Friday, 26 September 2014

A Few Surprises, Literally

The week started with a creative writing workshop at the British Library.

Tiger and I attended the workshop with much interest.  While Tiger was just generally happy to be out and about and seeing other children, I was curious to see how he fared at a writing activity as we have not done very much formal writing in the past.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Tiger being really engaged throughout the workshop and participating eagerly in the various writing games and exercises, even to the extent of reading aloud his draft towards the end of the session.

The next day Tiger went to the first of a series of creative writing classes held in a homeschooled friend's kitchen.  The class is made up of six homeschooled children, ages 9 to 13, and a tutor who guides them through discussions and techniques.  Tiger says he loves this class for its intimate atmosphere where everyone sat around the small dining table and had plenty of opportunities to discuss their ideas and respond to one anothers' writing.  It also helps that the creative writing tutor is the same man who also teaches Tiger drama at another location, so they are already familiar and comfortable with each other's teaching-learning styles.

The class has obviously been a success, as Tiger came home inspired to write three different drafts followed by two different short stories.  I don't think I've ever seen him write so much and for such a long time at one go.

The good start to the week led to more positive things.  The boy who resisted playing the piano and who hadn't done so for two years suddenly sat and played a few tunes one day.  Seizing the moment, I asked Tiger whether he would like to learn to play new pieces, and he said yes!  So I taught him two more pieces whereby I was amazed at his newfound patience to persevere through the difficult sections to practise over and over again until he mastered them.  Compared to his typical response two years ago whenever we came upon a new, unlearned part ("This is too hard!  I've had enough!"), his sudden willingness to keep trying really took me by surprise.  Needless to say, I am over the moon about this.  I continued to feel really pleased when Tiger practised the new pieces on his own, without needing to be prompted, and couldn't wait to show Tortoise in the evening what he has learned.

Tortoise is of course very happy to see Tiger's renewed interest in playing the piano, so the two of them have been spending some time in the evenings doing improvisations at the piano. 

We also did a bit of maths -- looking at patterns and square numbers.

The irony about having such a seemingly 'great' (i.e. productive) week at the start is that it leaves this mother thinking, "Why can't we be so productive every day?"  Success breeds success, doesn't it?  I was all geared up to give Tiger a tonne of work when I stumbled upon this article that made me say to Tiger, "You know what?  The days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling down.  Wouldn't you rather be in your 'fortress' right now while the sun is out?"

Tiger's "anti-wind, anti-rain, structural fortress".

With that, Tiger spent an entire afternoon and a few more hours afterwards playing in the "fortress" that Tortoise helped him put up at the weekend.  My decision to let Tiger play outside in the middle of what seemed like a terrific week almost certainly disqualifies me to be upheld as the epitome of discipline, I am at peace with it because I am keenly aware that Tiger's childhood is quickly passing by.  I don't recall any of the formal lessons I had as a child but I remember the sights and smells of my childhood playtime.  I doubt very much that Tiger will remember any of the superb maths lessons that I give him or the delightful vocabularly pages that he has to fill in, but hopefully he will have fond memories of hours spent under a big blue sheet of tarpulin on a warm, sunny day.

Still, there are ways to combine fun and learning if one looks hard enough.

At Shakespeare's Globe, again!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/23/14
  2. Finishing Strong #30
  3. Collage Friday - Improve Your Homeschool: Know Your Child's Love Language
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the hair, the clay pots, and the guitar solo
  5. Home Education Blog Link Up #17
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/27/14)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane?

Since we did not see enough air vehicles at the military show and Tiger is most interested in the air combat aspect of warfare (see below for the related books he has read so far),

we made up for the gap by going to the air show at the IWM Duxford.

There were many aeroplanes on display and in flight that day, I'd say the distribution between historic planes and modern aircraft is about 70-30.  That is fine by me because both Tiger and I find historic aircrafts to be more relevant to our history study, but Tortoise is much more fascinated by the modern planes.

For example, I appreciate that triplanes and biplanes were flown at the beginning of the air show so that we could see for ourselves what the dogfights in the First World War would have looked like:

We were astonished at the slowness of the planes, but considering that planes were cutting edge technology 100 years ago (as was the Mark IV tank we saw at the military show), we were able to get some perspective on how quickly military technology has been advancing since then.  The following documentary on the dogfights in the First World War uses CGI to recreate the air combat scenes but there's nothing like seeing the WWI planes in action for ourselves.  The next best alternative is to use the dogfight simulator, which Tiger is allowed to play for 10 minutes each time, three times a week.

The highlight of this year's air show is the fly past of the last two airworthy Lancaster Bombers, escorted by two Spitfires.  Many people stood up and applauded at the sight of the planes that represented hope and victory for the British people in WWII.  As a non-British attending a very nationalistic event where feelings of patriotism run high, I pondered upon the thought of how those very same planes would have stirred up a totally different set of emotions in those on the receiving end of the planes' missions.

There were many different types of planes flown on that day, but the most iconic has to be the Spitfires.  Before Tiger's interest in military history took hold, I wouldn't have been able to recognise this plane at all.  Now, thanks to numerous exposure (via books, documentaries, visits) I am able to recognise the Spitfire from the distinctive sound of its Merlin engine.

