Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Homeschool Files : Gardening Plans

Up till now the children have helped in the garden in a very random way but all that is about to change this year as the two older kids, Maya and Noah want to plant their own vegetable patches with full responsibility for what goes in them. 

Maya and I began planning her plot a few weeks ago during our weekly one on one time. I was eager to use this as an opportunity to do some measuring and drawing to scale. I was really pleased with how this activity turned out. Motivated by the idea of concretising her imagined veggie patch Maya threw herself into it, searching out ruler, pencil, rubber and the right paper. 

We decided on the dimensions of her plot and spent quite some time figuring out how best to draw it to scale on her paper. This opened up a discussion about why we use different scales of measure - mm, cm, m, km and mg, g and kg. We laughed about trying to measure the distance to our nearest town in mm or weigh out teaspoons in kg.

Once we'd decided on a scale and drawn the plot, we talked about what she wanted to plant and how to divide the plot into equal sections. We watched a video about square foot gardening and talked about its advantages and disadvantages. Her plot is loosely designed in this style. 

We then calculated how many seedlings she could fit into each section of her plot. This was interesting math because we had to look at the spacing required around each seedling and from that calculate how many could fit in her sections. So for example, while only two salads will squeeze into her 30 by 60 cm rectangles, 130 radishes will fit into the same space. 

Our afternoon spent on this part of her project was really rewarding both in terms of the subjects it opened up for us and the satisfaction it bought. Maya was really proud of her plan, showing it off to her dad and grandparents. She couldn't wait to mark it out on the ground, get digging and planting and watch her plants grow. What more can a home educating mum ask for? Oh yeah, that she please, please pick up her dirty laundry and wash the cat's bowl!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Homeschool Files : Top tips for visiting museums with kids

We've been away for the last ten days, hence the silence on the blog and this week's topic - visiting museums with kids. As home educators, we try to take the children to as many interesting places as time and funds will permit. Sometimes these visits are intended to spark off their interest and sometimes they respond to it. Either way they're a really important part of encouraging their curiosity and opening their minds.

When we lived in Paris we spent a lot of time in museums; we took regular visits to the permanent and free collection of the Museum of Modern Art, went to a different national museum each month on the day they have free entry and took workshops all over the place as a family or with other homeschoolers. And of course there was our annual end of the summer holidays trip up the Eiffel Tower to view the city at our feet as the sun went down.

Living in the country has changed things a little. We do less workshops as they often require a lot of driving to get to. We don't visit art galleries and museums quite so often. Not having a city at your doorstop requires more planning, more time and more motivation. And of course we are spending a lot more time outdoors; gardening, at the beach and enjoying sports. We have visited castles, menhirs and other sites of interest but when we headed up to Paris last week we were keen to make the most of it and give our rusty museum skills a work out by taking on the Louvre's extensive Egyptian collection.
The Louvre is a very big museum and I would recommend to anyone planning a visit there with young children to consider focusing your visit on a particular part of the Louvre. You could also follow one of their children's trails available at the reception or on line. It really is immense. Even though we restricted ourselves to the Egyptian part and had a treasure hunt to follow, we were all, adults included, overwhelmed by the end of our visit. There was just so much to see, so much to take in, not to mention the building itself; its history and ornate decor. 

Having done a lot of this kind of visit with my kids from the birth of my first up to now nearly ten years later, I thought I'd offer my top tips for fun for everyone.
  • Follow their lead. This works with all ages but especially the youngest. Go where they want to go, look at what they find interesting. For us this meant searching out horses for Maya and weapons for Maya in the Louvre.
  • Be realistic about how long you can spend there. Small kids may have had enough after an hour and even older children will be tiring and in need of fresh air after 2-3hrs maximum. Some museums will let you go out and then back in which can stretch this a bit but beware of overkill.
  • Take snacks. I know you're not supposed to eat in museums and art galleries but if you want your little ones to last the times mentioned above you'll need sustenance. Try to pack things that don't make crumbs and our small enough to be discreet - dried fruit for example. 
  • Don't forget water. Many museums are too hot and even if it is for the good of the art it is dehydrating. 
  • Get a plan so you know where the bathrooms are.
  • With small children take a carrier, it's more practical than a pushchair which is heavy up and down stairs.
  • If you have children of differing ages like us, it can be great to time your visit during the youngest ones nap so they sleep during part of the tour or split up so one adult can be available to read and explain things with the older children.
  • Take art materials. Most kids like to draw when they look at art and it can also keep a less interested child entertained while other siblings continue their visit.
So those are my tips. They're the best we've come up with. I wouldn't want you to think that our visits are smooth running all the time though, far from it! At the Louvre, Lotta our youngest moaned the whole way round despite a carrier, art materials, it being her nap time, us having borrowed a pushchair, adequate snacks and all the rest. An earlier night the day before would probably have helped but I think she just really wasn't into it that day. 

In fact our first instinct was probably right - to split up and keep her outside at the park! Sometimes it is wise to admit defeat. Alas we didn't and it was very embarrassing and frustrating as it made it harder for us to be present for the other two who were really enjoying it. Ah well, this is also part of homes educating a family and we can only hope that with more practice the youngest member of the family will get more into museums or we'll get better at handling it. I'd love to hear other people's advice about how they get the most out of museum trips with their kids!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Homeschool Files : Imaginary Worlds

I try not to spend too much time on Facebook, sometimes however, often thanks to creative friends, I stumble across something really interesting. That was the case with The Imagination Tree, where Anna shares lots of her own great ideas as well as links to many other things she's seen elsewhere on the web.

As a home educator I spend quite a lot of time mining the web for other people's good ideas. I feel fortunate that so many inspired poeople are willing to share and while I also like to come up with ideas of my own and am very aware that what works with some chidlren won't suit mine, it is great to be able to share so many resources. 

So today, following on from my previous post about play I'd like to share a new space we created in our garden last week thanks to an idea from this blog that we came to via The Imagination Tree's facebook page. The idea is to create a backdrop for play with figurines or playmobil or why not lego or even blocks but outside, using materials found outdoors. My kids play a lot with playmo and schleich horses as well as small wooden dolls. We have a homemade doll's house, stable and a beach scene (inside a wine crate) for playing with these figures indoors. Creating an outdoor space for that play especially as the days warm up really appealed to me.

First I found some old wooden crates - we keep a lot of them around for starting our fire. I used them to create a little table and then I went about gathering goodies ; a few shells, a hunk of tree trunk, some leaves, interesting stones and a pinecone or two. I explained what I was doing while the kids watched at first and then began gathering their own contributions. I arranged it all on the table and then left the kids to go find some ponies etc and get stuck in

I'm sure this spot is going to evolve over time as the kids make it more and more their own. I'm confident it's going to be a great place both for playing alone and playing together. Oh and it's ideally situated so I can be close by when needed while hanging out the laundry or sitting and knitting or why not joining in too!

A simple table made from crates

Slate, shells and leaves provide the perfect backdrop

The ponies settle in