Tuesday, 31 December 2013

On the Last Day of 2013

I had an errand to run in town today so Tiger and I went out bright and early in the morning. 

By noon time, London began to get really busy.

Our stomachs were rumbling by the time we arrived at Chinatown for lunch.


The weather was not very good today.  In fact, it was mostly wet, windy, and cold. 


It was pouring down when we got to Trafalgar Square, so we spent a good few hours at the National Gallery admiring and learning about Viennese portraits at The Portrait in Vienna 1900 Exhibition.


After indulging our visual senses at the gallery, with the sky still not brightening up at all, we decided to pop into another one of our favourite haunts:

Another few happy hours spent in the bookshop made me realised how very easy-to-please Tiger and I are: just leave us in a bookshop and we can entertain ourselves very happily for a long time.

While Tiger was deeply engrossed in his reading, I was happily sipping latte (we were sitting near the cafe inside the bookshop) and reading my own choice of book which I think is quite appropriate for new year's eve.  This book has given me much food for thought and I couldn't have read it at a better time.

When Tiger next looked at his watch, it was time to come home.  We just felt that it was getting darker, and many people were starting to arrive in London for the New Year's Eve countdown.  We didn't want to get stuck in London for the night, so we headed home before the big party started.

Now, in the warm comfort of my own home, I am waiting for the new year to arrive in a few minutes.  Here's wishing everyone a very happy 2014!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/31/2013
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Christmas Crafts for Kids
  3. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 28, 2013}

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Solutions to Maths Challenge

Did you have a chance to try out the maths problem posted about two weeks ago?  We have three different solutions for you.

I found one solution:  2 + 566 + 190 = 758.

The next two are Tiger's solutions:
1) 789 + 266 = 1055

2) 965 + 725 = 1680

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I hope all of you have a restful time with your friends and family, and we shall see you back here in the new year refreshed and ready to go!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Be Sociable!


With the exam out of the way, Tiger and I started to look for recipes to make foodie gifts for people.  We haven't set out to do it this way, but this year our Christmas theme seems to be "simple", especially if we were to compare it with our efforts last year.

This year we made Coconut and White Chocolate Snowballs.

It is so easy to make that we made two batches of them to give to everyone.

Next, Tiger made cards to accompany the foodie gifts.  Again, this year's cards are very straightforward to make.

The material list:
  • foam Christmas tree template
  • green and red ink pads
  • alphabet stamps
  • strong craft cards
  • Christmas-theme craft papers
  • sequins
  • glue and scissors

To make the card:
  1. Choose a Christmas-theme craft paper and trace the tree template.
  2. Cut of the tree shape.
  3. Paste it on the front of the card.  Decorate the card with sequins.
  4. Stamp the words "Merry Christmas" inside the card using the alphabet stamps.  Tiger alternated the red and green inks for his words.

Once we've made our gifts, it was time to socialise with friends again.

I spent a day at a drawing workshop with my artist friends.  Tiger tagged along and did a few drawings as well, but mostly he was enjoying himself by being a social butterfly during break times.

Tiger knew about half the people there, but by the end of the class he has made friends with everyone in the workshop, engaging each person or a small group in turn with various topics.  I sat in a corner of the studio and talked with my own friends but all the while keeping half an eye on Tiger as he exercised his socialising prowess around the room.  Some of the topics that I managed to overhear him talk to the adults about were:
  • the two world wars
  • making paper aeroplanes
  • military blunders
  • drawing, art, collage, Matisse
  • homeschooling, what he is learning at home
At the end of the workshop, a few people whom we met for the first time there came up to me to tell me how delighted they were to meet Tiger and how impressed they have been by his overall demeanour.  I thanked them for their kind words, and was pleased that Tiger has contributed to some positive P.R. towards the overall impression people have of home-educated children.  A few people there had never met a homeschooled child before.  Now that they have met and talked with one in real life, I hope they will be able to rely on this experience and apply their critical thinking ability (assuming it is still intact) to avoid being duped into believing the ridiculous myths about homeschooling children.

There is certainly no shortage of opportunities to socialise this week!

We topped our reading of A Christmas Carol by spending a day at a homeschool creative writing/book club.  The book club is led by a homeschooling mum-of-six who used to be an English teacher.  The format of the club is such that the children spend the morning discussing the book as a group, noting several points of interests, such as the author's writing style, or use of descriptive techniques.  This is followed by a short creative writing exercise where the children will work in groups of two to five to get their drafts in before lunch.

