Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Homeschooling : there's always more to learn....

Because we work by following our children's interests, some subjects are returned to over and over again. When they really get passionate about something they have a thirst for information about it that can be astounding. 

Homeschooling Casles Middle Ages
Scuscinio through the trees

This has definitely been true of Noah and his fascination with Knights, castles and the middle ages. Each time I think it's waning, it pops back up again and we do a new round of hunting for books, finding documentaries and planning places to visit.

Suscinio Casle Brittany
The impressive Tour de Ronde

That's what led us to the Chateau de Suscinio last weekend and a wonderful participative guided tour. Suscinio was not a fortress castle but more of a home although as was current at the time, it wasn't permanently inhabited. The tour we took was all about the different jobs involved in getting the castle ready for the Duc de Bretagne whenever he decided to visit. It was fascinating learning about the artisans, the cooks, the cleaners, furniture movers, etc that worked to get the place up to standard.

Suscinio's treasure
Suscinio's treasure : beautiful floor tiles

Each family was given a role that they then explained to the rest of the group at a pertinent moment during the tour. Our family were the "Les Officiers de la Garde Robe".  It sounds terribly important doesn't it! What it actually meant was that we were in charge of repairing and keeping clean all the clothes and linen as well as taking care of the precious jewels. Not too bad but certainly not quite as glamorous as the title implied. 

Suscinio Floor tiles
Detail from Suscinio's treasure
We learned so much during this visit about the ordinary people who worked and lived there. Once again, I was surprised and pleased to see how much we still have to learn about a subject we already know a lot about. The same thing happens with each new book we find or film we watch. Although there's a lot of crossover, there are always little hidden gems. 

Chateau de Suscinio
Chateau de Suscinio imposing over the moat

Hopefully the children will take away from this the importance of using many source materials whenever researching something. And more importantly that there is always more to learn in life and even when we become something of an expert on a subject, as Noah surely is now in this subject area, there can still be more to learn.  

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Adventures in Natural Dyeing

With heavy hearts the children waved goodbye to their British grandparents last week. We see them regularly and they were with us for two weeks but it is never enough for the children. We all really needed a pick me up so we got in the car and made our way to the lovely Tisserie at Branderion, a small but delightful little museum concerned with fibre, textiles and weaving. 

Homeschooling Fibre, weaving, spinning, knitting
All the different animals who provide us with fiber
Homeschooling fibres and textiles
Really fun guess the animal fibre baskets

I'd signed the children and I up for a natural dyeing workshop and we weren't disappointed. Not only was the welcome warm and the museum's exhibition interesting, the workshop itself delighted everyone. We were eight participants and we covered three forms of natural dye, cochineal (cochenille en fran├žais), indigo and leaves. 

For the first two we experimented with tie-dying using elastic bands and dye baths. 
Homeschooling : dyeing with cochineal
Noah and Maya watch the bugs leak their dye!

For the cochineal, the dried bugs were mixed with boiling water, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda before we placed material samples, one wool, one cotton in the dye bath and left them to soak until the end of the workshop. 

The indigo bath was already prepared. We took it in turns to dip in aprons which we'd contorted with elastic bands. The later batches initially displayed an acid green colour alongside the dark blue but this faded as the aprons dried. 

Homeschooling : dyeing with indigo
Noah dips his apron in the Indigo
Indigo dye bath
Maya's turn
Indigo dyeing with under 5s
And last but not least, Lotta

For the third technique we picked fresh leaves outside and then after placing the leaves under a thin piece of cotton, used a hammer to release their dye. The material was then placed in a special bath with a fixing agent. 

Homeschooling leaf dyeing
Take the leaves
Homeschooling natural dyes
Place the thing material over them
Homeschooling hammer dyeing
And hammer...

The children were really delighted with all the results especially the aprons. The leaf dying really surprised them and they are very eager to try this again at home with other leaves as well as flowers (I'll keep you posted!). 

