Saturday, 29 November 2014


It's a strange sight to behold.

The concept of "Black Friday" have always been an American phenomenon that we read about with slight intrigue and a little amusement, that is, until some bright spark brought the idea over here last year.

Suddenly, seeing people pushing and shoving one another -- generally behaving like animals -- all to save a few pounds on worthless merchandise (in my humble opinion), is not funny anymore.  According to the article, quite a few people are prepared to surrender their dignity for a mere £80 (the alleged difference between the normal price and the discounted price of a flat-screen TV)!

These people probably have not heard of the book (a free pdf copy is available here) that I am going to henceforth seek refuge in, in response to the new low in intellectual capacity to reason that is unfolding before me.

Friday, 21 November 2014

A Christmas Curriculum

I'm not going to over-plan this year, as I have done in previous years.  In fact, I am going to under-plan in the hope to avoid the frenzy of Christmas preparation.  The basket pictured below contains most of what I hope to cover in the three weeks before Christmas:

With luck, we shall have some space and time this month to focus on enjoying one another's company as a family (as opposed to busily running around to achieve 'goals' or 'targets').

English, History:
1.  For the month of December, we will be reading through Dickens' Christmas, which contains the story, A Christmas Carol, in addition to all the other Victorian traditions surrounding the Christmas festivity.

Although we have read A Christmas Carol last year, this year we shall read it again and use the related back issue from The Boomerang to support our reading, in addition to learning more about Victorian Christmas in general as part of our history study of the Victorian era.

2.  We are most likely going to have Christmas-themed teatime in December, so we will be looking at a few Christmas poems while enjoying some homemade seasonal food such as:

I expect to use the following book over a few Decembers so we will be working through one or two maths problems together each day.

The Arts
1.  Although we tend to celebrate Christmas in a secular manner, I feel that Tiger ought to be familiar with a few of the well-known carols, so we will learn to sing three of them this December:

2.  Over the course of three weeks, we will look at three pieces of nativity-themed art work:

3.  We will also be keeping our hands busy with the following crafts while listenening to Bach's Christmas Oratorio:

I shall be very pleased if we manage to do everything on this list by the end of the third week in December, leaving the week of December 22nd to enjoy the Winter Solstice and to do some last-minute shopping before we get together with the rest of the family for the big day!

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/18/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 38
  3. My Week in Review #14
  4. Collage Friday - A Flexible Homeschool Schedule
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one before winter break

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Non-Week

This week has been a "non-week", as in, there is nothing exciting or of interest to report.  Tiger has been trying hard to get over his third-time-in-two-weeks cold, so we have been staying indoors and enjoying -- as much as we can muster our good cheer for -- the November weather:

There's nothing quite like a dismal, rainy November week to bring home the reality of my utterly unglamourous life and to spur me on to some form of escapism by looking ahead to December, which signifies (for me, personally) the start of the Christmas season which never fails to bring forth a warm, cozy feeling filled with images of glittering, bright lights.

I don't usually start thinking about Christmas until December 1st, but this week, because it has been so dull, I have taken the liberty to get started on my December/Christmas planning.   I hope to be have a better idea of what we'll be doing in December, and to be able to share our plan in two weeks' time.

We were introduced to Dickens last December while reading The Christmas Carol.  This year I plan to continue to explore The Christmas Carol more in depth (starting from Decmeber 1st), as well as Dickens' other Christmas tales.  We are currently reading The Chimes from the following collection:

I am currently enjoying this little book which gives a good oveview of the Christmas tradition in the context of the larger scope of British history and traditions.  Having married into an English family, I figured it is only basic courtesy that I should learn a little more about my husband's cultural heritage.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/11/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 37
  3. My Week in Review #13
  4. Collage Friday - Interest-led Learning: The Underground Railroad
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one where it got cold

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Transporting Ourselves Through Nature Study

What do you do when the days are short (it's dark by 4:30pm nowadays!) and the weather has been very cold and wet most of the time?  Tiger and I decided to transport ourselves to sunnier places through nature study!

Just to change things around for a bit, I am currently using a new set of 12 nature books that I bought recently as a springboard to investigate interesting aspects of nature around the world.