Lunch there is a highly sociable, community event.  Each mum brings a dish to share at lunch so food is always plentiful and delicious.  This week being our last meeting before Christmas, lunch is especially scrumptious and in abundance, which is a truly wonderful way to enjoy the festivity.  The children usually wolf down their lunch and run outside to play for an hour or so while the adults stay indoors to tidy up and chat.

In the afternoon, the children present their work to the group.  Previous presentations include an adaptation of a novel into a play, a short paragraph written in the style of an author, and descriptive writing.  On this occasion, the children were tasked with writing their own Christmas carol based on the structure and storyline of Dicken's story.  I have been constantly impressed by the children's creativity and by the quality of their work, individual ones as well as group projects.  Above all, I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the company of these parents who are contributing so much to creating the most suitable educational environment for their children.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Christmas
  2. Collage Friday - Remembering Ecuador
  3. Weekly Wrap Up: The One that will be Hard to Top for a While
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 21, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/24/2013

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Finding the Balance

Algebra.  Sounds like a really sophisticated maths idea, doesn't it?  The truth is, most children already intuitively know the basics of algebra without calling it that.  The concept of single-variable algebra can be very simply introduced using the following tools:
  1. a balancing scale
  2. several one-pence coins (or the equivalent of the smallest monetary denomination in any currency)
  3. modeling clay of different colours

To prepare the materias, I first made a clay ball with the equivalent weight of a 1p coin.

I often like to get Tiger involved in making his own learning tools, so I got him to help me make the equivalent-weight clay balls.

That is, until it occured to me that I had to make the clay balls myself to make the game work, so I diverted his attention to a few slices of cake while I carried on with making the following clay balls:
  • orange clay balls ("O") - each is equivalent to the weight of one 1p coin
  • purple clay balls ("PB") - each is equivalent to the weight of two 1p coins
  • green clay balls ("GB") - each is equivalent to the weight of three 1p coins

Now we're ready to play.

The first step is to give the child an idea of balance, i.e. the one side should be the same as the other.  Without Tiger seeing, I placed five 1p coins in the right-side tray and covered it with a tissue paper.  Then I asked him to find the equivalent number of coins to balance the scale.  When he found the scale to balance with five 1p coins, I lifted the tissue paper to reveal the answer.

Next, I repeated the step above, but this time I used two orange clay balls and four 1p coins on the covered, right-side tray.  I then asked Tiger to find the number of 1p coins it would take to balance ths scale.  He found that it took seven 1p coins to balance the scale.

Tiger immediately knew then that each orange clay ball represents one 1p coin.  I asked him how he would represent the information on the scale as an equation.  This is his equation:

         7 "1p" = 5 "1p" + 2 "O"
==>    1 "O" = 1p

I did another exercise with him to make sure that he understood the concept.  This time I used three orange clay balls and three 1p coins, asking him to find the equivalent number of 1p coins to balance the scale.

After he has found it to be six 1p coins, I asked him to write the equation down again:

         6 "1p" = 3 "1p" + 3 "O"
==>    1 "O" = 1p

Just as Tiger was starting to think the game was too easy, I changed it slightly.  For the next go I used one purple clay ball and five 1p coins (covered up using tissue paper) in one tray, and asked Tiger to find the number of 1p coins to balance the scale.  He found it took seven 1p coins.

When I removed the tissue paper, Tiger was briefly stumped by the number of items on the right-side tray.  He quickly figured out that the purple ball must weight more than the orange balls that were used earlier.  He then went to to figure out that the purple ball must be equivalent to two 1p coins.  When asked for the equation for this, he said:

              7p = 5p + 1 "PB"
==>   1 "PB" = 2p

More variations on the same theme followed.  Next up, I used two green clay balls and five 1p coins.  It took eleven 1p coins to balance that. Using the same reasoning as the example above, Tiger worked out that each green ball is equivalent to 3p.  Obviously there have been some mental calculations that involved addition, subtraction, and division to arrive at the answer but Tiger doesn't like to write out all the intermediate steps.  Therefore the equation for this is shown as:

             11p = 5p + 2 "GB"
==>   1 "GB" = 3p

For the last exercise, I used two purple clay balls and three 1p coins, which Tiger found to need seven 1p coins to balance.


