Friday, 17 October 2014

Everything is a Mystery

If I remember correctly, the first mystery series that Tiger read was The Boxcar Children, when he was about six years old.  We started with the first book of the series, and Tiger enjoyed the story so much that we bought him the first set (books #1-4), followed by the second set (books #5-8).  Over the next few years, he has read and reread the children's adventures many times over, and I often wondered how I could bring the story more to life.  Imagine my excitement when, on one of our walks, we chanced upon a disused railway carriage, much like that found in the Boxcar Children!


We went close to the carriage, but didn't explore it because although it looked disused, it didn't look abandoned so we figured it might be in the process of being restored by train enthusiasts so we had better leave it alone.  Nonetheless, it's not everyday that we come up close to a disused train so stumbling upon it was quite an adventure in itself.

That set off Tiger's interest in books about adventures and mysteries, so we moved on to the Enid Blyton series, starting with The Secret Seven, followed by The Mystery Series, The Secret Series, and finally The Famous Five series that Tiger has read over and over again, even today.


With his strong interest in all things mystery-related, he took it upon himself to learn all about being a detective and how to solve mysteries...


while I busied myself searching through library catalogues for mystery stories.  Luckily, it seems that everybody loves a good mystery, so I didn't have to look too hard to find suitable stories for Tiger to read.


As I started paying attention to mystery-themed learning opportunities, I found that they are in abundance!  Almost anything can be turned into a mystery!

Take geography for example.  Tiger has had no problem working through the Great Map Mysteries where map skills were learnt through solving mysteries:


Even music-making can take on a mystery theme, as we discovered at a 'musical mystery' workshop at Wigmore Hall, where the children were first introduced to the idea of musical motifs and combinations of notes before they had to compose their own motifs in their own groups and putting the various motifs together at the end of the day into a combined composition.


The workshop was led by a few professional musicians who were assigned to each group to guide the children in creating their musical themes, in part to ensure that the final product didn't sound too "unmusical".

video

As we explored more into the realms of mysteries, we found ourselves getting drawn into the darker world of crimes and murders...

A small exhibition about crime fiction at the British Library

It was at The British Library that Tiger got a first real taste of hunting for clues (by following a trail that took us to various palces at the library) and using the information he collected to reduce who the real culprit was.


Encouraged by Tiger's crime-busting, mystery-solving enthusiasm, I started to look for more mystery-related materials for our normal lessons at home.  In our homeschool, theme-based lessons often provide the necessary variation and "sugar coating" required to get some of the fundamentals done.  Maths is one of them.


Tiger tried out the above data handling murder investigation with much keenness.  When given a purpose (the "why") to solving a numeric problem, Tiger is often more motivated to learn the skills required (in this case, data analysis for Year 9) than if I were to ask him to learn a maths concept without him understanding how that concept has any real-world applicability.

While Tiger needed more help with the above, he is currently happily working on his own through a more manageable set of maths mysteries (see below).


I am aware that there are different schools of thought with regards to the necessity of themed studies.   Some theorists love the idea of using themes to connect all the diverse and seemingly disjointed areas of learning, while others oppose the idea on the grounds that having the teacher organise all the learning opportunities into themes will rob children of the initiative to make the connections themselves.

While I don't go out of my way to organise themed studies for Tiger, I don't oppose to the use of themes either, especially when the learning opportunities happen quite naturally and with little effort on my part.


This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/14/14
  2. Finishing Strong Week 33
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #87
  4. Collage Friday: Homeschooling When Dad is Away
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Frog Guts

27 comments:

  1. Your homeschool always looks such *fun*. Can I come ;)

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    1. LOL. Sure, you'll be most welcomed! It's fun to learn together with those who share the same interests and approach. :-)

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  2. This is great - as a mom of boys I'm always looking for ideas that captures their interest. What grade is Tiger? My first grader is just starting The BoxCar Children and I am looking forward to other Mysterys.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Bonnie. Tiger would be grade 4 in the US system. I hope your son will enjoy The Boxcar Children as much as we did! :-)

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  3. My kids loooove mysteries! I have not seen several of these books. Can you tell me which ones were big hits? I am particularly interested in the mini math mysteries. I am in the US and it doesn't appear to be readily available here, but I might still try to get it if it's awesome! ;) Thanks for sharing!
    (P.S. I apologize if this is a duplicate post; my first one seems to have vaporized!)

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    1. Tiger really enjoys books written by by Anthony Horowitz, as well as the Enid Blyton books. As for the mini mystery maths book, each exercise presents a mixture of skills that the child has to use to solve the mystery: arithmetic, algebra, shapes, graphs and charts. I use it as a fun enrichment exercise for Tiger to review what he already knows, while practising maths.

