Monday, 28 October 2013

Bewitching Tales

Since Halloween is just around the corner, we did some work based on the book, The Witches.  We started off using the corresponding Read & Respond activity book to aid in our study, but soon abandoned it due to the activities being too 'schooly' for us.

Instead, we read the story through once, listened to the audio book version (where Tiger pointed out quite a number of omissions from the original book), and watched the classic film based on the story.

I had never watched the film before so I was more interested than Tiger to watch Angelica Houston's wonderful depiction of the Grand High Witch.  However, Tiger was somewhat irritated by the numerous alterations or as Tiger called it, "inconsistencies", in the film (he's a purist when it comes to being "true to the original story") because he has read the story so many times that he can memorise it.  As such, my film recommendation didn't go down well with him at all.

After the unsuccessful start, we moved on to more the productive activity of research.  I asked Tiger to read as many books on witches and witchcraft as he could get his hands on.

Part of our research into witches consists of watching the following documentary, which Tiger didn't mind:

After the research, I asked Tiger to illustrate what he thought a witch would look like.  I thought his drawings show the sense of innocence and lack of horror in the pure heart of a child:

The witch disguised as a normal-looking woman carrying a handbag.
The witch in her real form: a hideous non-human creature.
You can hear the description of a witch from the Roald Dahl himself:

Tiger also made a few items that are commonly associated with witches: foam spider, spider web (made from paper plate and yarn), and a multi-eyed creature.

He then decided to complete this study by making a few spells of his own, after looking into it using The Guide to Wizards of the World.  I don't know what his spells are, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were about having more fun days and field trips.  Life can be very hard when your mother puts you to work all the time.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did!
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/29/2013
  3. Entertaining and Educational - Letter Learning Obstacle Course
  4. Collage Friday - Math, Friendship, Shoeboxes & More
  5. Creative Learning On Friday #19
  6. TGIF Linky Party #100
  7. Weekly Wrap Up: The One with the Solo Drive
  8. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 2, 2013}

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Autumn Through His Eyes

The days are getting shorter and the temperature has certainly fallen.  Autumn is undisputedly here.

What does autumn look like where you are?  This year autumn has been very wet so we haven't been out for walks too much.  Instead, we spent much of our time indoors anticipating autumn while waiting for the rain to stop.  When we couldn't wait any longer, we headed out to the woods in the pouring rain.

Walking in the autumn rain is quite an experience.  I recommend everyone to do it at least once in their lives.  The ground is wet and muddy, the air has a very distinct smell, the sound of the raindrops beating on the leaves and the ground is can be defeaning.  The forest looks very different in the rain.

When we had a day that was bright and sunny, Tiger and I went for our 'official' autumn walk, i.e. the one that marks the beginning of our autumn nature study.  This year, instead of having him just walk and observe the signs of autumn, I asked Tiger whether he would like to record his interpretation of autumn using a camera.  He gladly agreed.

The mandate that I gave Tiger was to record autumn using his camera.  I wanted him to show me his interpretation of autumn.

When we were in the woods, I reminded Tiger what he was there to do, i.e. to take photographs to show what he considers to be signs of autumn, we got on with our photo-taking individually and separately while staying close to each other all the time.  I didn't want to influence his choices.  At the same time, I was curious to know how he sees the world.

Tiger took many photographs, which we then came home to look through.  As we looked through his photos, we talked briefly about why he chose certain scenes or angles (that's about as much as I know about photo-taking) before he chose which ones he is happy to show.

Here they are:

This exercise has been interesting to me in another way:  I realise how different my son and I see the world.  We were at the same place at the same time, but while he seemed to focus more on the 'bigger' atmosphere of the forest, I found myself looking at details such as the close ups of leaves and nuts:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did!
  2. Nature Study Monday
  3. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/29/2013
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Letter Learning Obstacle Course
  5. Collage Friday - Math, Friendship, Shoeboxes & More
  6. Creative Learning On Friday #19
  7. TGIF Linky Party #100
  8. Weekly Wrap Up: The One with the Solo Drive
  9. Country Kid - Half Term Fun
  10. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {November 2, 2013}
  11. Science Sunday: I didn't get it all done

Friday, 25 October 2013

Lighting His Own Fire

Some of you may have noticed that things seems to have slowing down here, at least in terms of my blogging about it.  Specifically, there has been a 'mysterious' two week break between my post about the water cycle experiments and that of Henry III.

Something is changing around here.  We are not doing as much as we did before -- that's how it feels to me anyway.  It feels as though we are not producing as much or as quickly as before.  Are we becoming slow learners... gasp!?

Another clue: has anyone else noticed that Tiger seems to be wearing the same camo clothes in most photographs?

