Friday, 21 November 2014

A Christmas Curriculum

I'm not going to over-plan this year, as I have done in previous years.  In fact, I am going to under-plan in the hope to avoid the frenzy of Christmas preparation.  The basket pictured below contains most of what I hope to cover in the three weeks before Christmas:

With luck, we shall have some space and time this month to focus on enjoying one another's company as a family (as opposed to busily running around to achieve 'goals' or 'targets').

English, History:
1.  For the month of December, we will be reading through Dickens' Christmas, which contains the story, A Christmas Carol, in addition to all the other Victorian traditions surrounding the Christmas festivity.

Although we have read A Christmas Carol last year, this year we shall read it again and use the related back issue from The Boomerang to support our reading, in addition to learning more about Victorian Christmas in general as part of our history study of the Victorian era.

2.  We are most likely going to have Christmas-themed teatime in Decmeber, so we will be looking at a few Christmas poems while enjoying some homemade seasonal food such as:

I expect to use the following book over a few Decmebers so we will be working through one or two maths problems together each day.

The Arts
1.  Although we tend to celebrate Christmas in a secular manner, I feel that Tiger ought to be familiar with a few of the well-known carols, so we will learn to sing three of them this December:

2.  Over the course of three weeks, we will look at three pieces of nativity-themed art work:

3.  We will also be keeping our hands busy with the following crafts while listenening to Bach's Christmas Oratorio:

I shall be very pleased if we manage to do everything on this list by the end of the third week in December, leaving the week of December 22nd to enjoy the Winter Solstice and to do some last-minute shopping before we get together with the rest of the family for the big day!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/18/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 38
  3. My Week in Review #14
  4. Collage Friday - A Flexible Homeschool Schedule
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one before winter break

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Non-Week

This week has been a "non-week", as in, there is nothing exciting or of interest to report.  Tiger has been trying hard to get over his third-time-in-two-weeks cold, so we have been staying indoors and enjoying -- as much as we can muster our good cheer for -- the November weather:


There's nothing quite like a dismal, rainy November week to bring home the reality of my utterly unglamourous life and to spur me on to some form of escapism by looking ahead to December, which signifies (for me, personally) the start of the Christmas season which never fails to bring forth a warm, cozy feeling filled with images of glittering, bright lights.

I don't usually start thinking about Christmas until December 1st, but this week, because it has been so dull, I have taken the liberty to get started on my December/Christmas planning.   I hope to be have a better idea of what we'll be doing in December, and to be able to share our plan in two weeks' time.

We were introduced to Dickens last December while reading The Christmas Carol.  This year I plan to continue to explore The Christmas Carol more in depth (starting from Decmeber 1st), as well as Dickens' other Christmas tales.  We are currently reading The Chimes from the following collection:

I am currently enjoying this little book which gives a good oveview of the Christmas tradition in the context of the larger scope of British history and traditions.  Having married into an English family, I figured it is only basic courtesy that I should learn a little more about my husband's cultural heritage.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/11/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 37
  3. My Week in Review #13
  4. Collage Friday - Interest-led Learning: The Underground Railroad
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one where it got cold

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Transporting Ourselves Through Nature Study

What do you do when the days are short (it's dark by 4:30pm nowadays!) and the weather has been very cold and wet most of the time?  Tiger and I decided to transport ourselves to sunnier places through nature study!

Just to change things around for a bit, I am currently using a new set of 12 nature books that I bought recently as a springboard to investigate interesting aspects of nature around the world.

We have just started on the book of November, and reading through what happens in this month in Europe, North America, and the Arctic.  As we have concentrated in the European (specifically British) aspect of nature study in the past, and Tiger has learnt about the Arctic animals before, he decided to spend his time learning more about the Amazonian manatees,

and the octopuses, specifically the North Pacific Giant Octopus:

As we were reading the information and watching the documentaries, it occured to me that I really fancied some drawing, so I invited Tiger to join me in what I'd call "quick-sketch, no-fuss nature journal entry".  The idea is to spend not more than 5 minutes sketching (I'm aiming to make an entry in our journal, not a frame-worthy piece of art work) followed by another 5 minutes of writing down everything that we find interesting or noteworthy about the subject.  There is no right or wrong answer to this -- it's an individualised piece of work even though we were working alongside each other -- since what we find interesting to write down need not necessarily be identical.  As you can see below, our pages differ greatly in style and presentation.

