Saturday, 28 February 2015

Foreigners are Everywhere!

We have been taking quite a few walks in the past two weeks.

Of the many things we have seen in nature, none was more exciting than the ringed-neck parakeet.

The boys were out in the woods when they heard an unfamiliar bird call that caused them to look to the direction of the call.

This little beauty (originally from India) was difficult to spot, so here's a close up:

We also spotted a squirrel's drey.  It is more than likely to belong to a grey squirrel (native of America) because we do not have red squirrels where we are.

As we walked further along on one of our walks, we saw evidence of a lot of deer activity.

There were a few different types of deer tracks, some bigger than others.

We have half an idea which deer the different tracks belong to, but we want to be sure so we consulted this very useful deer guide which points to three types of deer:
  1. fallow deer (originally from the Mediterranean and the Middle East)
  2. roe deer (native to Britain)
  3. muntjac deer (native to Southeast China and Taiwan)
We have seen the fallow deer and the roe deer in groups in the fields around here, but the muntjac deer is much more elusive and is therefore a very rare sight.  Its presence was confirmed by the droppings I found nearby, according to the Muntjac Field Guide.

At first we thought they were rabbit droppings, but upon reflection (I doubt many people reflect upon animals droppings, but there we are), we noticed a few distinctive features about this patch of droppings:
  • there was no smell (rabbit droppings usually have a foisty smell)
  • they were slightly bigger in size than rabbit droppings
  • there was only one clump of these droppings (rabbit droppings would have been more spread out and numerous over the field area)

That's probably more information about animal droppings that most people care to know, so let's move on to the next set of evidence to deer presence:

See those parts of the branch circled in yellow in the photo above?  Those are evidence of deer gnawing on the branches for food.  The branch was about adult waist height and the type of marks on the branches are that of animal gnawing on them.  Deer usually eat fruit and berries, but they'll sometimes have to make do with barks in winter when food is scarce.

We also spotted our first batch of snowdrops (native to mainland Europe) last week.

The first bunch of them was spotted in a neighbour's front garden, but a few days later we saw carpets of them deep in the woods.

I also spotted a lone hare (native to Britain) in one of the fields very early on a cold, misty morning.  It seemed slightly lost and wasn't displaying any of its usual 'mad March hare' behaviour.

So far, out of the seven things we have spotted, five of them are non-native.  To add injury to the insult, the most unusual creature that we saw (even rarer than the ringed-neck parakeet) was the red-legged partridge (native of Continental Europe).  That brings the native-to-non-native ratio to 2:8, or 25%.

And I bet you would not be able to guess where we spotted this rare bird: on an airfield!  It certainly pays to keep our eyes open at all times!

When we first spotted it, we were not sure what bird it was.  As it was quite a distance from us, we had thought it was a female pheasant.  When we came home and zoomed in on the photos, we first thought it was a grouse, because of its body shape.  However, the page on the RSPB site tells us that it is not a grouse, so we looked into our next possibility, the partridge, and with the help of the RSPB pages, we determined that it is the red-legged partridge, with it distinctive plummage and white chin. 

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/24/15
  2. Finishing Strong #44 
  3. The Virtual Refrigerator
  4. My Week in Review #26
  5. Hearts for Home Link Up - February 26 
  6. Collage Friday: The Well Rounded Homeschooler
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the really awesome snow
  8. Keeping Company: February Link-Up
  9. Science Sunday #18

Friday, 27 February 2015

Year of the Goat

Last Thursday was Chinese New Year's day.  With everything that went on during last week's half-term, I very nearly forgot all about it because there was no hint of it at all where I live.  Luckily, I have written it down on the calendar.  Even more luckily, I looked at the calendar on Wednesday morning and realised that it was Chinese New Year's eve, which means that I ought to prepare a dinner that is more sumptuous than usual to honour the tradition of the reunion dinner, even though it was just the three of us having dinner together that night.