Once again, he worked out that each purple ball is equivalent to two 1p coins, equation as below: 

              7p = 3p + 2 "PB"
==>   1 "PB" = 2p

This time, Tiger wanted to show his 'proof' of how he arrived at his answer, so he demonstrated by removing three 1p coins from both trays, leaving four 1p coins in the left-side tray and the two purple balls on the right-side tray.  He did not write out the equation for this, so every step was done visually and orally.  For those who would like to see his demonstration in mathematical form, this is how it would look:

                  7p = 3p + 2 "PB"
==>     7p - 3p = 3p + 2 "PB" - 3p
==>             4p = 2 "PB"

From here, it is then a matter of applying simple division to find what each purple ball is.

                4p = 2 "PB"
==>     4p / 2 = 2 "PB" / 2
==>      1 "PB" = 2p

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/17/2013
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Christmas
  3. Collage Friday - Remembering Ecuador
  4. Weekly Wrap Up: The One that will be Hard to Top for a While
  5. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 21, 2013}
  6. Math Teachers at Play #70 

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Week of Preps

Christmas is off to a very slow start for us this year.

This is because we have been spending most of our time preparing for Tiger's Chinese exam.  Tiger has been attending a weekly beginner's Chinese class (Level 1) since September.  The place where the class is held is run in a very schooly way, with traditional classroom settings, bells for break times, as well as a lot of homework and two exams each year.  As far as Tiger is concerned, all such schooly phenomena are still new and amusing to him.  As he has never been to school, he has not picked up the bad habit of coasting or doing the minimal amount of work to get by.  As a result, he kept finishing his work in class so quickly and asking his teacher for extra work that she recommended that he be "promoted" to the Level 2 class.  Acceleration is very rare in a traditional Chinese class setting, so I believe the Level 1 teacher has done it out of genuinely good intentions for Tiger.

However, since he was accelerated to Level 2 half way through the term, Tiger is to sit the Level 2 mid-year exam having missed the first half of the Level 2 lessons.  In order to make sure that he doesn't get completely slammed at the exam, he and I have been playing "rapid catch up" by studying those lessons he has missed.

I have to admit that it is a very difficult process.  I am very surprised by the speed at which the lessons progressed and the rigour of the curriculum.  Each lesson has 12-15 pages of written homework.  As a result of the numerous homework from the Chinese school, Tiger is now spending more time writing Chinese characters than he is writing in English.  His recognition and writing of Chinese words have improved dramatically, but these are achieved through repetitive drills which he hates.  I totally understand his dislike for repetitions and drills, and I generally avoid putting him through those in our homeschool.  However, as Chinese characters are formed pictorially, there is, unfortunately for Tiger, no short-cut to learning to write each character apart from the drills.

Do I sympathise with Tiger for having to go through so much hard work?  Yes and no.

Yes, because learning the language outside of its natural environment is indeed very difficult and  mastering the language (both written and spoken) under such circumstances require extraordinary determination and hard work.  While the curriculum attempts to give flexibility and variety in terms of the types of exercises, both Tiger and I are under no illusion that he has to work extra hard to master the basics of the language.

On the other hand, I look at the amount of work Tiger is given by his Chinese teacher and compare that to the amount of work given to children who are growing up in the language's natural environment (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore).

The amount of Chinese homework Tiger has is about half of what those children are given.  Knowing this, I don't feel that we can moan about the amount of work he has to get through in order to be at a comparable level in the Chinese language as the children in East Asia.  To put things in perspective, what we are doing is really no more effort than it would take for a Chinese child residing in those countries who wishes to master the English language.

So, this week has been a week of much hard work.  It is not a lot of fun, but it is necessary (for us).  Next week we will be able to relax and be more in the festive mood.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational: Travel is One of the Best Ways to Learn
  2. Collage Friday - A New Camera and Birthday Happenings
  3. Weekly Wrap Up: The One Where I'm Still Not an Aunt
  4. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 14, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/17/2013 
  6. Chinese Activities Link Up

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Simple Elegance

I love maths that challenge us to think, but are deceptively easy at first glance so that they don't put children off.  This week, I gave Tiger one of these simple and elegant maths riddles that require a good understanding of:
  • mental calculation
  • addition
  • place value
  • numbers

The idea is to use the ten digit cards, as set out above, to lay out an addition equation visually in the vertical format.  A few rules to bear in mind:
  1. The digit zero (0) cannot be used on its own.
  2. The digit zero (0) cannot be placed in front of any number, i.e. it can't be used as "081" and such like.
  3. The addition sign (+) is assumed.
  4. The final number on the last line is the sum.
  5. No carry-overs are to be shown.
Easy, no?  For example, 76 + 80 = 156.  Each digit in the equation is selected from the set above.  The solution would be shown as follows on the table:


Or, if the equation is 25 + 66 = 91, the solution would be presented as:


All clear?  Ready to go?