Increasingly, Tiger is showing that he has very clear ideas of what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, so I see my role as showing him one possible approach to how things might be done; it is by no means the only correct way.  He is free to either follow my example or to do it in his own way.  In case anybody is wondering: Tiger often chooses the latter.

Drawing and writing quickly in our journals is quite an exciting process.  It took away both the pressure to create perfect drawings and the dread of a drawn-out session to make a perfect entry.  More importantly, we concentrated hard for those 10 minutes and felt exhilarated by it.  Perhaps this is the way forward for us, as far as nature journaling is concerned.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/4/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 36
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #90 
  4. My Week in Review #12
  5. Collage Friday - Hands On, Field Trip, and Fine Arts Learning
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that was a lot less stressful
  7. Science Sunday #2: What Can Be Learned When Experiments Fail?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Much Ado About Slime

Halloween has always been associated with the darker archetypes of human consciousness.  As such, I often find that whenever I think of science activities related to Halloween, I will end up looking at something quite revolting or disgusting.

Our Halloween dinner.

We first tried out a science kit that I acquired at the charity shop for 50p, and did a few of the experiments from the attached booklet.  However, apart from the initial fun of stretching at the ready-made polmorphic slide, making our own slime ball, and playing a game of chase with the ready-made bouncy slime ball, I didn't think we have learnt much from the kit so I took it back to the charity shop.  Maybe the next person will have more joy with the kit.

We realised that we learn best by actually making the slime/gloop/oobleck ourselves, in the old-fashioned way, using the tried-and-tested cornflour and water mix:

It is one of those cheap-and-easy way to keep a child entertained for a long time, and to have a hands-on experience with the intriguing transformation of polymer chains, which certainly beats just reading about the properties of polymers from here and here.

From our little success above, we wanted to know what would happen if we scale up our experiment (from using 1 cup of cornflour to using 7 boxes of cornflour).  We filled two-thirds of our tub with oobleck, let it settle for a day and rest a glass bottle on its surface.  The glass bottle tipped to one side after a few minutes, but did not sink further into the mixture:

We then redid the test with a few marbles, one of which promptly sank into the suspension while the others took a little while longer to do so, but all eventually sank in and we had to fish them out with our fingers.


While the sinking of the materials was fascinating to watch, it was the fishing out part that really demonstrated the dilatant (the mixture moves slower when an external force is applied to it) quality of the suspension.

If we had a bigger container (such as a small paddling pool), we would have made a non-newtonian fluid pool that we could walk on, like the one shown below, but we understood the principle behind it from observing what happened to the marbles in the above experiment:

What other gloopy things can we make with cornflour and water?  Silly Putty, of course!  It is really a mixture of white glue, borax powder, water, and cornflour.

Borax is vital to the stiffness of the Silly Putty (as opposed to the simpler oobleck mixture) as borax facilitates the formation of cross-links among the polymers, which in turn creates longer/bigger and stronger/stiffer polymer chains.  Hence, the bounciness of the Silly Putty.


Finally, we turned out attention to the humble meringue, which is essentially made up of sugar and egg white.  Did you know that egg white is about 88% water?  The rest of it is almost all proteins (polymer).  The act of whipping the egg white unfolds and stretches the protein strands (the process is called denaturing), which gives rise to the network of bubbles we see.  As we further whip the egg white, the protein chains will overlap and form a long, stretchy surface, resulting in the stiff peaks that we look for when we make meringues.

We made four different batches of meringues to compare the differences in result when we made a slight variation each time:
  1. egg whites at room temperature + cream of tartar + half a cup of white sugar
  2. egg whites from the fridge + cream of tartar + half a cup of white sugar
  3. egg whites at room temperature + cream of tartar + 1.5 cups of white sugar
  4. egg whites at room temperature + half a cup of white sugar

The results are shown above:
  1. the typical meringue: crunchy, slightly brown, with some air peaks, holds its shape well
  2. similar to the results in (1) except that it has more air peaks
  3. very white in colour, extremely crumbly, no air peaks, more like cookies, does not hold its shape well.
  4. very sticky and flat, does not hold its shape at all.

