Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Any Room for Extras?

I think that when we consider how much extracurricula activities is suitable for our children, we can approach it from different areas.

From a Philosophical Point of View
For children who go to school, extracurricula activities usually means all activities that happen after official school hours, and are subjects that are not covered within the official curriculum.  In England, this usually refers to:
  1. any activity that takes place before 8am and after 4pm from Mondays to Friday;
  2. any activity that takes place on weekends, bank holidays, and school holidays;
  3. 'discretionary' activities that parents have to pay extra money for their children to participate in.
I have just had quick look into several prominent English school's websites to check the types of activities they classify as being "extras".  The list include:
  • performing arts (theatre, dance, instruments)
  • hobby/interest-related clubs (sports, debating, cookery, chess, photography, film making, fishing, philosophy, pottery, gardening)
  • field trips
Nowadays in our homeschool we make no distinction between 'extras' and 'core'.  This is because we have increasingly embraced the view that learning is an integral part of our way of life.  In our waking hours, we experience no separation between the times when we are learning and those when we are not, since we don't limit ourselves to how we learn, what we learn, where we learn, and who we learn from.  When something looks/sounds interesting, Tiger and I will go and check it out regardless of whether it is part of our current 'plan'. As a result, we spend about half of our time learning outside at different venues, from different people, about different things that don't necessarily tick any "academic subject" boxes.

I must point out that we did not start off on Day One being so flexible and freewheeling in our homeschooling approach.  The change has come about in response to Tiger's maturity, capabilities, and developmental needs.

At this stage of Tiger's educational life, I believe that a wide exposure to different ways of learning is necessary for him to be informed of the many different choices to getting a rich and fulfilling level of self-education.

From a Financial Point of View
Going out to attend activities costs money in terms of food, travel expenditure, and activity fees.  Therefore, I exercise discretion when choosing activities for Tiger to make sure we get the best value out of every pound we spend.

My decision process from a purely financial aspect is very straightforward: I will only pay for us to attend an activity if I feel that we are getting superior value out of our attendance.  Examples of this are the drama classes and team sports that Tiger attends regularly.

From a Time Management Point of View
Even though we are very flexible in our approach such that we have no specific "learning targets" to meet, I am still very conscious of the amount of time we spend on traveling to and from activities.  I tend to restrict our regular traveling times to within 1 hour of driving each way or within 30 miles radius of where we live.

In the recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of homeschooling activities that are made available to us, some of which are very tempting.  However, to avoid spending most of our time running around from one activity to another, I have had to learn to say no to many of them.  We find that our most effective learning experiences (for now) come from the one-to-one interaction at home at Tiger's own pace.  Therefore, while we welcome the variation that outside activities add to Tiger's overall education, I am always in the process of streamlining our selection so as to give ourselves time and space to rest, or to simply do nothing.  I don't feel that it is necessary to fill our calendar with external activities, especially when those activities compete with the time that can be spent with family or time that we need to get to know ourselves.

Lucinda from Navigating By Joy has joined us as a contributor to this series starting from today.  As always, each contributor has her own take on this matter.  Therefore, I encourage you to visit each of them at:
  • Bernadette is clearly Just a Homebody, as she makes suggestions about picking and choosing what's best for your family and your life season.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/30/13
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #15
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: May 3, 2013
4) Collage Friday - Taking Time to See Beauty
5) TGIF Linky Party #74
6) Creative Learning #13
7) Friday Flash Blog #16
8) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where We're Wrapping Up
9) Share it Saturday - Homemade Mother's Day Gifts
10) Sunday Showcase - 5/4/13

Thursday, 25 April 2013

When You Give a Boy a Tin Geometry Set...

The other day I bought a geometry set for less than £3 at a stationary sale, and left it on the table.  Guess what happened?  Tiger saw it and became really excited when he realised that it belongs to him.

The following was what I saw:

What was he doing?  Drawing circles, apparently.

Tiger became more adventurous in the following days, still pouring over his tools:

His designs also got bolder as a result.