Indigo tie-dyed apron
The big reveal to Noah's delight
Indigo tie-dyed aprons
Apron's drying

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Five Little Things : Bringing in the Hay

Living in a rural area, we follow what's going on in the fields a lot. From the planting through to the harvest we really enjoy watching the crops grow. Although we may not always be in agreement with our neighbour's farming methods, there's still something awesome about watching a field grow from bare earth through to seedlings and then to full grown crops. 

They're bringing in the hay at the moment here, the large machinery clogging the narrow roads traveling from farm to farm. It's fun to watch but we'd never taken part in it before. Luckily, while on holiday earlier this year, we had the good fortune to meet a friendly farmer who invited the children to join in. They really did have a wonderful time and were able to observe the process and the machinery involved. There really is no better education than hands on experience in this kind of case and I was amazed afterwards at all the details they'd picked up through observation and discussion with the farmer.

One of our objectives when we moved out of the city was that our children better understand the processes by which our food makes its way to our table. Although this mainly progresses through our own vegetable growing, this experience has definitely contributed to their comprehension of the work involved preparing animal feed and why raising animals requires so much land and labour.


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Homeschooling Science : Experiments

One of my favourite things about science as a kid was doing experiments. Adding one thing to another and seeing what happened. Trying things more than once to control the variables. Wondering if anyone would blow up a test tube that day or not... 

As I've documented before part of our science curriculum is covered by the science group the children belong to, a spin off from Les Petits Debrouillards (the little do it them selfers is the best translation I can come up with) but that doesn't stop us from repeating experiments at home and also doing our own. 

Last week Lotta did some chemistry with bicarbonate of soda (alkaline) and vinegar (acid). The first part of the experiment involved mixing the two together and observing what happened. 

Homeschooling Science Bicarbanate of Soda and Vinegar Experiment

The second part was a challenge - take the bicarb, the vinegar, a small bottle and a balloon and inflate and keep inflated the balloon without using air. 

First of all we talked again about what had happened when we mixed vinegar and baking soda. How it made lots of bubbles which were filled with gas. We talked about how we could get this gas into a balloon. We tried a few things. If we just mixed them together we did blow the balloon up but it was tiny. We worked out that was because the gas was escaping before we attached the balloon to the bottle. 

Finally we decided to put the vinegar in one receptacle, the bottle, and the bicarbonate in the other, the balloon. We then attached the balloon to the bottle and gave the whole thing a shake. Bingo! The balloon inflated and stayed inflated.

Homescholing ; inflating a balloon using bicarb and vinegar

Afterwards we detached the balloon and tied a knot in it. Lotta and her brother both observed that it didn't float up into the air a bit like a normal balloon but quickly sank to the ground which enabled us to talk about the gas produced being heavier than air.

All in all this was great fun and enabled us to touch on some important principles of the physical world. 

Top tips for experimenting with children

  • Let them do as much as possible, it's not as fun to watch.
  • Have the kids gather the materials you'll need where at all possible. 
  • Try to resist edging them towards the right solutions, you can learn a lot from trial and error and this is one of the founding principles of all scientific process. 
  • Encourage them to be observant. Questions like what do you see? what's happening? are good prompts.
  • Repeat as many times as they want if you're able to. In my experience if they're asking to do something again it's that they still have something to learn from it even if you feel they've 'got it'. This is also true if they ask to do something again months or even years later. Perhaps in the meantime they've acquired new knowledge that will fuel their understanding of what's happening. 
  • Challenges are a fun way to get the kids doing it themselves and trying out different things. 
  • If you're working with more than one child they can each try their own way either at the same time or successively. This is a good way for kids to see how other people think and problem solve.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Five Little Things : Bounty

There's a lot coming in from the garden at the moment. Added to that we made time to get to the Pick Your Own farm this week and came home with just over 4kilos of strawberries. Like all the end of the year parties (pottery, climbing, riding etc) it's kept us busy and away from other things but it is so good to revel in the best of what the season has to offer. Strawberries simmering....

An immensely satisfying stack of jars filled up with homemade strawberry jam...

For the jam, I followed two recipes from the wonderful Canning for a New Generation, the simply diving Strawberry Preserves and my personal favourite the Strawberry and Lavender Jam, with lavender from our own garden. 