The idea is to start with any combination using the set of ten cards as shown in the photo above, then slowly build up to using all ten cards.

Tiger quickly found numerous solutions using three to nine cards, but he struggles to use all ten cards in a single solution.  The game is too much fun to just sit and watch so I used a second set to play alongside Tiger, at which point it turned into a competition between us to see who could find the solution to the ten-cards problem first.  I am pleased to report that I have uncovered one solution to the ten-cards problem, although it did take me quite a few attempts.  I'm sure there is more than one answer to this problem.  Tiger hasn't found his solution yet.  His challenge is to find the solution by Christmas eve, while mine is to find at least one more solution by then.

Join in the fun if you feel inclined!  I'll post our solution(s) on Christmas eve.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/10/2013
  2. Math Activity Thursday
  3. Entertaining and Educational: Travel is One of the Best Ways to Learn
  4. Collage Friday - A New Camera and Birthday Happenings
  5. Weekly Wrap Up: The One Where I'm Still Not an Aunt
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 14, 2013}

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Enriched Without a Plan


I am going against the grain this year: I am NOT planning any specific activities this December.  It has been liberating and eye-opening for me to see how and how much unscheduled learning happens when we just 'go with the flow'.

1.  Genomics Advent Calendar
This year, as I am not making an advent calendar like we did last year, we are enjoying the short daily clips about human chromosomes from The Royal Institutions advent calendar which are both enlightening and entertaining.

2.  Mothers Who Embody Courage and Determination
Tiger has been attending a weekly hands-on science class since September.  The class is held in a small church hall so the mums always sit at the back of the class quietly until the lesson is over, unless they are helping their children with a particular tricky part of the experiments.  As such, there is very little chance each week for the mums to get to know one another beyond recognising one another's faces.

The sessions for this year have ended so one of the mums has kindly invited everyone to her house for a social gathering.  It was at this gathering that I felt I have gotten to know these ladies much better, and I am very glad for that.

For example, I had no idea that one mother has managed to guide her son from being diagnosed as fully autistic (i.e. no speech, no eye contact, mentally delayed) at age two to being mildly socially awkward at age 14.  This boy is currently preparing for GCSEs in biology, physics and chemistry.  After listening to her amazing experience, I felt a profound sense of respect for this woman.  Behind her meek, quiet appearance is a spirit of steel and courage.

It was only in the relaxed environment of the gathering that I got to know that the majority of the mothers here are single parents bringing up children on their own with little financial help from their ex-partners.  Most of them are also having to cope with children who have special needs, e.g. diabetic, Aspergers, dyslexic.  I don't know the ins and outs of how these mothers find themselves in their situation of becoming a lone parent, but I listened with respect and admiration to every story of the battles they have had to fight to get the support their children need -- financially, educationally, and medically.

3.  A Nativity Play
Almost every child who attends school in England gets to be part of the Nativity play, which is an annual event for schools at this time of the year.

Since Tiger has never been to school, I thought he would not share this childhood experience with the 95% of children his age who go to school.  Although it is not a big deal to us whether he takes part in a Nativity play, I sometimes wonder whether he might have liked, when he becomes an adult, to be able to say something like, "Yes, I have fond memories of being the donkey lying in the manger in my Year One Nativity play."  Well, you never know, do you?

Thanks to a new set of homeschooling friends that we've made this year, we were invited to take part in a Nativity play -- well, it's Tiger who has the part of a shepherd/narrator.  My job is to take him to the premise, be part of a supportive audience, and socialise with everyone.

We had a group of 15 children, aged two to 12.  The children memorised their lines beautifully from a script written by one of the very talented mums.  The play was interspersed with Christmas carols played by a few children in their various instruments (trumpet, flute, recorder, oboe).

Waiting for their turns during the full-dress rehearsal.
Despite only meeting a few hours before the actual performance, the children were ready for the actual performance after three rehersals.  The children's level of concentration and dedication to this project, their ability to work together, and the older children's ability and willingness to look out for the younger ones during the 25-minute production really shone through.  What a fantastic group of children!  I feel very privileged to have witnessed all the goodness in these children with my own eyes.