The finale was a splendid display by the Red Arrows.  Everybody loves the Red Arrows, which is an acrobatic team of the RAF.  Their presence brought a sense of fun and skill to the show, which was a refreshing way to end the day, having spent four sombre hours watching military combat aircrafts displaying their growing capabilities and thinking about who really benefits from the never-ending military campaigns around the world throughout history.

After all this running around, we really ought to buckle down and do some real work by staying at home next week...

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/16/14
  2. Finishing Strong #29
  3. History & Geography Meme #135
  4. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  5. Collage Friday - A Well Rounded Homeschool
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Officially Have 3 Teens
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/20/14)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Heaven! (for a military history buff)

By looking at my plan for Tiger this academic year, it may appear to many that I am overriding his  interest in military history, or that I am abandoning the interest-led learning environment that dominated our household last year to a more classically-driven environment.  Contrary to these appearances, my goal this year is to find a way forward to amalgamate both approaches to provide Tiger with a rigourous foundation in his area of interest.

It seems that military history is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  To bring the life the information in the books that Tiger has read,

I took Tiger to a military machines and vehicles show to look at and touch the various machines up close and to talk to those who are as keen on this subject as Tiger is.

There was so much to see that we spent a whole day (10am to 6pm) there.  Never in a million years would I have thought I would attend such an event, but there you are, I was there walking around the grounds with my boy for eight hours.

There were so many different military vehicles on display that the many hours we spent were necessary just to look at everything.

A sample of the military vehicles on display.

The best thing about going to such a show is that the vehicles are not static displays but are actually in excellent working conditions so we could see them in action:

I was amazed at how fast some of these tanks can go, so I really appreciate being able to see them in action.

Besides watching the tanks and other military vehicles roll by, Tiger also got to go on a 'tank ride' (it's really an armoured personnel carrier).

Tiger really enjoyed the experience, although he admitted that ride was very bumpy and rather uncomfortable when compared to riding in a normal car.

There were also many soldiers' tents set up to depict the weapons and machinery used in different regions/conditions or in different historical periods:

With bombs and weapons at one end of the conflict, at the other end we find the Anderson shelter.  The one on display there was kitted out inside so we could get a really good idea of the amount of available space inside the shelter:

The site was roughly sectioned into different areas of:
  • land vehicles
  • air vehicles
  • shelters
  • tents
  • weaponry

In the weaponry section we saw many different types of guns and explosives, including land mines.

Many of the displays could be touched and felt, so Tiger had a good time working his way through the various types of guns.  I was fumbling about with a hand gun at a stall where different guns were taken apart and the event-goers were challenged to put them back together, not quite sure which part goes where, when Tiger decided it was too painful for him to watch his mother struggle with it so he asked, "May I show you?"  I promptly passed the gun over to him and watched him assemble it together and showed me how to hold it, load it and fire it, all under 30 seconds.  I don't know where he's learned how to do this but I'm guessing it's from all the military books and documentaries he has watched.

Interspersed with the moving vehicles display were reenactments of battle scenes throughout history, which helped us understand the development of warfare tactics as a result of the advancement of weaponry.

It started off with guns in the Hundred-Year War:

Then the next big leap forward in technology came in the First World War when the British developed the Mark IV.

Tiger has read about the Mark IV tank in the various historical books but this was the first time he came up close to it, to be able to touch it, walk around it, look inside it, and best of all, to see it in action.  Although the Mark IV is very slow compared to the modern tanks, it must have been a terrifying sight to the soldiers 100 years ago when they had never seen anything like it before:

Closely associated with the First World War is the trench warfare.  We saw a few "desmontration" trenches on site. These were not the full size trenches of the First World War but they gave us some ideas of the equipments used and the hardships endured by soldiers who have to fight in that condition. 

From the First World War, we moved on to the Second World War.  The majority of the vehicles and machines we saw on site were from WWII.

We also wtached a reeanctment of a WWII skirmish between the British and German troops:

The reenactment went on for about half an hour and gave us a realistic idea of what the numerous WWII skirmishes might have looked like:

While the majority of the displays were land vehicles, we did see a few planes and helicopters.

What we saw, which we haven't seen anywhere else, was a working life-size plane engine:

It was a very long day but Tiger came away at the end of it saying that it has been his best day out so far.  Tiger's love affair with military history continues.  All I can say is that I am grateful to find such opportunities where Tiger's keen interest is supported and where he can meet and talk with fellow enthusiasts to his heart's content about something that both my husband and I aren't particularly knowledgeable or enthusiastic about.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/16/14
  2. Finishing Strong #29
  3. History & Geography Meme #135
  4. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  5. Collage Friday - A Well Rounded Homeschool
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Officially Have 3 Teens
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/20/14)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Moon, Poetry and Tea

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar.