Of course the kids wanted to enjoy some of the strawberries other than in jam so we saved enough for a yummy Charlotte... (apologies for the terrible quality of this picture, three hungry beggars did not want to wait!)...

And as if all this strawberry goodness wasn't enough, Maya made us this beautiful salad with home grown Rocket and Borage, a delicious edible flower that brings a lot of bees into the garden promoting pollination across our veggie patch....

Rocket and Borage Salad

It seems to me that really relishing the food each season has to offer us is one of the most important ways we honour nature and fill our children with passion and awe for the wonder that is our planet and how it provides for all living things. 

Five Little Things : Keeping us Busy

Such a special relationship

It's been a busy few weeks here. Visitors and end of the school year festivities have kept us busy. Yes even though we home educate we still get caught up in the over busyness of end of term time with lots of parties and events on our calendar. 

One of the things that's been keeping us busy all year really but especially the last few weeks has been Maya's Pony Club activities. She goes three times a week which already means a lot of our time is organised around this activity and has also begun taking part in competitions on Sundays. 

We've been really pleased that she's found a home away from home where she can grow her passion. She's made a band of friends, found other role models to learn from and made herself useful and welcomed in an environment outside of the home. It's really been a delight to see how horse riding and particularly her club l'Etre Cheval has allowed her to blossom and grow. Here are some pictures from last Sunday's dressage competition where not only did she have fun but also excelled at something she loves.

Maya and Janed take third place !

Horsing around with pretend ponies
Nervously awaiting the results

In front of the judges (in the car)


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Riverside : Finding Inspiration in Nature for Homeschooling and More

With the recent spell of very hot weather, we've been spending a lot of time down by the river, sharing picnics, trying our hands at fishing and dipping our feet into the wonderfully fresh water.

We are lucky to live within walking distance of the Blavet which is a reasonably long river running from central Brittany right down to the coast where it spills into the sea at Lorient. It's used for electricity and so there are frequent locks as well as a great cycle path all along what must have at one time been a tow path. Sadly there aren't a lot of boats on the river these days. Each lock used to be manned by someone living in an adjacent house but as the old lock keepers are retiring the houses are falling empty. The electricity company no longer sees any interest in filling these posts. Now if you want to pass a lock you have to phone 24hrs in advance to let one of the two lock keepers working the river's 150km long flow know to come and meet you. When the children and Frank were lucky enough to see a boat going through last week and talked with one of these two lock keepers, he explained that this had really reduced boat traffic as it requires a lot of organisation and a lock keeper basically moving along the river with you from lock to lock of which there are 28 in total over a distance of just under 60km. A lot of work for everyone I imagine. 

What you do see are a lot of cyclists, fishermen and especially in the school holidays, kayaks. And of course hirondelles, fish, birds of prey and on one memorable evening picnic last week tiny little  baby toads. 

We must have seen a few hundred of these fellows and the sight was truly captivating. Jumping around in the river's muddy edges, jumping up the grassy bank, the wooden steps down to the jetty and even over the cycle path. We had to keep our eyes on our toes to avoid squashing any. Here's an idea of how big they were so you can imagine what a difficult task this actually was:

The children even found one with a missing leg that they were desperately worried over. We discussed taking him home but all agreed we didn't really know how to take care of him and that he wouldn't have much of a life in a tank at home. It seemed best to just let nature take its course. They really were very cute. My camera couldn't get a good enough close up to really do them justice but here's a picture off wikipedia that shows one off a bit better and gives an even better idea of scale.

I'm constantly amazed by how nature offers herself up to us, sometimes something familiar and sometimes something completely new like this. I feel as though after three years, we've suddenly rediscovered the beauty in our own back yard so to speak down by the river. Plans are now fermenting to make a field study of a small area of the river, photograph it, draw it, note what we see at different times of the year. I'm also planning a geography project researching the river. Now I just have to hope the kids will be as enthusiastic about this as I am! And of course I've got a poem or two out of all this too. Here's hoping you find something to amaze you on your own doorsteps this week and may it inspire you as much as it has us.