A last-minute panic grocery shopping trip ensued, followed by three hours in the kitchen.  The result turned out acceptable:

The dishes we had for this year's reunion dinner are (with a few adjustments made for our dietary requirements):
  1. Roasted ginger, chilli and soy duck
  2. Crispy Chinese pork wrap
  3. Noodle, rice & pork soup
  4. Spicy Sichuan chicken
The next day, Tiger and I spent the day celebrating Chinese New Year in our own way.  First, we went to the Museum of London Docklands where Tiger listened to a few Chinese myths told by a very engaging English woman.

I always find it slightly weird listening to traditional Chinese myths told by a non-Chinese.  Often, despite the best intentions, subtleties and forms of expression are lost in translation and there is certainly no denying the fact that a mind brought up on the Western traditions thinks very different from one brought up on Eastern traditions.  The experience would be as authentic as having a Chinese person tell the story of Beowulf.  Nevertheless, I am still very grateful to be able to find such opportunities for Tiger to be exposed to one-half of his culture, and for me to feel a sense of connection back to my own culture.

We also watched two traditional dances performed by a Chinese dancer.

The first was a peacock dance, a minority ethnic (傣族) dance:

the second was a ribbon dance, which is a traditional dance of the majority Han (汉族) ethinic group:

Tiger also made a red packet while we were at the museum:

After that, we headed to the sensible place to be on Chinese New Year's Day: Chinatown!

As it was raining, we ducked into one of the restaurants and had a delicious meal of not-quite-traditional Chinese food.  We had the nian gao (年糕) in a fusion, "newly improved" form, and our main meal was the Nasi Lemak, which is a popular Malay rice dish found in parts of Southeast Asia.  Even though we did not have the full traditional Chinese meal, we were very  happy to tuck into what was in front of us.

Finally, I am sorry to say that, due to my poor organisational skills this year, we did not manage to make even one Chinese New Year card to send to our Chinese relations.  It is really bad manners, and would have been perceived equally badly as not sending Christmas cards to our English relations.  Mercifully, our Chinese relations have been very forgiving and accepting of our appalling lack of social graces.

We have since made up for my lack of logistical coordination by drawing something related to this year's theme:

by following the instructions from the clip below:

As always, Tiger has his own idea of what he wants to include in his drawing.  It is not quite what I have in mind as a substitute for the Chinese New Year card (with a fighter jet flying over the goat and a massive explosion positioned strategically behind the goat's bottom), but at least he has the goat in there.

Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated for 15 days, so we still have about a week to enjoy the festivity.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/24/15
  2. Finishing Strong #44 
  3. The Virtual Refrigerator
  4. History & Geography Meme #155
  5. My Week in Review #26
  6. Hearts for Home Link Up - February 26 
  7. Collage Friday: The Well Rounded Homeschooler
  8. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the really awesome snow
  9. Creaive Kids Cultural Blog Hop #24

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Very Full Week

Last week was half-term (school holidays) in the UK.  We kept ourselves very busy with a combination of activities, from which I am still trying to catch my breath.

1.  Drawing
Tiger and I decided to learn to draw something to mark Valentine's Day.

Given the multitude of things that one can draw for Valentine's Day, we thought we would learn to draw a few Art Deco roses:

The result is quite pleasing, although Tiger was happy to leave his drawing uncoloured.

2.  Climbing
Tiger went for his first-ever session of wall climbing and loved it!

I signed him up to try the activity out, not knowing whether how he would take to it.  Tiger was excited by the idea of it, as evident by his thinking and talking about it for days before the actual event.

The wall was much taller than we had anticipated (I had thought that the organiser would let the children who were doing it for the first time to try out 'baby walls' for a start), so I did not know what to expect in terms of how far Tiger would go up the wall on his first attempt.  He made it very nearly to the top.

3.  Reading
We spent a few hours at Tiger's favourite bookstore where he looked through various books before purchasing a few with the voucher given to him at Christmas by his great-aunt and great-uncle.