There are many legends about this festival, the best known one being the legend of Chang'e:

As with many ancient Chinese legends that were originally orally transmitted, there are many different versions of the same story.  The version that is depicted in the clip above differs slightly from the ones that Tiger learns from the books or from the ones I heard as  a child:

I asked Tiger for a narration of the various legends about the festival and he rattled off three superb narrations of the various stories he has read.  I was so amazed by his new-found willingness to provide a long narration that I forgot to type them out as he spoke, so unfortunately I have no record of them but at least I now know that Tiger is able to narrate beautifully when he can be bothered to.

After his narrations, I told him the different versions of the legends that I learnt as a child.  Using these different versions, we discussed about the beauty and drawbacks of the ancient oral tradition to transmit knowledge and wisdom.  I also told Tiger about the lesser known, related stories of:
(1) the only other human occupant on the moon (besides Chang'e), Wu Gang (吴刚), and his divine punishment of having to chop down a self-healing osmanthus tree, and
(2) the Jade Rabbit (玉兔).

These two stories are beautifully depicted below:

As with all major Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival is to celebrate family togetherness with specific symbolic foods.

The food that is specifically tied to the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake (月饼), so called because of its traditional round shape that symbolises the moon, union, and togetherness.

Our double-yolk and walnut mooncakes with date paste.  Yum!

There are many varieties of mooncakes, depending on the regions in which they originate.  The type that is most widely available in the West is the Cantonese type.  Other varieties of mooncakes are explained in the clip below.

Other than the traditional custom of consuming the mooncake as a symoblic festive food, there is also a more political association in medieval Chinese history.  In the 14th century, the ethnic Chinese used the mooncake to conceal revolutionary messages that led to the toppling of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, and the subsequent establishment of the Ming dynasty.

Besides the mooncake, the other symbolic item of the Mid-Autumn festival is the lantern.

In a similar fashion to the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节) that marks the end of the Chinese New Year, lanterns are lit and displayed at the Mid-Autumn Festival, with riddles to be solved.  However, the difference is that the public display of lanterns at the Mid-Autumn Festival encompasses all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours.  Moreover, Chinese children in the Southeast Asian countries also have the additional practice of carrying lanterns in a procession.

The traditional custom is to sit outside in the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival to admire the moon whilst enjoying tea and mooncake.

We stood outside for a short while to admire the full moon and the very bright moonlight.

It has been very chilly in the evenings here so we decided to alter the tradition slightly to suit our circumstance by having a Chinese version of poetry tea in the afternoon instead.

The format follows that of our usual English version of poetry tea, except that:
  • we ate mooncakes instead of scones or biscuits;
  • we drank rose tea instead of peppermint tea;
  • we used our traditional Chinese tea set instead of an English tea set;
  • we worked on Chinese classical poetry instead of English poetry.

I used this opportunity to show Tiger the proper procedures of using the Chinese tea set and to some of the Chinese tea etiquette:

An additional aspect of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the poetic connection, which lends itself very well to the format of poetry tea.  There are many classical Chinese poetry about the moon and the feeling of home-sickness associated with not being able to be with one's family at this particular time of the year, the most basic of which is Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思):

I taught Tiger to recite the poetry, followed by discussing about its structure, rhythm and rhyme, as well as the poet's choice of words.  Naturally, we also worked on its meaning. 

The final piece of work Tiger was to do was to write the pinyin (phonetic tones) for every character of the poem and to write below each verse its English translation in coherent sentences without losing the poetic meaning of the original verses.  He was given the tasks prior to my showing him the clip above so he was pleased to see that he has completed the tasks correctly.  After some practice (and a few pieces of mooncake), Tiger is able to recite this poem fluently in Mandarin as well as translate it instantly.  This poem is now part of his daily memory work. 

Since we have learned this poem, it makes sense to know a bit more about the poet, Li Bai (李白), the 'immortal poet' from the Tang dynasty.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is such a poetic time that this post will be incomplete without leaving you with another beautiful depiction in sand art:

The song that accompanies the clip above is set to verses from another classical Chinese poetry (水调歌头) by Su Shi (苏轼), a famous poet from the Song dynasty.  These verses are more complex than Contemplation on a Quiet Night (静夜思) so we will only learn them in a few years' time, after Tiger has acquired sufficient knowledge of the Chinese language to meaningfully appreciate the sentiments described in the verses.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/9/14
  2. Finishing Strong #28
  3. History and Geography Meme #133
  4. Collage Friday - Classical Education: Making the Transition in Our Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one in which I have a kid who's not a teen
  6. Home Education Blog Link Up #15
  7. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #19

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Hanging On to the Summer

This summer seems to have gone past very quickly.  The first half of our summer felt very busy, so I am glad that we spent the second half of our summer fairly relaxed.  We didn't do very much apart from spending time with family and being in nature, two very wholesome activities.

At the beach:

In the woods:

By the rivers and fields:

I feel slightly reluctant to start Year 5, given how much work we're going to have to do to get up to speed to where I think we need to be.  My plan tells me that will be an interesting year, but I won't underestimate the amount of work that's required to deliver the results that I'm looking for, alongside the constant effort needed to bring Tiger's neurological challenges down to the minimum level.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/2/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Week 27
  3. Collage Friday: When You Have a Bad Week
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where Break Week Passed Too Quickly (Again)

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