Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine Phonics

My youngest son is 4, and has recently shown an interest in letter and number formation. He has been obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine since he was about 18 months old, and likes to draw the engines. In recent months, his pictures have progressed from simple round faces with stick funnels to more complex drawings with more detail and dimension to them. He tries to copy the numbers on to the engines' sides and knows what number each engine is. Since this is his interest, I decided to make an alphabet book with him today. I did this with the other boys in Turkey when they were younger: They wrote the upper and lower case letter onto each page - a page for each letter - and then cut out and stuck in pictures of people and things beginning with each letter from magazines and photographs. So for this little boy, I decided to adapt the idea and make a Thomas Alphabet book. He was so interested and enjoyed copying and forming each letter and then drawing an appropriate character. Today we did Annie, Bulstrode the Barge, Cranky the Crane, Diesel 10, Edward, Gordon and Henry. Just need to slot in the Fat Controller! This is just an example of how learning can be personalised in the informal setting of home, where you as facilitator know the child's individual interests. I am sure my son will learn the letters more quickly this way. He and his brothers have also shown interest in the Alphablocks on the CBeebies website which bring phonics to life.

My elder two boys have been watching David Dimbleby's "The 7 Ages of Britain" with considerable interest. Today they watched the episode on 'The Tudors - The Age of Power', and we are making the most of the BBC iPlayer to access informative documentaries. They enjoy this and seem to remember a lot of what they see. I think their interest in history has come alive. Today they were making super but simple card helmets (using a template we came across) and marching round the house as soldiers.

Yesterday, Table Top Time was given over to science experiments which the boys found in a book. So we investigated liquids and density. Today, sweet pizza was the order of the day, and the boys made large biscuits which they later topped with melted chocolate and decorated with sweets. No two days are the same, and it is difficult to know exactly in which direction the day will go. Today the Gas Board were digging up our street and needed to come in and remove our meter to renew our gas pipe. At the same time, a handyman was drilling a large hole with a super size drill through our wall to vent our tumble dryer .... and then the Tesco shopping arrived. It was a bit chaotic. But I am also glad that the boys get to see different people doing different jobs and to get a wider view of the world of work. We also have times when they have to help me get through the housework that needs to be done. Yesterday, one of the boys actually offered to clean the toilets! Not sure how long that novelty will last, but he was thrilled that he was able to do this!

I have introduced a new 'time' into our daily plan which is Personalised Learning. This is a chance for the boys to do their own work with the objective of giving us all a bit of space. I have been investigating useful websites which they could access independently and at the appropriate level, for example, Mathletics. Some of the sites which require a subscription fee offer discounts to members of Education Otherwise.

I have made contact with our local Home Educator's Group and was sent a programme for the coming months which looks great, so I am really hoping to tap into that. It will be good for us to meet some other families who are on this journey. It seems there are a few in our locality. A second car has risen up our priority list, though as the weather warms up I am sure we will be more tempted out of doors - at least as far as the garden! I read somewhere that whatever they are learning, boys learn it better out of doors. Whether or not that is true, the sky certainly seems to absorb their noise and energy. In my experience, small boys (like dogs) should be exercised outdoors daily!!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Biscuits .... The possibilities!

Yesterday at Table Top Time, we made some playdough, which is dead easy. The boys mixed it, and decided to add red and blue food colouring to make purple dough. My eldest son, especially, always enjoys playing with the warm dough, enjoying the texture and feel of it in his hands. As the three of them played with the dough and the shapes and cutters at the table, plans unfolded for a biscuit shop, so they began cutting animals and shapes to be the biscuits and arranging them on a large tray - similar to those the 'simit' sellers in Turkey use to carry their wares on in the street. (One of the things I am enjoying about home schooling is being able to bring the boys prior experience of living in another culture into their everyday life here - something their school was unable to do - thus bridging their life experiences.)

When the 'biscuits' were ready, they went upstairs and put together their wooden and cloth puppet theatre we to make the shop front alongside my middle son's toy kitchen set-up. They got their toy till and proceeded to sell their biscuits to me and to each other using play money. My middle son very much enjoyed typing the cost and money given into the till and seeing the change displayed.

