to the group.  Although he still won't sing out loud in public, he says he wants to attend future sessions of this course, so at the very least the course has achieved the purpose that I wanted for Tiger, i.e. to be able to enjoy singing as a form of self-expression.  We are not aiming for Tiger to become a choir boy or to aspire toward a singing scholarship.  My goal is very simple: to ensure that Tiger doesn't have any self-inhibitions about singing as a natural human activity.

2.  Photography and 2D animation course

This course was held at one of the leading university's School of Creative Arts.  Tiger was very impressed with the university's professional photography studio (he came home after the photography class and asked whether we could have a similar set up at home) and the animation labs.  In that week, Tiger was taught some cool tricks on Photoshop and Adobe Flash.

3.  Plays at Shakespeare's Globe

This season's plays at the Globe seem to be mostly tragedies or historical plays, which are heavier going compared to previous years' shows.  Titus Andronicus was particularly difficult to watch due to the amount of gore and violence written into the script.  I had to brief Tiger beforehand about a few scenes and put them in context for him.  Even so, I had to censor a few scenes during the play whereby I asked Tiger to cover his ears and look down at his shoes until I told him that it was ok to resume watching.

It is, by far, the most gripping and disturbing play I've watched.  I was on the edge of my seat through most of the play, and had probably forgotten to breathe on several occasions that afternoon.

4.  In the woods

We spent some time in the woods before the weather turned, but not as much as we did in the previous years.  We miss our long walks and adventures in the forest!

5.  Closer to home

While we were not running around outside, Tiger spent his time inventing adventures for himself in the garden, or we would hang out in bookshops to read.  On a few of the short walks we would make time to stop and chat to the friendly animals we met on the way.

One day, Tiger spent an hour in his room making a necklace for me.

There was a lot of banging and knocking sounds coming from his room that morning.  If I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought a blacksmith lived upstairs!

When the noise finally stopped, Tiger presented the necklace to me.  I think it's beautiful, and exceptionally well designed with the twists and turns on the pendant reminding me of Celtic jewellery.


I don't know whether Tiger was inspired to make the necklace after learning about the Qixi festival a few weeks ago.  Sometimes it is appropriate to just accept a gift without asking too many questions.  Tiger has always presented me with small handmade items since he was very little, so this might just be another one of his loving gestures.  He is a very affectionate boy -- much like his father -- and this warms my heart more than the summer sun does.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 8/19/14   
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #25  
  3. Virtual Refrigerator Blog Hop 
  4. Collage Friday
  5. Weekly Wrap Up: The one with all the cell division
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (8/23/14)
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