4. Hanging Out
Tiger's cousin turned 18 last week so there was a big family gathering/party where we saw relatives and caught up with everyone's news, even though we saw one another very recently at Christmas time.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/24/15
  2. Finishing Strong #44
  3. The Virtual Refrigerator
  4. My Week in Review #25
  5. Hearts for Home Link Up - February 26
  6. Collage Friday: Interest Led Learning
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the really awesome snow

Friday, 13 February 2015

Victorian Homes and Leisure

After exploring a Victorian town, we looked inside the homes of the Victorians:

and what they did for leisure:

Even after reading so many books about how the Victorians lived, we feel that we have learnt a fair bit more about the actual home lives of the Victorians from the documentary below:

There are also many Victorian houses, such as Audley End House, dotted around to visit where we can see the interiors as well as some of the toys that the Victorians used to amuse themselves with.

We decided to try our hands at making a few simple Victorian toys:

An interesting fact we learnt about the Victorians and their toys is how simple the mechanisms behind many of the toys are, yet they are full of simple fun and ingenuity, such as the following simple down-the-ramp box that uses the simple principle of shifting weight:

Another example is the simple wind-up toy made out of a spool, a rubber band, and a match stick:

Simple yet very clever, aren't they?

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/10/15
  2. The Virtual Refrigerator
  3. History and Geography Meme #153
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the highlighters and a cool announcement
  5. My Week in Review #24

Saturday, 7 February 2015


We woke up in the middle of the week to this:

It was not a lot of snow, only about an inch, but Tiger had been waiting for this snow for two years (we didn't get any snow last winter), so he was adamant that he was to play outside.  Being the understanding and sympathetic mother than I am, I let him have his way.  Tiger is a lucky boy, considering what some school children have to contend with given the same weather.

After an hour or so outside, Tiger came in to warm himself up with a hot drink while reading a few books to get himself in the right frame of mind to start our lessons.


While we have done a little study on snow before, I figured it wouldn't hurt to do a little review,

before we did a little experiment on insulation whereby we wrapped one same-sized ice cube in a different material (e.g. flannel, paper bag, cling film, baking paper, aluminium foil, etc).

We checked for signs of melting (which would reveal how well the particular material is for insulation) every 15 minutes.  At 30 minutes we saw this:

After an hour, we saw this:

Our result showed that the three least insulated materials are:
  1. aluminium foil
  2. nappy bag (big surprise!)
  3. dish cloth

The materials that provided the greatest level of insulation are:
  1. brown paper bag (another surprise)
  2. flannel
  3. J-cloth

Even though we had very little snow this time, some parts of the country has been experiencing snow storms since the beginning of 2015:

Across the Atlantic, the east coast of America was also experiencing blizzards, on a much larger scale:

The various degrees of snow conditions got us curious to find out the differences among sleet, hail, and snow.  It is quite amazing to know that all of these different conditions came from the same source, water:

As we learned about avalanches from the documentary above, we did a simple experiment to show how larger objects in an avalanche will tend to drift to the top of the heap.

We put several small objects of different shapes and sizes (e.g. a lego man, a round lego shape, a red lego rectangle, an eraser, a small metal stick) into a jam jar and poured rice into it to cover the objects.  As Tiger shook the jar each time, different objects surface to the top, except the metal stick which never did.

As the snowfall was such a rare event and was the first time that it has settled enough to allow for some play, we decided to put it in our Calendar of Firsts for the week as "first settled snowfall" and drew a little snowflake to mark the occasion.

There are many different ways to draw snowflakes but we really like Shoo Rayner's friendly and approachable style so we have been learning a lot from him lately, including how to draw a snowflake easily:

This was followed up by the end of the week with my first sighting of our grey squirrel.  Tiger had seen the squirrel since the beginning of the year, but I hadn't.