I suggested they might like to make some real biscuits to sell and actually enjoy eating! So they found a recipe and read it, measured and mixed the ingredients to make a real dough, then later in the day, rolled and cut out the biscuits. This morning we have decorated them with writing icing, and the shop 'role play' has continued with my middle son writing out a few signs for the shop front as well.

This is an example of the way learning through play can develop naturally, and you can see how mathematics and writing skills are experienced within a natural context.

Do not be fooled into thinking our home is a haven of calm and productivity all the time. I should also add that there was a major argument as to whose turn it was to run the shop and sell some biscuits to Grandma and Grandpa when they popped in yesterday. However, I noticed a great improvement in my eldest son's response following this incident, which suggested some at least of what we have been working on in recent weeks is getting through!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Freedom within limits

Today I implemented a much firmer routine with the boys. Straight after breakfast I told them to go upstairs, get dressed and ready and then to report to the kitchen table. They were excited about the timetable they could see on the cupboard, so they quickly did as I had asked and came and sat around the table. I explained my plan to them, which was the introduction of guidelines as to how we spend the day, but within these limits still allowing them plenty of choice and opportunity to explore their own interests and make their learning their own. I was amazed at how positive their response was and how well the day went. It shows how much children appreciate knowing where the boundaries lie, and how they like to know what is expected of them. Today seemed to suggest they will then be happy to comply.

So how is our day structured? Well, we start each day with Table Top Time. Today I did some drawing, my youngest son pottered and my eldest was engaged in several activities, moving from some KNex and Lego modelling, to a maths problem sparked by the question, "I wonder how many minutes I have been alive." (He then worked out how many minutes each of his brothers, myself and his Dad have lived, and expressed a plan to work out the same for Grandpa, Grandma and Great Grandma and enter all the results into the computer so that they can be constantly updated minute by minute ..... If anyone knows how to do that, let us know!)

My middle son made himself a tiny 'Home School' booklet with 'character studies' for each member of our family complete with passport photographs, name, age, birthday, favourite subject, favourite food and favourite things. He did this so beautifully and finished it off in the later Project Time.

After a good hour and a half of quiet, focussed activity, we had a drink and a snack and I sent the boys into the garden for a break. The elder two spent half an hour playing swingball, their younger brother had a good bounce on the trampoline - safe from flying racquets.

We then had Project Time. My eldest son has been making a Triceratops out of Duplo, so he started to make a Dinosaur Fact File on the computer, finding out about Triceratops and looking at pictures to develop his model. Later in the day, he made two more dinosaurs in the same way, and said that he will continue this project tomorrow. Once my middle son had finished his 'Home School' booklet, he and his younger brother were busy building train tracks. He might need a little more help finding himself a project. We had an interesting discussion about African wildlife today, so maybe we could develop that.

After making and eating lunch together, I read the boys a story each. They still enjoy picture story books and all sitting down together to listen. We then went to our local field for a kickabout with the football, and then they took bikes and scooters to a quiet car park not far from us and rode around a bit.

When we got back, they used the iPlayer to watch a bit of 'The Best of Top Gear' we had been talking about, then it was time to do some cleaning around the house, which they all did willingly, one with the duster, one with the hoover; one cleaning the floor, one wiping down the windows. This was great, as sometimes I feel the cleaning of the house is all down to me and, from the boys' perspective, happend 'magically' whilst they have been at school. Then they had a period of 'Free Play' to do as they chose until dinner time. A neighbour and her son came to see us, so my eldest son continued with his Lego dinosaur construction with his friend, whilst his brother played on the computer.

Obviously, the schedule I have planned will vary from day-to-day to include Games Times, foreign languages, music and time outside and in the garden. There are also our usual family evening activities, the clubs the boys attend and our regular commitments outside our home - running the local nursery library, the International Women's Group and Sunday church activities. It is also all very flexible because we need to allow for friends to come and go, and for different opportunities as the weather and our mood and interest dictates.

Anyway, so far, so good. Let's see how we get on tomorrow!