4.  A Victorian Christmas
We are about half way through reading and listening to A Christmas Carol

There are usually many Victorian Christmas activities available in various parts of the country around this time, and since the era ties in with the book that we are reading, we went to one to experience the jovial atmosphere of a Victorian Christmas.

There were diplays of Victorian toys, Victorian games, street musicians, street performers, and Victorian crafts.  We found the hand-turned busker organ to be absolutely fascinating:

The event being of a Victorian theme in December, there was also a two-person street performance of A Christmas Carol:

As it was a two-person production team, they had to adapt much of the story and summarise it into a 20-minute play.  Tiger enjoyed watching the performance in spite of its obvious adaptations.  It's interesting for me to see him respond differently to adaptions made at a live performance than those made for films.  I'd be curious to see his response to a film version of the story, when we watch it at some point.

5.  A Bedtime Lecture
Tiger is a very animated child and his bedtime routine has always taken forever because he always has a lot to say when he is in bed.  After I've read him stories and kissed him goodnight, he always has something he's excited about to tell me.  It may well be his delaying tactic, but I feel obliged to stay for an extra 15 minutes because he does often have genuinely interesting things to tell me just before bed.

This week's bedtime topic of interest is computer networks.

Mum: (kissed him on the forehead and about to switch the lights off) Goodnight, darling.
Tiger: Mum, do you want to know about computer networks?
Mum: (hesitatingly) Umm... I don't know.  Do I?
Tiger: Yeah, they're very interesting.  I'll show you a few diagrammes quickly and you'll understand them in no time.
Mum: Well, ok.

That was his cue to sit up in bed in his dressing gown and start explaining to me how different networks work.

In the 30-minute session, Tiger educated me about the different switches, routers, how LANs (local area networks) and WANs (wide area networks) can be designed and how they work, as well as how they can be combined in various ways to make efficient cross-border networks.  The mini lecture was delivered with numerous hand drawn diagrammes to illustrate his examples:

I vaguely remember studying two IT-related modules at university, so Tiger's diagrammes and explanations made some sense to me.  What I enjoyed most in the session was his enthusiasm to share what he has learnt so far.

Much to my own surprise, despite my non-plan it has been a very busy week filled with rich experiences to nourish our hearts and minds.  I wonder what is in store for us next week.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Collage Friday - Thanksgiving and Christmas at the Beach
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Christmas Traditions for Kids
  3. Weekly Wrap-up: The One that was Late
  4. Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 7, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/10/2013

Friday, 29 November 2013

Looking Ahead to December


I feel as though I've been running since September, and I feel I need to slow down and take a breather.  Traditionally I would plan lots of activities for the month of December to take us nicely to Christmas.  This year, I don't feel that I have the energy to repeat the advent activities that we did last year, so I am going to have a slightly more relaxed December this year by not taking on ambitious new projects this time of the year.

Having said this, we aren't going to sit around doing nothing -- although that will probably be nice for a change -- we're just going to not try to do 24 different activities in December.  Plans are not concrete yet, but here is what I am thinking of at the moment, in addition to continuing with a few ongoing projects:

1.  Christmas-related literature
Reading a Christmas-related book and enjoying some activities related to it has become one of our family's traditions in December.  One year we looked at The Legend of the Poinsettia.  For two years running we looked at The Nutcracker.  This year's book selection is A Christmas Carol.

2. Food, Crafts, and Gifts
These three items come together for us in December.  I always encourage Tiger to make his own Christmas cards and bake his own foodie gifts for people.  At a time of rampant consumerism, I'd like Tiger to understand that the true value of a gift has more to do with the sincere efforts of the giver/maker rather than with the monetary value attached to commerical products.

Besides making things for others, we will also spend some time making simple crafts to keep ourselves amused.  Nothing too fancy or complicated.  I am still getting ideas from last year's craft activities, such as the Christmas lanterns, the paper chains, and maybe sewing a few simple tree ornaments.

3.  Friends and Family
We have an exceedingly busy social calendar this December, thanks to a number of new homeschooling friends we've made, as well as plans to see some old friends as well.  Tiger and I are out and about so often that it's hard to imagine having a more active social life, but it seems that way only because we used to spend December more inwardly focused on our own little family.  This year, my mother-in-law is in charge of Christmas celebrations so there will be a big three-day family gathering from Christmas eve to Boxing Day with plenty of time with immediate and extended family.  Free from the responsibility of planning and preparing Christmas Lunch, I am able to accept invitations to enjoy the jovial company of our friends, homeschooling and otherwise.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Entertaining and Educational - Paper Houses
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/3/2013

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