We have just started on the book of November, and reading through what happens in this month in Europe, North America, and the Arctic.  As we have concentrated in the European (specifically British) aspect of nature study in the past, and Tiger has learnt about the Arctic animals before, he decided to spend his time learning more about the Amazonian manatees,

and the octopuses, specifically the North Pacific Giant Octopus:

As we were reading the information and watching the documentaries, it occured to me that I really fancied some drawing, so I invited Tiger to join me in what I'd call "quick-sketch, no-fuss nature journal entry".  The idea is to spend not more than 5 minutes sketching (I'm aiming to make an entry in our journal, not a frame-worthy piece of art work) followed by another 5 minutes of writing down everything that we find interesting or noteworthy about the subject.  There is no right or wrong answer to this -- it's an individualised piece of work even though we were working alongside each other -- since what we find interesting to write down need not necessarily be identical.  As you can see below, our pages differ greatly in style and presentation.

Increasingly, Tiger is showing that he has very clear ideas of what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, so I see my role as showing him one possible approach to how things might be done; it is by no means the only correct way.  He is free to either follow my example or to do it in his own way.  In case anybody is wondering: Tiger often chooses the latter.

Drawing and writing quickly in our journals is quite an exciting process.  It took away both the pressure to create perfect drawings and the dread of a drawn-out session to make a perfect entry.  More importantly, we concentrated hard for those 10 minutes and felt exhilarated by it.  Perhaps this is the way forward for us, as far as nature journaling is concerned.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/4/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 36
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #90 
  4. My Week in Review #12
  5. Collage Friday - Hands On, Field Trip, and Fine Arts Learning
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that was a lot less stressful
  7. Science Sunday #2: What Can Be Learned When Experiments Fail?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Much Ado About Slime

Halloween has always been associated with the darker archetypes of human consciousness.  As such, I often find that whenever I think of science activities related to Halloween, I will end up looking at something quite revolting or disgusting.

Our Halloween dinner.

We first tried out a science kit that I acquired at the charity shop for 50p, and did a few of the experiments from the attached booklet.  However, apart from the initial fun of stretching at the ready-made polmorphic slide, making our own slime ball, and playing a game of chase with the ready-made bouncy slime ball, I didn't think we have learnt much from the kit so I took it back to the charity shop.  Maybe the next person will have more joy with the kit.

We realised that we learn best by actually making the slime/gloop/oobleck ourselves, in the old-fashioned way, using the tried-and-tested cornflour and water mix:

It is one of those cheap-and-easy way to keep a child entertained for a long time, and to have a hands-on experience with the intriguing transformation of polymer chains, which certainly beats just reading about the properties of polymers from here and here.

From our little success above, we wanted to know what would happen if we scale up our experiment (from using 1 cup of cornflour to using 7 boxes of cornflour).  We filled two-thirds of our tub with oobleck, let it settle for a day and rest a glass bottle on its surface.  The glass bottle tipped to one side after a few minutes, but did not sink further into the mixture:

We then redid the test with a few marbles, one of which promptly sank into the suspension while the others took a little while longer to do so, but all eventually sank in and we had to fish them out with our fingers.

While the sinking of the materials was fascinating to watch, it was the fishing out part that really demonstrated the dilatant (the mixture moves slower when an external force is applied to it) quality of the suspension.

If we had a bigger container (such as a small paddling pool), we would have made a non-newtonian fluid pool that we could walk on, like the one shown below, but we understood the principle behind it from observing what happened to the marbles in the above experiment:

What other gloopy things can we make with cornflour and water?  Silly Putty, of course!  It is really a mixture of white glue, borax powder, water, and cornflour.

Borax is vital to the stiffness of the Silly Putty (as opposed to the simpler oobleck mixture) as borax facilitates the formation of cross-links among the polymers, which in turn creates longer/bigger and stronger/stiffer polymer chains.  Hence, the bounciness of the Silly Putty.

Finally, we turned out attention to the humble meringue, which is essentially made up of sugar and egg white.  Did you know that egg white is about 88% water?  The rest of it is almost all proteins (polymer).  The act of whipping the egg white unfolds and stretches the protein strands (the process is called denaturing), which gives rise to the network of bubbles we see.  As we further whip the egg white, the protein chains will overlap and form a long, stretchy surface, resulting in the stiff peaks that we look for when we make meringues.

