Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Copyright @ 1990 by Mary Oliver. First published in House of Light, Beacon Press.
Reprinted in The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press.

TED-Ed - Lessons Worth Sharing

Have you discovered TED-Ed - Lessons Worth Sharing?
Take the tour @


One of our summer projects was to acquire some caterpillars from Insect Lore in order that we might observe the process of metamorphosis.

We ordered our kit online and, when it arrived, we sent away the voucher inside to order our caterpillars. They arrived a few days later in a plastic pot containing everything they need to eat and grow. Unfortunately, our first lot all died within a few days, but they were under guarantee, so I was able to return the pot and we soon received a replacement. This time we had more luck, and the boys enjoyed observing the caterpillars with their magnifying glass, measuring them and drawing them. They grew so fast!

After 7 days, the caterpillars attached themselves to a paper disc inside the lid of the pot and hung in J-shapes. It was time for them to transform into pupae. It was amazing to watch one change right before our eyes! Later, we carefully removed the paper disc from the pot and pinned it to the netting of the butterfly habitat we had received in our original package.

It was another 7 days before we noticed the pupae darkening and we knew it was almost time for our butterflies to emerge. We were so anxious not to miss it that the boys sat observing one pupa for an hour and were thrilled to see it finally split as a brand new butterfly was born! Truly beautiful, and an amazing thing to watch!

There was a red, blood-like liquid which the butterflies emitted as their wings unfurled, but the notes informed us this was a kind of meconium substance. After hatching, we observed our butterflies in the habitat for several days. We put in fresh twigs and flowers each morning and fed them a mixture of sugary water. We couldn't keep them long, though. It seemed unkind when their lives are so short. The best moment was being able to release them in our garden and watch them flutter away, but not before they landed on delighted little hands momentarily!

Even our toddler was fascinated by this whole process, and continued for some days to go over and look at the pupa disc, then pointing at the sky outside and saying "Butterfly!" Eric Carle's "Very hungry Caterpillar" has become his new favourite book!

We have since spotted a number of beautiful peacock butterflies in our garden, and observed them with new interest! I shall be checking out the Insect Lore website for some of their other observation kits! Recommended!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Life-changing Inventions

I love stories of amazing inventions - both historical and current. Today I heard two really inspiring stories about modern inventions which can make a real difference to real people all over the world. What inspires me most are the inventors' own stories and the way in which their discoveries and innovations spring from their own interests and life experiences. Enjoy!

Alfredo Moser - The Bottle Light Inventor

Britanny Wenger - Teen develops computer algorithm to diagnose Leukemia. (Note: She already won the Google Science Fair 2012 for her artificial intelligence breast cancer detection tool!!

New Curriculum

Fractions for 5-year olds: New School Curriculum

Some say the new curriculum is a return to the 1950s, others that it is not ambitious enough in its targets for primary pupils. Is it just another new set of initiatives for headteachers to implement - whether they agress with them or not, another new curriculum for teachers to get their heads around rather than working on improving the current one? What do you think?

Children given the chance to write computer code is, in my opinion, a hopeful step in the right direction at least!


I have been reading Sandra Dodd's Big Book of Unschooling, and I have found it challenging and enlightening.

Several of her ideas I have already put into practice in our home this week, and I am sure there are others which have taken root and will grow. I am inspired, actually. The book is very readable and accessible, with short chapters which make it easy to pick up and put down. It is actually based on her extensive website, so if you fancy a browse yourself, click here! There are links from her site to others' writings, too.

If I have taken one thing away from the book, it is "SAY YES MORE!" Such a seemingly simple thing. I am trying to do that. Another very practical idea is MONKEY PLATTERS. These snack selection plates have gone down a storm with my boys, and are far better (and more fun) than frequent dipping into the biscuit tin!

I have also taken down a poster of our "FAMILY RULES" which we compiled some years ago and which has been displayed on our wall for ages. Unschooling emphasises principles over rules. This is an idea I have thought about before, following my reading of Alfie Kohn's excellent book, "Unconditional Parenting" (Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason). Rules > Principles ... It may seem a small shift in words, but actually requires quite a major mindshift. Rules, you see, can be broken. You fall on the wrong or right side of them - and face the consequences. Prinsiples are different, more like values. They invite discussion and self-examination. They focus not just on the behaviour, but on the heart and the motivation. I would prefer to be a family who act and speak according to our principles than people who merely follow the rules. Although some of our family rules reflected principles, it was time to change the poster!

I read books like Sandra's and am challenged again to 'deschool' ... So much of our thinking as parents and as educators is shaped by our own early institutionalisation. Unschooling paints a picture of a better way, a way to live freely and autonomously. I am inspired, actually.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Books for Boys

If you are looking for books for boys, here are some my sons have enjoyed (in no particular order!) ... I read to the boys a lot as they are not keen readers. One of my sons particularly likes graphic novels, so I am on the lookout for more of these. I believe there are many titles now presented in this format. They also love audio books, and will often listen to story CDs when they go to bed. "The Hobbit" is a current favourite with our older two, and second son has moved into his big brother's room temporarily, so as not to miss any of the story!! Lots of books are available now on audio. Many of Barefoot Books' titles come with an audio CD of great stories - also useful for long car journeys! If you have other titles to recommend, please leave a comment below!

C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia

The Barefoot Book of Pirates
(Barefoot Books do some lovely story compilations for both boys and girls. They draw tales from many cultures and often the books come with audio CDs. Check out this website for more inspiration and enter code TWENTY13 at checkout to enjoy a 20% discount.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

My third son, familiar with Kipling's original stories, has also enjoyed a series of early readers by Shoo Rayner which we found in our local library based on The Just So Stories.

The Jungle Book, also by Rudyard Kipling

Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Books by Holling C Holling

Little Pilgrim's Progress (Helen L. Taylor)
My eldest son has enjoyed John Bunyan's original work, but this simplified version is easier going!

The Doctor Dolittle Stories by Hugh Lofting

Cressida Cowell's "How to Train Your Dragon" books (These books were the series which really got my eldest son reading!)

The Asterix books

The Adventures of Tin Tin (Herge)

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Dangerous Books for Boys

The Berenstain Bears

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

The Captain Underpants Books by Dav Pilkey

Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs ... Ian Whybrow has also produced a series of chapter books for slightly older Harry fans!

The Kitty Stories by Bel Mooney

The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton

Just William by Richmal Crompton

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Anything by Roald Dahl
The Arthur Stories by Marc Brown
I looked for these because the boys so love the television programme, and the books have also proved a hit!

Some of Dick King Smith's books - particularly the Sophie stories on audio ....