No, you haven't seen it wrong.  Tiger lives in his camos, although he has more than one set of camo clothes, mind you, so he is not wearing the same clothes everyday although that must be very difficult to tell because camo prints tend to look the same (to me, anyway).  He has:
  • a camo rucksack
  • a pair of camo boots
  • a camo beanie
  • a camo hat
  • a pair of camo gloves
  • several pairs of camo socks
  • several pairs of camo trousers
  • a few camo T-shirts
  • a camo jumper
  • a camo coat
  • a camo scarve
  • camo stationery (ruler, pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener)
The boy loves his camos.  Now I need to find camo underwear and camo bedsheets to complete the look and I am just waiting for him to ask me to paint his room in camo shades.

What does this mean?  Isn't it just a normal nine-year-old boy's fascination with camos?

I thought so too, until I tried to piece together other bits and pieces of observations I have been making since July, to understand why we are currently working in such a "slow" pace.

Come to think of it, the trend had started before the summer holidays but had only became obvious to me when I let go of having daily lessons so that Tiger could be more say in how he wanted to spend his summer.  Other than going on holiday and working through the Art Summer School, Tiger was most often engaged in the following activities:

1.  Build a personal library.

Tiger's ever expanding personal library

Tiger has a bookshelf in his bedroom which he has been adding to at an alarming rate.  The shelf used to be filled with books from BFIAR and FIAR booklists, to be read as his bedtime stories.  This summer, Tiger has been picking out war/weaponry related books (see photo above) that I have had to pack all the previous FIAR books into storage to make space for these new books that he actually reads before bed and when he wakes up.

Seriously, who reads books like these for bedtime stories?!  Being the skeptical mum that I am, I flipped through the books and asked Tiger random questions about some parts of the books, just to make sure that he has actually read them and not just fibbing by looking at the pictures in the books.  Unbelievably, the boy has actually read them all, not just once but several times, evidenced by his ability to reference the exact page number of certain pieces of information that he gave me.

2.  Teach himself.
This is not new.  We watch documentaries all the time, but Tiger seems to have taught himself modern history (at least the military aspects of it) by watching the following since the summer:
  1. Battlefield Britain (the entire series)
  2. Battle of France
  3. Battlefield: Series 1
  4. Battlefield: Series 2
  5. Battlefield: Series 3
  6. The Cu Chi Tunnels
  7. WWII Weapons (all 10 parts)
  8. The Top Secret Soviet Weapon in the Cold War
  9. Battle 360
  10. Patton 360
  11. The Korean War in Colour
  12. Greatest Tank Battles
  13. Dogfights - Season 1
  14. Dogfights - Season 2
  15. America: The Story of the US
  16. WW2: The Mediterranean and North Africa
  17. The Art of War: Sun Tsu
  18. Weapons of Victory: Anti-Tank Guns
  19. Battle of Arnhem
  20. Sinking the Tirpitz
  21. World War I: Battle of Falkland Islands
  22. 20th Century Battlefields (the entire series)
While watching the documentaries, Tiger reenacts the battle scenes and war strategies shown on the screen with his toy troops.

I am quite amazed to see him finding his own hands-on way to engage himself in his learning.  I would not have been able to lead him to this due to a lack of expertise and interest on my part.

"A person's freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech.  If we take from soneone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought.  We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us."
-- John Holt

There is no curriculum for this, as far as I can tell, not for a nine-year-old anyway.  Hence, all of this is done oout of Tiger's own initiative.  He decides for himself what he wants to learn (i.e. which documentaries to watch - after seeking parental approval for each documentary), when he wants to learn, and how he learns best at the present moment (through staging the battle scenes rather than writing reports).

3.  Find ways to apply knowledge.
It is still an ongoing process, but I find it interesting to see what Tiger does with the information he is absorbing from the documentaries and books.  When his deep interest in military history became glaringly obvious in the summer, I was slightly concerned about whether Tiger was watching the above documentaries for entertainment, likened to brain-deadening TV watching.

However, my fears are allayed when I see how Tiger is finding different ways to apply what he is learning:
a) Through different strategy games
i) Battleship

ii) Axis and Allies starter set

iii) Chess
Tiger continues to attend his weekly chess club where he is coached alongside county players.  Even though chess has long been regarded as a strategy game, I was still surprised when Tiger explained to me, after a particularly successful session when he was the Undefeated-Champion-for-the-Night, that he applied the battle strategies he has learned from the books and documentaries to defeat the county players.

b) Through reenacting multiple battles
The first thing Tiger does on most mornings before breakfast: battles.

When there's  a break in-between lessons at home: battles.