All this while, Tiger didn't ask me anything so I just let him get on with it.  It was only when he showed me his work that I realised that he was teaching himself the measurement of angles in relation to a circle.  I have mentioned angles in passing so it isn't totally unknown to him, but I like how he has shaded the different parts of the circles to highlight their corresponding angles (90 degrees, 180 degrees, 360 degrees).

Tiger was tickled when we walked past a sculpture of Issac Newton and saw him doing exactly the same thing:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 26, 2013
3) Hobbies and Handicrafts - April 26
4) Collage Friday - Reading, Selling , and Recommending Books
5) Homeschool Review
6) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where We're Counting Down the Weeks
7) Math Monday Blog Hop #97
8) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/30/13

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Maths in Our Home

I remember the pain of learning mathematics through rote and drills when I was growing up.  When I decided to homeschool Tiger, I was determined to find a way for him to enjoy the beauty and fascinating nature of the subject.  I am convinced that the road to mathematical appreciation and understanding need not be painful, intimidating, confusing or boring.

For a start, Tiger could recognise patterns before he could talk.  Pattern recognition is an important element in mathematical thinking as almost all mathematical concepts can be simplified into patterns.  I remember that day very well.

Tiger was about 13 or 14 months old when one day he frantically pointed to a brown shape in a book that I was reading to him, then desperately tried to tell me something as he pointed frantically to the other end of the room.  I didn't know what he was trying to say.  In his desperation, he toddled to the other end of the room and pointed to the same brown shape in a picture on the wall.  I hadn't even noticed that brown shape until he pointed it out to me.

From then on, he showed great interest in patterns and shapes so I casually introduced tactile materials to support his exploration.

One of the major influences that Montessori's writing has on my understanding of education is in the area of mathematics.  Her writing convinced me of the importance and necessity of using tactile materials to aid a young child's understanding of mathematical concepts in a concrete manner before moving on to the more abstract planes.  For example, numerals such a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ..... mean nothing to a young child unless he/she can see and touch the quantity.  The lack of a foundation in understanding concrete concepts in mathematics is, to my mind, what makes the subject so incomprehensible to many children, including myself as a young child.

I remember meeting a very concerned mum whose nine-year-old daughter struggles with number sense in the private school that she attends.  The mum described how she tried to help her daughter with her maths homework and felt despair when her daughter could not answer the question "What is half of three?".  After struggling with this question for a long time, the little girl finally wrote the top half of the number 3, followed by the bottom half of the number 3, i.e. what looked like two brackets.  I felt very sorry for both of them, as I recalled my own struggle with maths, so I gave that mum a few examples on how to help her daughter get a solid understanding of what quantities represent before she worries about numerical symbols and operations.

Bearing in mind the need for a strong grounding in concrete concepts before progressing to abstract ones, I started to look for a Montessori-inspired, manipulative-rich math curriculum for Tiger's elementary school years and came across RightStart Mathematics.

We started using Level A when Tiger was five years old and he enjoyed this programme's use of games, colourful manipulatives and slow pace.  To him, maths lessons felt like playtime with interesting objects.  For the first two years of the programme, he was only exposed to numbers, quantities, and addition.

Although I believed in the strength of the programme, I was becoming a little concerned when I saw that other maths curricula were having children do complex division within six months.  Nonetheless, I stayed with this programme since it has worked so well for us.  All of a sudden, Tiger seemed to experience a sudden leap in his maths understanding.  I have no doubt that the previous two years had laid a strong foundation that had enabled him to do that.

Only when I became certain of Tiger's interest and competence in basic arithmetic, was I more willing to venture further away from the scope and sequence of RightStart Maths, so as to explore certain topics deeper and/or in more lively ways.  From then on, our maths lessons have become less about going through the motion of completing any particular curriculum or following any standard, but more about seeing connections and understanding mathematical relationships.

For other homeschooling parents' perspectives on mathematics, please visit this series' other contributors:
  • Julie, who ponders on the question Why do we study math?  She also shows us some ways in which math is used in our society and shares with us activities that have real life application for children.
  • In Doing 'Rithmetic, Bernadette gives a fairly traditional and uncomplicated look at doing math.