      There are many alternative resources available on Amazon, if you type in "math mystery", so I won't suggest you to limit yourself to this particular one that we happen to be using. :-)

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    2. Thanks for your quick reply! Enid Blyton books are a hit here too, but I haven't seen the ones by Anthony Horowitz, so we will check into those. I am always looking for fun supplements for math as it's not a favorite subject here (except for me!). Life of Fred and Zaccaro books are the best I've found so far. When I saw "math" and "mysteries" in the same title it got my attention! :) I will do some poking around on Amazon. Thanks so much and I'm glad I found your blog!

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    3. You're very welcome. Life of Fred and Zaccaro books are very good selections for maths, so it seems like you're well on your way in terms of getting fun supplements for your child. :-)

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  4. I agree that many unit studies can seem forced and overdone, but you seem to have a genius for pulling together activities, resources and field trips on a theme, Hwee. I might check out the geography mysteries you mention. And the murder mystery maths looks fun too!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Lucinda! It's not so much of 'genius' but more of putting in *some* effort in planning (I didn't say that it took no effort at all! :-) ), noticing potential learning opportunities, and a willingness to travel. Incidentally, noticing themes and connections is my personal preferred way of learning so that's probably why it seems to come naturally to me when applying it in my homeschool.

      I'd say that the muder mystery maths is about mid-level standard, not overly stretching but just about right to keep Tiger engaged and thinking about certain concepts in a different way from how they are usually laid out in maths textbooks/workbooks.

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  5. This is such a great book list! You really make school fun :)

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    1. Thank you, Leslie. I find it easier to find relevant materials to match my son's current interest when it's an obvious one, such as "mysteries"! :-)

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  6. Hwee,

    You and Tiger have done yet another workshop! You seem to find all kinds of interesting things out there in the community to get involved with. I like the sound of a music workshop very much.

    My children have also enjoyed mystery stories. We have lots of mystery series on our bookshelves though at the moment they all seem to be engrossed in fantasy stories.

    Thank you for all the links. I will enjoy exploring them. You always find such interesting things to use and share.

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    1. You're welcome, Sue. :-) Living near a big city like London has worked very well for us in terms of finding ample educational opportunities, so I'm staying put until Tiger has completed his homeschooling, then my husband and I will probably move to the countryside and lead a quiet life afterwards. :-)

      I've benefited lots from other homeschooling families sharing their finds and experiences online so I'm just doing my bit to give back to the community from which I've learnt so much over the years.

      Tiger has dipped his toes into fantasy stories (via H.G. Wells) but I'm trying to stall his advancement into the fanatsy world and let him be immersed in mysteries for a bit longer. Having said that, we have Tolkien's work lined up for 2015, and those can be classified as fantasy stories, so Tiger doesn't have to wait for very long before he reads a whole bunch of those!

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  7. How fun. What a great adventure

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    1. Thanks, Melissa. There are so many mystery-related resources so it has been an easy unit to put together. :-)

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  8. I should try my mystery fan on Box Car children, I never read them as a kid, so I didn't think to include them in my book suggestions for him.

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    1. The Boxcar children was what kicked off the whole adventure/mystery interest in Tiger. Your boys might also enjoy the Encyclopedia Brown series, which is written for the 8-11 age group, I think.

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  9. This is a fantastic and very interesting post Hwee. My guys also love mysteries but I adore how you have pulled together an entire curriculum based on mystery solving. You are an incredibly ingenious home school mum!

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    1. Thank you, Claire. :-) I think the different parts of the curriculum come together nicely because the theme happens to be 'mystery', which, now that I look into it, there are many resources/materials available with that label. How much actual mystery there is inside each resource differs, but it appears that anything that requires a bit of inquiry and clue searching can be turned into a mystery-related opportunity. :-)

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  10. I am a mystery nut! My daughter read all the Boxcar Children. My youngest son enjoyed a few, then moved on. I sometimes struggle with keeping him engaged in reading, so I really have to keep on top of his interests and change things up when needed. I really believe in encouraging that which is getting them excited about learning at the moment.

    Robyn Dolan, author "The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling"

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    1. Indeed, Robyn. :-) If we can find materials to support our children's interest, they usually learn most enthusiastically this way.

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  11. I think you have such exciting themes! This is such a fantastic study.

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  12. Can I ask how long it takes you to pull together your studies? They always look so enjoyable for your student, but quite intensive prep wise (not that i am opposed to a little research - it is part of the fun of being a home ed parent ;) )

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    1. I usually start thinking about a possible theme a few months in advance. Once I have a theme in mind (that usually occurs after observing Tiger's interest for a while), I then start paying special attention to all materials and/or events that may be related to the theme, even those that are remotely so. It just happens that I've been doing this for a few years so pulling related materials together has become second nature to me. Then I just introduce them when the opportunity arises.

      There are instances when I've made substantial preparations, only for it to not come together, but you don't hear about those. :-) The Marco Polo theme we tried to do last year comes to mind.

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    2. Arrghh, I have experience of that too ;)

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