Thursday, 27 February 2014

Let's Talk About the Weather

After we've decided that to focus on weather study this term, we started back at the beginning of the topic and looked at weather in general.

As we have been familiarising ourselves recently with information from the Met Office, we decided to find out more about what they do:

and how they create a weather forecast:

as well as what a meteorologist might do:

The weather has significant impact on human activities, as we learnt here and here.  Since knowing about the weather is so important, we thought we ought to approach the topic properly, i.e. to start by checking with the Met Office what the basic components required to make our own weather station are:
  1. a rain gauge - we've made that!
  2. a wind vane
  3. a thermometer
  4. a weather diary
Coincidentally, Tiger had started to put together a table to record the weather a few days ago, so he was delighted to paste the printed sheet in his nature journal instead.

We added an extra colum, 'humidity' to the record sheet since we have also made our own hygrometer to measure that.

Going through the list of the basic components for a weather station, we still need to make our own wind vane and use a thermometer to measure the daily temperature.  Although we can use the dry bulb thermometer from our hygrometer for this purpose, we wanted to do an easy experiment so we made the water thermometer.

Next up was the weather vane to measure the wind direction. 

It has been very windy here these days, so it didn't take long to see the wind vane at work:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Nature Study Monday: Squash Discoveries NSM!
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/25/14
  3. Geography and History Meme: United States geography ideas
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Colorful Icicles
  5. Collage Friday - Blessings Amidst Difficulties
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Baby-Sitting and Fort Building
  7. Homeschool Mother's Journal (3/1/14)
  8. Science Sunday: What to do when your experiment fails

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Sights and Sounds in the Wintry Woods

Having been cooped up indoors due to the bad weather recently, we were all very glad to exploit a short window of dryness to go for a much needed walk in the woods.

Evidence of the recent prolonged heavy downpour: lots of fast flowing water at exceptionally high levels.

Can you hear it?

Where there has been much water in the forest, there will be a lot of mud on the trails.  And sure there was a lot of walking through squelchy mud.

Along the paths, there were a number of evidence of the recent storm: trees blown over by the high winds or struck by lightning.

All the mud, water, bare branches, and the wintry light formed rather unique pictures of the forest.


The birds were especially chirpy on that day.  Probably they were also glad for the respite from wind and rain.


Have I mentioned about the amount of rain we have had around here lately?

Despite having to sit with our calves half submerged in water (that has never happened before!) and going home covered in mud (only the boys, not me), it was good to be back in nature again!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Nature Study Monday: Squashing Discoveries NSM!  
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop (2/18/2014)  
  3. Collage Friday - Flip Flops and Challenge on Winter Break  
  4. Entertaining and Educational: National Engineer's Week  
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Cheek Cells
  6. Country Kids from Combe Mill
  7. Homeschool Mother's Journal (2/22/14)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Battling with the Welsh

Before Edward I became "The Hammer of the Scots", he went hammering at the Welsh.  The way that he went about having an upper hand over the Welsh was to build a formidable fortress in the form of Conway Castle.

Given that the castle had been built for the purpose of battle, we were curious to about how its structure provided a strategic advantage to Edward I's victories over the Welsh. 

The Battle Castle series appears to be just what we need to learn about this.

I bought the DVD set and we've learnt loads watching the episode that is dedicated to examining Conway Castle.  After watching the documentary I thought we ought to do something hands-on, so I suggested that we build a model of a castle.

Tiger wanted to have reenactment battles with his model knights instead.  I am not a big fan of playing with model knights, to be honest.  Believe me, I have played with model knights and soldiers to reenact many, many, many (to the power of n) battles, from the ancient times to modern warfare.   Far too many than should be reasonably expected of a normal mother, really.

After my troops had surrendered (experience has taught me that it's the only way I could end the battles), we calmed ourselves down by making the model.  Homeschooling in this household involves much negotiation and give-and-take on both sides.

I used the model making sessions to have Tiger tell me what he has learnt about Conway Castle from the documentary that makes it a stronghold for Edward I's Welsh campaigns (in addition to Caernarfon Castle), its significant features, and how it compares to the 'standard' castle model that we were putting together.

The model was quite fiddly to put together, due to its many small parts and lack of assembling instructions.  However, we managed it in the end.  It's very satisfying when our models work!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop (2/18/2014)
  2. History and Geography Meme: Country Studies
  3. Collage Friday - Flip Flops and Challenge on Winter Break
  4. Entertaining and Educational: National Engineer's Week
  5. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with the Cheek Cells
  6. Homeschool Mother's Journal (2/22/14)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Eye on the Ball, Please! Part 5

This is the fifth part of a series of my termly plans from now until Easter (April 2014).  The first three parts are:
  1. Ball #1: Language Arts
  2. Ball #2: Mandarin
  3. Ball #3: Mathematics
  4. Ball #4: Science, Nature Study, and Geography

Ball #5: History and the Arts
British History
It seems that we have been studying Medieval England for ever and ever.  The short stint with Chinese culture over the two weeks of Chinese New Year has rekindled my interest in exploring world history through the trading route of Marco Polo.