This post is linked up to:
1) Math Monday Blog Hop #96
2) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/23/13
3) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #14
4) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 26, 2013
5) Collage Friday - Reading, Selling , and Recommending Books
6) TGIF Linky Party #73
7) Creative Learning #12
8) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where We're Counting Down the Weeks
9) Share it Saturday!
10) Sunday Showcase - 4/27/13

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Italian Experience - The Shakespearean Link

In studying about Italy, Tiger and I began discussing about all the stories we know that were set in Italy.  Somehow our discussion led to Shakespearean stories.  We then listed the stories from Tales of Shakespeare and identified the locations where the stories were set.

Interestingly, 9 out of the 20 stories in the book were set in Italy:
  1. The Tempest - Milan, Italy
  2. A Midsummer Night's Dream - Athens, Greece
  3. The Winter's Tale - Sicily, Italy
  4. Much Ado About Nothing - Florence, Italy
  5. As You Like It - France
  6. The Two Gentlemen of Verona - Verona, Italy
  7. The Merchant of Venice - Venice, Italy
  8. Cymberline - England
  9. King Lear - England
  10. Macbeth - Scotland
  11. All's Well that Ends Well - Paris, France
  12. The Taming of the Shrew - Padua, Italy
  13. The Comedy of Errors - Sicily, Italy
  14. Measure for Measure - Vienna, Austria
  15. Twelfth Night, or What You Will - Albania
  16. Timon of Athens - Athens, Greece
  17. Romeo and Juliet - Verona, Italy
  18. Hamlet - Denmark
  19. Othello - Venice, Italy
  20. Pericles, Prince of Tyre - Tyre, Lebanon
So we set to locate the proximity of the different cities on a map:


After Tiger has read the book, we discussed briefly about the concepts of comedies and tragedies, and grouped the stories into either category.  Tiger's favourite story by far is The Taming of the Shrew.  He is tickled by Petruchio's character and wit.

After reading the story, we watched a very good BBC animated production to see it come alive:

However, nothing beats watching the actual performance at The Globe.  Tiger remembered laughing so much throughout last summer's performance that it was well worth the time and cost to be there.

You can have a feel of what the performance was like from the clip below:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/23/13
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 26, 2013
4) Collage Friday - Reading, Selling , and Recommending Books
5) Homeschool Review
6) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where We're Counting Down the Weeks

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Italian Experience - Masks

Since Marco Polo's father and uncle stayed in Venice for four years after their first trip to the East before they set off again, we thought we would spend a little bit longer in Italy to learn more about the country, as well as to better prepare ourselves to embark on the epic journey.


We learned about a specific type of theatre in Italy called commedia dell'arte.

It is very similar to the English Punch and Judy puppet show where there is a standard set of characters.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, Punch and Judy evolved from commedia dell'arte.

After watching National Theatre's introduction above, we decided to watch an actual Italian version that introduces each character and the relevant theatrical masks each wears:

I bought two pre-made masks from a craft shop and asked Tiger to choose one mask to be decorated as a theatrical mask, the other was to be a Venetian carnival mask.  For ideas and inspirations on how to decorate the carnival mask, Tiger googled "Venetian carnival mask" and looked through the search results.

Once he was happy with his research, he started to paint each mask with an undercoat:

The undercoat took a day to fully dry.  Next, I laid out all the materials I could find for Tiger to start decorating his masks: sequins, ribbons, craft precious stones, feathers, yarn, crepe paper, craft aluminium foil....etc.

Then off he went.

Theatrical Mask

Carnival Mask

This post is linked up to:
1) History and Geography Meme #70
2) Virtual Refrigerator
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 19, 2013
4) Collage Friday - Delight Directed Learning and a Super Morning Routine
5) Homeschool Review
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - April 19
7) April Culture Swapper
8) Look What We Did!
9) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One After the 2:1 Conference
10) Creative Kids Culture Hop #3
11) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/23/13

It is also featured in Homeschool Review and

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Sample of Free Curricula for Homeschooling

There is so much out there these days, especially on the internet, that one can learn as much or as little as one chooses.  The best part is that many of these valuable resources and ideas are generously shared with interested parties.  Since we have become more autonomous in our homeschooling approach, we have not used any specific curriculum from beginning to end.  Rather, our approach has been to pull resources from various places and to use them as we deem fit.