That probably just means that I haven't been looking out of the window as much as he has, because the grey squirrel is a regular visitor to our garden.  If you're wondering why my squirrel looks more like a red squirrel than a grey squirrel, that's because I was practising using crayons by following the instructions here:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/3/15
  2. Virtual Refrigerator
  3. Fininshing Strong #41
  4. My Week in Review #23
  5. Collage Friday: Our "Classically Eclectic" Homeschool Week
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one in which I'm hoping for an early spring
  7. Science Sunday: Muscles and Movements in Other Organisms
  8. Keeping Company: February Link-Up

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Look Up!

From time to time, it pays to look up from what we are doing and see what we can see in the sky.  Guess what we saw when we did?  A Black Kite!  The bird, not the toy.

It is one of the rare birds of prey in UK, and a cousin of the equally rare Red Kite.  Kites (the bird) are easily identifiable by their size (they are bigger than other more common birds of prey such as the kestrels and the sparrowhawks), their circling motion in the sky, and their forked tail.

Our luck in spotting relatively rare birds seem quite high lately as Tiger saw a grey heron fly over the house the following day.

As both birds present rare sightings to us, I chose to draw the kite into my Calendar of First while I wondered whether Tiger would draw the heron.  He drew an Airbus A380 instead.

How relevant is this to our Calendar of First?  Not a whole lot, but Tiger drew it at the same time as I was drawing the kite, and both the plane and the bird can be found flying in the sky, so maybe there is a connection here, if we push hard enough.  At the very least, I just like Tiger's drawing and the fact that he has been practising.

While we were at it, I thought it would be sensible to review what happens to animals in winter, and to look into how birds of prey survive in the urban landscape (since we saw the kite in an urban area).

This post is linked up to:
  1. Keeping Company: January Link-Up
  2. Virtual Refrigerator 
  3. My Week in Review #22
  4. Collage Friday: A Typical Week in Foundations
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/3/15 
  6. Fininshing Strong #41
  7. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one in which I'm hoping for an early spring
  8. Science Sunday: Muscles and Movements in Other Organisms

Monday, 2 February 2015

When Storms Get Too Much

For some reason, I had never understood the difference between a tornado and a hurricane, until now when we actually look into the matter.  I knew that both have something to do with strong winds and rain, but that was about it.

The other thing that I was very confused about was the difference between cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes.  It turns out that they all refer to the same thing; the only difference lies in where the wind originates.

We did a few experiments to coincide with what we were learning.

The first experiment has to do with seeing how wind movement varies depending on where it is within the hurricane.  What we did was basically to tie a paper clip to a piece of string then drop the paper clip into the outer edge and inner part of a small glass bowl of whirlpool.

Our bowl is too small so our observation only lasted a few seconds.  However, we did observe that the paper clip moved much faster when dropped in the inner parts of the whirlpool compared to when it was dropped on the edge.

The next experiment has to do with testing different strengths of wind using a "wind tunnel" made out of a cardboard box.  We placed a few items made out of different materials (e.g. pewter, plastic, paper) and had a fan blow at them at three different strengths.

Wind strength 1:

Wind strength 2:

Wind strength 3:

Since changes in weather are ultimately caused by a change in air pressure, we decided to make a simple barometer.

The idea is that it should work like this:

We dutifully placed our homemade barometer and measuring strip outside to wait for the changes in atmospheric pressure, only to find that the strip would not stay on outside due to exposure to the wind and rain.  It is no good placing the barometer indoors because the air pressure inside is not going to change enough to cause the marker to change.  In view of that, we made another barometer, this time placing it inside a bigger jar.

The reason for placing the barometer in a bigger jar is to enable us to observe how the barometer actually works by changing the air pressure inside the bigger jar by pushing and pulling on the balloon cover that enclosed the jar.

 We also learnt a fair bit about air pressure and its relation to temperature from the following documentary:

To understand the scale and destructive potential of a hurricane, we looked at what happened when Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans a few years ago:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Science Sunday #14
  2. Collage Friday: A Typical Week in Foundations
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with sunshine, emerging routines, and vocabulary cards
  4. My Week in Review #22
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/3/15
  6. History and Geography Meme #152
  7. Fininshing Strong #41 
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