If he's not doing something with Tortoise after dinner: battles.

c) Extending activities through battles.
I should know better than to second-guess the value of play, but when Tiger spends most of his time playing at the battles (which helps to explain why we aren't getting much else done in terms of "tangible output"), I feel I need more than blind faith to know that he is not simply wasting his time.

Luckily, when an adult looks hard enough and pays close attention to the child at play, she is very likely to find meaning in all of it.

i) Maths
How does maths come in?  I wasn't expecting to see this either, but Tiger has learnt the relationship between speed, distance, and time through his battles.  As his play becomes increasingly complicated -- with his invention of complex rules of engagement -- he needs to know how to calculate accurately the distance between his missle launch and its reach, how quickly troops can move before they engage in a face-to-face combat, etc.

Precise calculation is crucial in this case because an inaccurate move can have dire consequences, such as having to suffer the intolerable humiliation of being defeated by one's mother in a military showdown...

ii) Cartography
Tiger doesn't always use the maps that come with the soldiers sets.  Instead, he often prefers to draw his own map for the settings of his battles.

iii) Photography/filming
When Tiger is not too busy fighting battles, he takes photographs of the scenes with the intention to turn them into a stop motion film.

4.  It matters to him.
How do we know that it is a passion and not just a flight of fancy?  Besides the slightly obsessive, all-consuming nature of the child's engagement with the activity, probably the most revealing key is that the activity means a lot to the child.

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."
--- Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch,
Supreme commander of Allied forces, World War One

Several weeks ago we were scheduled to attend a full-day history workshop.  The night before Tiger had a sudden fever so I decided that there was no way he would be well enough to go anywhere the next day.  As expected, Tiger was very upset as he went to bed that he was going to miss the workshop.  The following morning, he woke up unusually early (at 6am) to get himself ready to attend the workshop.  Unfortunately for him, the fever persisted so he had to stay at home.  For two hours he tried to convince me at 15-minute intervals that he was well enough to go. The poor boy burst into tears when his hardhearted mother said a resolute "No, you have to stay at home and rest."  I don't know of many children who would cry about missing a day of school.  Do you?

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did 
  2. History and Geography Meme #96
  3. Collage Friday - A Productive Week
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Learning with Music
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Battle Against Illness
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {October 26, 2013}
  7. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/29/2013

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Scots and the English Coronations

Edward I is best known as "The Hammer of the Scots" for his numerous attacks and conquest of Scotland.  In many ways, he was the first king since the Norman conquest to instill a sense of nationalism amongst the English.  His use of nationalistic sentiments for his various conquests of Wales and Scotland created the same effect in those areas, most notably in Scotland via William Wallace, more popularly known as Braveheart.

It has been interesting for us to learn from the different perspectives of the conflict between Edward I and the Scots.

We learnt previously that the coronation chair used by English monarchs was commissioned by Edward I and has been on display in the Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey has been the place for coronations of the English monarchy since William the Conqueror.

We attended a workshop at the abbey where the children found out what went wrong at the coronations of William the Conqueror and Queen Victoria.  During the workshop, the children also learnt about the symbolism and significance of various items used during the coronation process: the sceptre, the Crown Jewels, the robe, and the sword.

Our tour of the abbey was focused on kings, queens and the coronation, so we were given a guided tour of specific places inside the abbey related to our theme: the tombs of medieval kings and queens, the Tudor Lady Chapel, the burial place of a family of siblings -- Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

While Henry III extended the abbey and had it built to the scale it is today, the coronation process is highly symbolised by two items: the coronation chair and the Stone of Scone which Edward I had snatched from the Scots during his campaigns.

We had a close look at the restored coronation chair as part of our guided tour of the abbey.  The Stone of Scone has been returned to Scotland for safekeeping, but it will be borrowed from the Scots for future coronations.  Photo taking is not allowed inside the abbey but you can get a very good idea of it from the documentary here:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did 
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/22/13
  3. History and Geography Meme #96
  4. Collage Friday - A Productive Week
  5. Entertaining and Educational - Learning with Music
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Battle Against Illness
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {October 26, 2013}

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

By Invitation Only

Something happened recently that has caught me off guard: Tiger invited me to do some shared writing with him!

I know some children are natural writers who are born with a pen in their hands and who just seem to churn out page after page of novels.  Not my boy.  Although he can talk non-stop for hours on end, Tiger has never been one to put more than a few words or a single sentence on paper.  That's why this particular invitation to write, coming from Tiger, is such a big deal to me.

In the summer, I bought him a creative writing book targeted at boys and he seems to have fallen in love with it.  He asked to keep the book by his bedside so that he can work on it little by little, and he doesn't want anybody to see what he is writing.  I think that's his way of protecting his creative muse from Mum's criticism, which is very wise indeed.