Tiger writing his science report.

After such hard work (actually, our oven worked much harder than we did on that day with 4x90 minutes of non-stop baking), we relaxed by watching a documentary that explains how various materials such as ceramics, metal, and plastics work.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday #1: Chemistry Lessons
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/4/14
  3. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 36
  4. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #90 
  5. My Week in Review #12
  6. Collage Friday - Hands On, Field Trip, and Fine Arts Learning
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that was a lot less stressful

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Scaring Ourselves Silly

This week we have been indulging ourselves scary stories.

Individually, Tiger has been reading horror stories written separately by Ted Hughes and Brian Jacques,

while I have been enjoying reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and following the book discussion that took place at the AO Book Discussion (which can be found by joining the Ambleside Online Forums).

W also let ourselves be entertained by more-humourous-than-scary Victorian ghost stories,

and making a not-so-scary skeleton puppet (named Jonathan by Tiger, in honour of a friend he made at last year's science class):


We also read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow together.  I first read the story to Tiger as a bedtime story a while ago but I decided that we ought to do a little bit more than mere reading to learn more from the story.  Therefore, this week we shared the reading of this story by reading alternate paragraphs to each other and writing down every word that we were unsure of.  We filled both sides of four A4 sheets by the end of the story!  We then looked up each word and satisfied ourselves that our vocabulary has increased through this process of slow reading and not skipping over words that we haven't fully understood.

Following the word study, we discussed the story using the lesson plan here and also watched an animation of the story, which met with little enthusiasm from Tiger due to its inevitable abridgement and adaptation:

I agree with Tiger that much of the beauty and nuance of the language in the original written story has been lost in the film adaptation, even though the above is one that I found to be least offensive in this regard.  Tiger is still annoyed by last year's experience whereby the film version of The Witches made several alternations to the original story, which he found to irritate more than entertain him .  I think that means we shall stay with reading the original books rather than watching film adaptations, suits me just fine.

Although I did not succeed in getting Tiger to enjoy the animation of the story, we did, however, got quite excited when we came face-to-face with the headless horseman!  Unlike Ichabod Crane who could not wait to get away from the headless horseman, Tiger and I gazed at him and walked around him several times (I would have touched him to find out where his head was, if I thought that was appropriate), admiring him and our good luck at meeting him. I certainly didn't know he was going to be there!

We were at the Warwick Castle's Halloween event when we chanced upon the horseman.

At dusk, we entered "The Haunted Hollows" and were greeted by three talking pumpkins:


We took our time and walked the trail twice just to admire the various Halloween decorations that were put to good use.

The event was very well organised, especially after it got dark, where the lighting was used to create a very spooky atmosphere.   We took the "ghostly castle tour" where we were told stories that happened within the castle related to:
  1. apparitions of servants who used to work in the castle and atristocrats who used to live there appearing in certain rooms in the castle;
  2. the links between Aleister Crowley and the practice of Satanism to Warwick Castle;
  3. the secret corridor that led to a flight of stairs where a servant girl, impregnated by an aristocrat, was murdered to prevent the scandal from emerging;
  4. the organ in the small chapel that sometimes plays by itself;
  5. a room where another servant girl was bricked up alive.

Suffice to say, it is all rather grim.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/28/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 35
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #89
  4. Collage Friday - Developing the Habit of Attention in Your Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with gymnastic team practice, prodigal cats, and car problems

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Care to Join Us for Scary Tea?

It started with our grocery shopping at the supermarket this week.

Although Halloween isn't traditionally celebrated as such in Britain, the modern festival has its origins from the Celtic/Gaelic practice of Samhain.

There are so many pumpkins and Halloween-related items in the supermarkets that one cannot walk past without knowing that Halloween is around the corner.  I don't intend to make a big deal out of this festival because: (1) I don't like what the festival represents and its associations, and (2) I don't want to encourage the increasing commericalisation that comes with it.  However, we do mark the festival in a small way at home every year, so we bought three small culinary pumpkins with the intention of making the most of them, as we did last year.