The last time I looked, we were still studying the Plantagenets with Edward I and his trebuchet.  There are two more Edwards who ascended the throne immediately after him, so I thought it would be a good idea to round up the next two Edwards before we take a break from British History.

Therefore, in the next two months our focus will be on various significant topics that happened during the reign from Edward I to Edward III, specifically:
  • Medieval food
  • Medieval queens
  • Medieval jobs
  • Medieval medicine
  • The Black Death

Being the out-and-abouters that we are, there will definitely be plenty of field trips and workshops to supplement our study at home.  Now, if only I can get myself organised to make them happen...

At the same time, because of Tiger's interest and involvement in the Young Archaeologists' Club, we will also be working through the Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets course this term.

The Arts
Visual Art
I have been wondering for some time now why our artist study has taken a back seat this year.  The answer seems to point to the new (and positive) focus that we have been taking in Tiger's Chinese study.  The time and energy required to establish a strong foundation in the Chinese language makes it difficult to carve out extra time in our week to do proper indepth study of any artist's style.   Nonetheless, I am still very fond of going to art galleries and exhibitions, so we shall strive to bring artist study back, now that we have established some routine and method in how we study Chinese.

From now until Easter, I plan for us to study the following artists:
  1. Gustav Klimt
  2. Paul Klee
  3. Vincent van Gogh
In addition, there will be many opportunities in our history study to create crafts so we will be spending time on that as well.

As a supplement to his drama sessions, Tiger and I will be learning about another aspect of theatre, physical actor training, from the course here.

Music has been terribly neglected since September, apart from Tiger playing around with the electronic music software by himself and experimeneting with different sounds.  In this respect, he is not inclined to have instructions, at least for now, so I intend to let him just play around with it until he finds his own gaps and feels the need for further assistance.

I haven't found an approach to composer study that I like, but this term we will endeaver to start the process by focusing on one composer -- Beethoven.  There is no particular reason for choosing to study Beethoven over any other composer.  The choice is made simply because:
  1. Klimt made a famous Beethoven Frieze that gave us the connection between visual arts and music; and 
  2. there is a course on Exporing Beethoven's Piano Sonatas being offered.  This course will be more relevant to me than to Tiger, but attending the course will help me make better contributions to our study and overall discussion about Beethoven and his work.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Two Weeks of Chinese Food

Although Chinese New Year is now officially over, I want to make a record of the Chinese food that we have been immersing ourselves in during those two weeks of celebrations.

During the two weeks, the following cookbook was constantly used as a reference.

It is one of the best cookbooks I've found, as testified by the enthusiastic response from my fussy-eater, Tiger, who ate every dish I cooked from the book.  Once again, I modified the ingredients according to our dietary resetrictions.  Sometimes modifying ingredients according to our diet does not work, so I am very glad that it has in this case.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Chinese New Year: Dumplings and Lanterns

After the zodiac workshop at the British Museum, Tiger and I went around Room 33 to have a more detailed look at the artefacts and decided to each draw an item that caught our eyes.

Tiger also learned to make a simple Chinese lantern there, which was really timely for the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节), which is also called the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival and falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  This year it falls on Friday, February 14th.  It marks the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.

Since we are celebrating the 15 days of Chinese New Year, we decided to find out more about this festival.

We learned about the origins of the festival from different clips:

and also about the significance of the lanterns to the Chinese, and to the festival in particular:

We also learned about the riddles that accompany the lanterns:

And how the festival is celebrated slightly differently in different parts of the Chinese region.  For example, the celebration in Beijing would consist of visiting the temple markets, fireworks, and admiring the displays of lanterns:

Whereas in Taiwan, the same festival is marked by the release of Sky Lanterns to the night as a sign of prayers to the heavens:

Armed with all the information that we have learned, Tiger and I decided to make a few lanterns to hang at home to mark the occasion.  We followed the instructions from the clip below to make the basic shape of the lantern

before making a few improvisions of our own:
  1. we added strips of gold cards and gold holographic cards to the top and bottom rims of our lanterns to make them look more like the traditional ones that we have seen;
  2. I stuck strips of yellow yarn to the bottom rim of the lanterns to make them look like tassels that usually line the traditional Chinese lanterns;
  3. I printed out the riddles from Marie's post and cut them into strips using an craft scissors that has interesting patterns; and
  4. I threaded and sewed the riddle strips to the lantern handles with red thread so that each riddle hangs in the middle of the lantern.

Tiger enjoyed looking at the riddles and trying to solve them.  I told him that they are meant to be pondered over for the night, rather than being solved immediately.  He has been slightly tormented by a few of the riddles since they were hung up.

The other significant aspect of the Yuanxiao Festival is the eating of dumplings, called yuanxiao (元宵) in Northern China, and tangyuan (汤圆) in the South.  From what I understand, the Northern version is usually savoury with its filling being marinated minced meat, while the Southern version is sweet with fillings such as red bean paste, sesame paste or peanut paste.

Tiger made some tangyuan following the instructions found in video above.