Tiger has been working in the book by himself for a few months, only updating me occasionally of his progress.  Each time I asked him whether he wanted me to take a look at what he has done, he said, "No, thanks.  I'm doing fine."  With that, I left him to it as I didn't want to spoil his fun by making the process overly structured, as often happens when this Mum takes over.  However, last week he suddenly invited me to work with him on one of his stories (apparently he is working on three different stories concurrently).  Yay, partnership writing minus the instigation on Mum's part!

While I have a copy of Partnership Writing that is full of great ideas to be used to help children in the writing process, the let's-sit-down-and-write-something approach has never worked with Tiger.  He's not even keen about Friday Freewrite as an introduction to writing.

Regardless of how interesting an activity is, if it is assigned by Mum, Tiger instantly sees it as a task, i.e. something to be completed that he hasn't necessarily chosen to do for and by himself.  Most of the time he does well to complete the tasks diligently but being dutiful is not the same as being on fire.

“When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.”
  -- John Taylor Gatto

When Tiger extended the invitation to me last week, I almost couldn't believe it.   I'm not exaggerating when I say it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (to me).  What do you do when the opportunity of a lifetime comes around?  I drop everything else and run with it.

We were out last week so we didn't get to sit at our desk until yesterday.  When Tiger reminded me that he wanted us to write together, I let go of the one million other homeschooling tasks I had planned for us to do.  Instead, I let Tiger take charge by asking him to share how he envisages our partnership writing to work.  He had a few good ideas, so we brainstormed for a bit and bounced our ideas back and forth before deciding that we would work together by writing one sentence each in an alternating manner.

The story prompt that Tiger chose was about tarantulas escaping from a tarantula farm (remember, the book is meant for boys).  There was a lot of laughter as we passed the book to each other, taking turns to write the next sentence.   Since the writing was done in a very relaxed manner -- laughter is a great relaxant -- Tiger even asked me for suggestions to improve his sentence structures and the way he conveys his ideas.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been too defensive to even listen.  It just goes to show that children learn best when they are happy and relaxed.

It took us a good part of yesterday to complete our three-page story and Tiger is keen to write the next story in a similar way.  Even though we did not get much else done yesterday apart from writing, I'd say that it has been a successful day.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did 
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/22/2013
  3. Collage Friday - A Productive Week
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Learning with Music
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Battle Against Illness
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {October 26, 2013}

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Edward "Longshanks"

Compared to his father, Henry III, Edward I appears to have led a much more eventful life.  A quick summary of his life is shown in the following documentary (from 9 mins to 17 mins):

We started our study with a narration from Our Island Story, typed and pasted into the accordian timeline that we have been working on for years.

This was followed by watching relevant episodes from two excellent DVDs.  Each was done from a slightly different perspective by two respectable English historians.  One thing that I always emphasise to Tiger in our study of history is to learn from as many sources as possible before drawing our own conclusions with regards to how history is to be interpreted or represented.

We also played many, many rounds of History Heroes.  We first played this game after reading Suji's review a few years ago.  When we first played the game in 2011, Tiger was at the beginning of his British history study so he didn't get very far beyond the Normans.  Now, after two years of continuous reading from different sources of British history (mostly in his own leisure time), he is able to win each game against me.  Regular readers of this blog are aware of how s-l-o-w-l-y we go in history around here so in that sense, Tiger has been "forced" to read up on anything that interests him outside of our 'school time'.

I remember that the Tower of London has a Medieval Palace with Edward I's bedchamber preserved there (although he hardly ever used it, considering that he mostly lived in encampments due to his numerous campaigns), so off we went.

Since the focus of our visit was on Edward I, we headed straight to the Medieval Palace.

There is not much to see of Edward I's bedchamber apart from the space it was supposedly located, as well as a few original timber frame and wall plastering.

Since Edward I was always out and about, I don't suppose he had much use for his bedchamber at the Tower anyway.  Nonetheless, it was good to have had a look at it:

The rest of the Medieval Palace has been well preserved, with much information about the medieval kings and courtly life dotted around.

The small chapel in the Medieval Palace was particularly interesting as it has marks a spot in front of the altar where Henry VI allegedly died.

Before we left, Tiger made a medieval knight's helmet out of paper to mark our visit.

The Tower is so steeped in history that I am quite sure we shall be back for future visits.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did 
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/15/2013
  3. History and Geography Meme #95
  4. Collage Friday: Exciting News about a Great Journey
  5. Entertaining and Educational - Oct 18
  6. TGIF Linky Party #99
  7. Homeschool Review and Resource Link-Up
  8. Weekly Wrap-up: The One in Which I Felt Super Productive
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