I made pumpkin soup and roasted the seeds with sea salt.  The boys vehemently refused to touch the pumpkin soup, so I had the pleasure of having the whole pot to myself (over two days).  I just looked through last year's post and realised that the boys have been very consistent with their dislike of pumpkin soup, and I have been persistently trying to feed it to them every year!  In this household it's often difficult to determine which one of us is the most stubborn: is it the boys, for flatly refusing to taste the soup every year, or is it me, for trying it on every year?  It's hard to say.  Anyhow, nobody backed down, as usual.  Maybe I'll give up trying to get them to like pumpkin soup next year.

After the unfortunate pumpkin soup saga, we moved on to the more agreeable activity of pumpkin carving.  Tiger and I spent some time looking through the different pumpkin carving templates before deciding upon a goofy face, a scary face and a ghost (both templates came with the pumpkin carving kit we bought).

Since the pumpkins we have are small, I had to draw the patterns onto the pumpkins with a marker pen instead of pinning the templates directly onto them.  In the process of drawing, I realised that our pumpkins are too small to show the ghost pattern clearly, so I persuaded Tiger to change that to the Hissing Cat, which I think has simpler outlines which make for easier carving.

Once the outlines were drawn, I passed each pumpkin to Tiger for him to do the carving, but not before watching the instructions from Lucinda's daughter and from the following clip to get some ideas of how to do it perfectly:

Each year as we carve the pumpkins, Tiger is able to take over more of the process.  This year, he did all the carving using the small serrated saw from the pumpkin carving kit.  Now the three pumpkins are used as a centrepiece on our dining table.  They look alright in the day, but they look best at night.

Tiger then said that he wanted to make some scones for tea, for he suddenly realised that it has been a few months since he last cooked.   I reckon we would have starved to death by now if he were in charge of cooking in this household... Since we're working with pumpkins, we decided to make pumpkin seed scones by adding some pumpkin seeds to this traditional recipe before putting the scones in the oven.

Master Chef has been advised that his credibility will increase when he can spell correctly!

When the scones were baked after 20 minutes, and the table was set, we were ready for our Halloween Tea Party!

Would you like to have a closer look at what's being served for tea?

 This week's special:
1.  homemade pumpkin seed scones (see above)
2.  roasted pumpkin seeds (see above)
3.  liquorice tea (only because it comes in a purple box, which fits nicely with one of the Halloween colours)
4.  homemade fig jam (It's so easy to make that Tiger asked why we hadn't done it before.  I forsee more homemade preserves this winter.)

5. tarantula eggs

For accompaniment, we have a good few spiders and centipedes (plastic ones, of course) crawling about the table, with a fair number of tiny spiders crawling along the cobwebs on the wall and on our chairs.  Marvellous.

Tiger did all the decorating, by the way.

Then, it's time to await the grand entrance of the boy wizard, who flew in on his homemade broomstick,

but not before zooming around the room to the music of Mussorsky:

Normally at poetry tea here, we sit around to eat and drink, and take turns to read out a few poems to each other.  This time, we listened to the recitation of The Highwayman a few times instead:

This particular poem has been specially chosen to go with our Halloween Tea for its haunting theme, and atmospheric rendition of a fatal situation.  The poem is a long one and it requires careful listening to appreciate its beauty and rhythm.

As an aside,  some of you have asked me how much effort it takes for me to pull all the various themes together.  Well, the following situation answers the question:

When Tortoise came home from work and saw our Halloween Tea Party arrangement, he was very impressed and commented on how much effort it must have taken to put it all together.  Tiger replied casually, "Oh, it took no effort at all!  We decided this morning that we wanted to have tea, so we went to the supermarket, got a few bits and threw them together.  There's nothing to it."

There you have it, folks.  According to the boy who's with me almost 24/7 and who witnesses how everything gets done around here , apparently it takes little to no effort at all.  Thus, in my son's eyes, I'm indeed a lady of leisure.  Splendid.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/21/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #34
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #88
  4. Collage Friday - Cultivating Beauty and Wonder In Your Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: Ancient Egypt, Blue Hair, and Plant Dissections

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
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...