We made four different batches of meringues to compare the differences in result when we made a slight variation each time:
  1. egg whites at room temperature + cream of tartar + half a cup of white sugar
  2. egg whites from the fridge + cream of tartar + half a cup of white sugar
  3. egg whites at room temperature + cream of tartar + 1.5 cups of white sugar
  4. egg whites at room temperature + half a cup of white sugar

The results are shown above:
  1. the typical meringue: crunchy, slightly brown, with some air peaks, holds its shape well
  2. similar to the results in (1) except that it has more air peaks
  3. very white in colour, extremely crumbly, no air peaks, more like cookies, does not hold its shape well.
  4. very sticky and flat, does not hold its shape at all.

Tiger writing his science report.

After such hard work (actually, our oven worked much harder than we did on that day with 4x90 minutes of non-stop baking), we relaxed by watching a documentary that explains how various materials such as ceramics, metal, and plastics work.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday #1: Chemistry Lessons
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 11/4/14
  3. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 36
  4. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #90 
  5. My Week in Review #12
  6. Collage Friday - Hands On, Field Trip, and Fine Arts Learning
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that was a lot less stressful

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Scaring Ourselves Silly

This week we have been indulging ourselves scary stories.

Individually, Tiger has been reading horror stories written separately by Ted Hughes and Brian Jacques,

while I have been enjoying reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and following the book discussion that took place at the AO Book Discussion (which can be found by joining the Ambleside Online Forums).

W also let ourselves be entertained by more-humourous-than-scary Victorian ghost stories,

and making a not-so-scary skeleton puppet (named Jonathan by Tiger, in honour of a friend he made at last year's science class):

We also read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow together.  I first read the story to Tiger as a bedtime story a while ago but I decided that we ought to do a little bit more than mere reading to learn more from the story.  Therefore, this week we shared the reading of this story by reading alternate paragraphs to each other and writing down every word that we were unsure of.  We filled both sides of four A4 sheets by the end of the story!  We then looked up each word and satisfied ourselves that our vocabulary has increased through this process of slow reading and not skipping over words that we haven't fully understood.

Following the word study, we discussed the story using the lesson plan here and also watched an animation of the story, which met with little enthusiasm from Tiger due to its inevitable abridgement and adaptation:

I agree with Tiger that much of the beauty and nuance of the language in the original written story has been lost in the film adaptation, even though the above is one that I found to be least offensive in this regard.  Tiger is still annoyed by last year's experience whereby the film version of The Witches made several alternations to the original story, which he found to irritate more than entertain him .  I think that means we shall stay with reading the original books rather than watching film adaptations, suits me just fine.

Although I did not succeed in getting Tiger to enjoy the animation of the story, we did, however, got quite excited when we came face-to-face with the headless horseman!  Unlike Ichabod Crane who could not wait to get away from the headless horseman, Tiger and I gazed at him and walked around him several times (I would have touched him to find out where his head was, if I thought that was appropriate), admiring him and our good luck at meeting him. I certainly didn't know he was going to be there!

We were at the Warwick Castle's Halloween event when we chanced upon the horseman.

At dusk, we entered "The Haunted Hollows" and were greeted by three talking pumpkins:

We took our time and walked the trail twice just to admire the various Halloween decorations that were put to good use.

The event was very well organised, especially after it got dark, where the lighting was used to create a very spooky atmosphere.   We took the "ghostly castle tour" where we were told stories that happened within the castle related to:
  1. apparitions of servants who used to work in the castle and atristocrats who used to live there appearing in certain rooms in the castle;
  2. the links between Aleister Crowley and the practice of Satanism to Warwick Castle;
  3. the secret corridor that led to a flight of stairs where a servant girl, impregnated by an aristocrat, was murdered to prevent the scandal from emerging;
  4. the organ in the small chapel that sometimes plays by itself;
  5. a room where another servant girl was bricked up alive.

Suffice to say, it is all rather grim.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 10/28/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 35
  3. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #89
  4. Collage Friday - Developing the Habit of Attention in Your Homeschool
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with gymnastic team practice, prodigal cats, and car problems
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