Below are some of the free resources that I find interesting.  We use them from time to time, with varying degrees of success.

General curriculum
  1. Ambleside Online
  2. Coursera
  3. Memrise
  4. K-5
  5. Homeschool Share

  1. Khan Academy
  2. MEP
  3. Can You Believe This is Math? 
  4. NRICH

  1. MSNucleus
  2. Inquiry in Action
  3. Middle School Chemistry

  1. Khan Academy 
  2. BBC Your Paintings
  3. EDSITEment
  4. BBC Schools Primary History
  5. Thinking History

As the homeschooling movement grows and with more homeschooling parents blogging about their experiences, I have found many interesting lesson ideas and plans shared by these creative families that I sometimes adapt in my own homeschool.

Many people have also found Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media to be useful for ideas and links.  I don't use these so cannot comment on them.  As such, my list is inexhaustive.

For more sources of free homeschooling resources, please visit:
Chareen's Homeschool for Free {Resource List} which contains a few links to help you homeschool for free from all over the web.

Savannah's 10 Free Websites to Help Homeschoolers with sites that make your curriculum budget go further.

Bernadette shows how Homeschoolers Get It Free by keeping the cost of schooling down when they maximise available free resources.

Julie shares nine awesome free resources her family uses almost every week in Best Free Educational Resources.

This post is linked up to:
1) Math Monday Blog Hop #95
2) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/16/13
3) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #13
4) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 19, 2013
5) Collage Friday - Delight Directed Learning and a Super Morning Routine
6) TGIF Linky Party #72
7) Creative Learning #11
8) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One After the 2:1 Conference
9) Share it Saturday!
10) Sunday Showcase - 4/20/13

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Map coordinates

After learning about map scale, the next logical thing to learn is to read map coordinates.  Tiger read the following book for introduction to the topic:

As an introductory exericse, Tiger worked through a page to identify the points on a grid map with numbers on the x-axis and alphabets on the y-axis.  This was very straightforward because Tiger is already familiar with reading maps with such coordinate points.

Next, I introduced Tiger to another way to represent coordinate points -- using numbers in both the x and y axes.  This was slightly confusing because now Tiger had to figure out which axis was represented by the respective numbers.

For this exercise, I had Tiger draw out the X-axis and Y-axis, then he was to list the coordinates of the points that I put on the grid.

This was followed by applying our understanding of coordinates to drawing, first by linking various pre-set coordinates into straight lines and forming a shape on paper.

Next Tiger got to apply what he had learnt so far onto graph papers.  He was to identify various points on the graph paper based on a set of coordinates that I verbally read out to him.

These form the smaller shape on the paper.  Once the original, smaller shape was drawn, I gave him a multiple which he was to use to draw the bigger shape.

Here is another application of scaling up:

The next application was slightly more complicated than the ones before.  Here, Tiger had to:
1) plot the points on the paper;
2) reflect the figure on the y-axis;
3) learn that the equation for a straight line between two given points and which goes through the point (0,0) is y = -x.
4) apply his knowledge of rotational symmetry to plot the points of the final figure which was symmetrical to the original figure on the line y = -x.

Tiger played the following games to conclude his study of the coordinates:
  1. Archery
  2. Lost
  3. Cops and Robbers

The lessons come from the following books:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) History and Geography Meme #69
5) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 12, 2013
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - April 12
7) Collage Friday - Part Time Unschoolers?
8) Homeschool Review
9) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the 2:1 Conference 2013
10) Math Monday Blog Hop #95
11) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/16/13

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Leave Me Alone!

Have you ever felt like that sometimes?  I know I have.  I haven't actually screamed that out loud though, but I do find it useful to have time alone just to recharge.  Even with only one child, I sometimes find his intensity a bit too much to cope with, so the alone time gives me both time and space to:
  • regroup my thoughts
  • think things through
  • reset the atmosphere (on particularly stressful days)
  • learn new things
  • engage in my interests
It hasn't always been easy to find a huge chunk of uninterrupted time for myself, but as Tiger gets older and becomes more independent, I am able to enjoy increasing amounts of time alone.