While Tiger's tangyuans were cooking, I added the packet of commercial tangyuan that we bought from the oriental supermarket on Tuesday to let him make some comparison.  The tangyuans were served in a bowl of hot, sweet soup made from boiling together 100g honey, 500ml water, and six slices of ginger.

I decided to also make the Northen yuanxiao for Tiger to compare them to the sweet tangyuan above.

Yuanxiao (Northern savory dumplings)

  • 50g sago, soaked for 6 hours in cold water
  • 225g glutinous rice flour
  • cold water

  • 225g minced lamb
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablesppon organic ginger wine
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped

  1. Drain the sago in a sieve for 30 minutes and mix with the glutinous rice flour.  Ad the cold water slowly and knead until the dough is smooth.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients for the filling.  Set aside for 35 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough into a long sausage shape, about 2.5cm in diameter, and cut into 1cm pieces.  Flatten each piece of dough and place about half a teaspoon filling in the cnetre.  Carefully draw the edges of dough over the filling, seal and shape into a small ball by rolling between the palms of your hands.  The dumplings may be made in advance and refrigerated.
  4. For four servings: bring about 1L water to a rolling boil, add 1 teaspoon sea salt and any leftover fillings to make a savoury soup.  Drop in the dumplings, one by one, and stir very gently to prevent them from sticking together.  Cook vigoursly until they all float to the surface, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Scoop them into individual bowls and cover with some of the soup.  Serve hot.

Our verdict:
  1. We prefer the savory yuanxiao, which tasted like normal dumpling soup.  Its dough is thin and has a nice slightly-chewy texture.
  2. The tangyuan was dough was overly chewy and thick, which spoilt the taste for us.  However, we liked the sweet ginger soup very much.
  3. We think the harder texture of the tangyuan is caused by adding the normal rice flour to the glutinous rice flour.  Next year, we shall improve our tangyuan by using only glutinous rice flour, as we have done when making the yuanxiao.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Chinese Activities Link Up
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop (2/11/14)
  3. History and Geography Meme: Fun Ways to Use Maps with Your Kids
  4. Educational and Entertaining - Chinese Activities for Kids
  5. Collage Friday - All About Love {and Ice}
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with More Snow
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (February 15, 2014)
  8. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #13

Thursday, 13 February 2014

From Zodiac to Dragon Bones

This year is the Chinese Year of the Horse.  What does that mean?

How did the idea of the 12 animals come about?  Tiger attended a workshop at the British Museum that focused on the traditions of the Chinese New Year.  The workshop took place in Room 33 where the children listened to stories about the Chinese zodiac and identified symbols of the zodiacs in the artefacts in the room.

Back at home, we learned more about the background and details of the artefacts we saw in the museum by exploring the Ancient China and the Early Imperial China websites.

Tiger also verified the story of the Chinese zodiac he heard at the museum by reading the following book:


and watching the following clip:

The Chinese zodiac is significant to the Chinese people in that not only is it a way of keeping track of the passing of each year, each animal is also believed to bear certain personality characteristics that are shared by those who are born under the same zodiac sign -- a similar concept to the Western astrology.  Such characteristics featured strongly in the traditional Chinese society to determine one's compatibility with another in terms of business dealings and even marriage.

Tiger wants to remember the sequence of the 12 zodiac animals so I printed out the template found here so that he can refer to them as he recites a Chinese rhyme to help him remember the sequence.

The following clip is a very creative depiction of the story of the 12 zodiac animals using a combination of Chinese ink painting and the pictograph characters:

Since the clip above got us curious about the development of the Chinese characters from ancient pictographs to the present-day script, we found it useful to watch a few clips on the zodiac characters' developments, such as:

Following that, I made a sequencing and matching game for Tiger to match the 12 zodiac animals in pictures to their corresponding forms of Chinese characters in order of evolution from ancient pictographs to modern scripts,  i.e.
clip art zodiac animals --> paper cutting zodiac animals --> Oracle Bone script (甲骨文)  --> Small Scale script (小篆) --> traditional Chinese characters (繁体字) --> simplified Chinese characters (简体字) --> pinyin (拼音)

The Oracle Bone script is one of the earliest form of Chinese writing.  Its discovery is absolutely fascinating, as shown in the following 3-part documentary:

Looking at Oracle Bones inscriptions (where the bones are sometimes called "dragon bones") also inspired Tiger to investigate the differences between the Western dragon and the Chinese dragon in terms of:
  • different social perspectives between the Western and Chinese dragons
  • different depictions between the Western and Chinese dragons
  • different dwellings between the Western and Chinese dragons
  • different physical features between the Western and Chinese dragons

Being born in the year of the monkey, Tiger felt it would be highly appropriate for him to watch an animated film about his favourite character, Sun Wukong, as a finale to his study of the Chinese zodiac.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop (2/11/14)
  2. Chinese Activities Link Up
  3. History and Geography Meme: Fun Ways to Use Maps with Your Kids
  4. Educational and Entertaining - Chinese Activities for Kids
  5. Collage Friday - All About Love {and Ice}
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with More Snow
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (2/15/14)
  8. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #13

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