Here are the few ways that I have managed to find time for myself while homeschooling my son:
  • Every day, I have 1 to 2 hours in the evenings between Tiger's bedtime and my own bedtime.  Mostly I spend that time researching on the internet for ideas, resources, and plans for the homeschool.
  • When Tiger attends outside classes, I use the waiting time to read or draw or think.
  • On the rare occasion when I feel the need to be away from everything and everyone, I tell my husband in advance to arrange for a day to be on my own when he will be solely responsible for Tiger for that day.
  • As Tiger gets older, I am able to engage him in activities together so that I get to do what I enjoy (e.g. art, visiting galleries) while he benefits from participating in the activities as well.  This is not strictly time alone, but it fulfills my need to engage in activities that I personally enjoy.
I look upon homeschooling as my full-time job.  As such, I apply the same level of commitment and professionalism to homeschooling as I did with my previous career.  The only differences between then and now are that:
  1. Now I work mostly at home.
  2. My "clients" are my son (with whom I interact directly and to whom the product of my labour is delivered) and my husband (who is effectively 'paying' for me to teach our son and to whom I am accountable for the eventual outcome of his years of "investments" in our homeschooling venture).
Therefore, while I would not dream of pursuing my own interests during office hours in my previous career, I feel lucky that the nature of homeschooling gives me the flexibility to do so while not compromising my son's education.  I foresee getting more time to myself in the future as Tiger becomes more independent in his study, but I also see myself using that time to support his education by way of coordination, research, guidance, and possibly studying alongside him in more advanced materials.

For other perspectives on how to manage alone time while homeschooling, please seek further inspiration from:
  • Chareen ponders on the question of How Important is Alone Time and Homeschooling?  In this post, she shares some thoughts on the quesitons: As a homeschooler do I need to spend time alone?  Just how important is it?  Why or why not?
  • Bernadette shares how she schedules alone minutes into her days in No Never Alone.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/9/13
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #12
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 12, 2013
4) Collage Friday - Part Time Unschoolers?
5) TGIF Linky Party #71
6) Creative Learning #10
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the 2:1 Conference 2013
8) Fatigue and Frustration Friday Blog Roll - Week 2
9) Share it Saturday - Creative Play Ideas
10) Sunday Showcase - Seed Activities for Kids

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Traveling with Marco Polo: Venice

History and Geography
We start our journey with Marco Polo at the beginning -- his hometown, 13th Century Venice.  The lesson plan on the website involves a fair bit of interactive, online resources that Tiger enjoyed working on, especially the map-maker, tracing Marco Polo's route, and making the brochure.  After that, Tiger jumped on Google Map to have a virtual tour of Venice.

We also watched the first six-and-a-half minutes of the following clip to get a better understanding of Venice during Marco Polo's time:

Most days, we have the following music playing in the background from lunch time onwards.

Art and Craft
The Wallace Collection has two rooms dedicated to Venetian art where we had a good look at the paintings depicting Venetian life and street scenes of the 15th-18th centuries.

Venice was a busy trading centre when Marco Polo was growing up so he would have seen many of the activities by the port where he lived.  We also learned that jewellery beads that were made in Venice at that time was a popular trade item.

I have a friend who is an expert polymer clay jewellery maker so Tiger and I spent an afternoon learning the trade from her.  Tiger made a ring, several pendants, a few beads, and a pencil cover.

Food and Cooking
I suspect the 13th Century Venetians ate very different food from what we know as popular Italian food, but I am happy to serve up what I know to support our 'travel' in Venice: pasta dishes and pizza.

Tiger also made his own pizza, from reading the instructions on a recipe book, measuring the amount of ingredients he needed, to mixing, kneeding, and putting the toppings on:

Just to have a broader sense of the country beyond Venice, Tiger read the following books:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Culture Swapper - April
3) Virtual Refrigerator
4) History and Geography Meme #68
5) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 5, 2013
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - April 5
7) Collage Friday - Surprises on Spring Break
8) Homeschool Review
9) Weekly Wrap-Up: The Really Busy One Before Spring Break
10) Kids in the Kitchen - Clam Chowder
11) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/9/13

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