Category Archives: Home education

Magic Science Kit – Review

On Tuesday afternoon our friends from 3 Kids and a Gluestick came to our house to test the Science kits we had been given at the Junior Scholars event on Saturday.

magic science kit 1

The kit we chose was Magic Science, because the children love pretending to do Magic shows, and any practical Science activities are always popular, so it was the perfect combination.

magic science kit 2

The full price of the kit is £12.99, and it is currently on sale on the Junior Scholars website for £11.99.  The kit includes ten activities, so I think that is very good value for money.

magic science kit 3

The kit contains a detailed and informative leaflet, with advice for supervising adults, safety rules and information, a history of wizards and clear instructions for completing each of the activities.  The history of wizards feels a bit random among the practical information, but it is quite good fun!

magic science kit 4

Once the safety goggles had been thoroughly tested and modelled by several of the children, we got started on making our shimmering purple magic wand!

First we dropped a blue colour tablet into a test tube of water, then we added a red colour tablet to make the water turn purple.

magic science kit 5

Next, we put in a teaspoon of polyacrylamide, and at that point we had to wait for an hour for the crystals to soak up all the purple water.

magic science kit 6

In the meantime, we started on another activity called Fizzing Frenzy.  First we mixed citric acid and bicarbonate of soda in a test tube, and then we poured water in.  As you can see from the video, the children were suitably impressed!

Later, when the purple crystals were ready we played with them for a bit and then used them to fill the wand tube.

magic science kit 7

We have had many Science kits over the years, and I would recommend this one as it is particularly good value for money.  It has plenty of activities, a large number of items included and very clear instructions.  There is also an explanation of the Science behind each activity.  Thank you, Junior Scholars, it’s a great success!

We were given the kit for free by Junior Scholars.  All opinions are our own.

CVC Word Activity Sheets

Rabbit is making very rapid progress with her reading and writing at the moment, as she is suddenly much more interested.  I’m glad I held my nerve and didn’t put any pressure on, even though she is grasping it about a year later than the boys did.  It is lovely to watch her getting excited about it – learning at your own pace is so much more fun!

cvc word activity 1

I printed off some CVC word activity sheets from twinkl, knowing that they would be very easy for her.  I wanted to try out this type of activity with her, without it being too challenging, and it was perfect.  She did all the sheets in one day and really enjoyed them, so we’ll be back to look for more tricky ones soon.

cvc word activity

cvc word activity 2

We’ve also been making and playing a compound word game using more lovely twinkl resources – blog post to follow when I manage to take some pictures of the children playing it!

We were given a free subscription to twinkl premium for the purpose of reviewing this and other resources.

Gruffalo Story Sack

We have made story sacks before, but not for a long time and I’ve been meaning to do some more, so I was really pleased when I found this excellent resource pack while browsing on twinkl.  We love the Gruffalo, and have read it hundreds of times over the years.  It has stood the test of time, as it still appeals to all the children now, so I knew it would be a good one to get them all involved in.  Since Monkey has decided that Friday should be book day, we have set aside time on the last couple of Friday afternoons to make and play with our Gruffalo story sack.

Gruffalo 5

One day I might get round to making a beautiful drawstring bag for our story sack, but for now we are using a pillowcase!  I do, however, have a nice little bag for some of the smaller pieces – I can’t claim the credit as it was made by a friend and given to us years ago when Owl was very small.

Gruffalo 1

In our story sack, we have two copies of The Gruffalo, a board book and a much-loved, dog-eared paperback.  We also have a copy of The Gruffalo’s Child.  I have added some non-fiction books about owls and mice.  I thought we had one about snakes but I can’t find it, so maybe I was too ruthless in my clear-out in the summer holidays – on the other hand, it might turn up.  We have a lot of books in this house which is wonderful, but it can make it hard to find the one you want sometimes!

We also have some conkers in the picture, which is a bit random but they were on the table at the time and we thought they were quite appropriate for a woodland story and fun to play with.  We might keep a few in our story sack, and maybe add some acorns and nuts.

We have cut out and laminated the word mat and describing words, story scenes and characters, and also the animal masks, though we haven’t added elastic yet.  Owl made and laminated the names of the characters, and gave them to Rabbit and Monkey to match with the animals.

Gruffalo 2

Owl and Monkey played with the story scenes, and Monkey made a tree to add to one of them.  It’s a really lovely way of retelling and talking about the story, and I need to do it with Tiddler as well when he is in the mood, as he loves telling stories!

Gruffalo 3

The big three children then drew pictures and labelled them using the word mat.  This was obviously easy for the boys, but Rabbit really made use of it, working out how to write “owl ice-cream” and “mouse on bread” without any help, so it was perfect for her.

Gruffalo 4

We had also printed out the colouring pages, and the big three did one each.  Tiddler coloured in two (the mouse and the snake) and I was really pleased with his concentration and effort – he took it very seriously, especially the mouse’s tail for some reason!

We have really enjoyed making our story sack, and it has sparked off lots of creative ideas so I’m sure we’ll be adding to it.  Monkey made a brilliant model of a tree which somehow didn’t make it to the photos, so we might continue that and make some 3D story scenes.  It has also reminded Monkey that he really really wants a Gruffalo cuddly toy for Christmas.  He’s asked for one several times before, and now that we have made our story sack I think we might be getting one!

We were given a free subscription to twinkl premium for the purpose of reviewing this and other resources.

New Heinemann Maths Books – Review

In common with many home educators, my approach has become less structured over the years.  The children benefit so much from time to play, read, write, create and get wet and muddy outdoors, and I don’t want to interfere with that too much.  I haven’t quite gone down the autonomous route, though I think that’s more about me than the children.  I like a bit of structure, a bit of visible progress, but I’m well aware that the real learning happens mainly elsewhere.  So I try to strike a balance, and the children have plenty of freedom, but we do tend to do a bit of formal Maths and English (among other subjects) several days a week.

There are many ways to learn and practise Maths, and using workbooks is only one of them.  It’s probably not a good idea to get too hung up on them, but they have their place, and there are some really good ones among the droves of mediocre versions.  A lot of the most commonly available workbooks are too busy and cluttered looking, with very little content and generally a waste of money, so I was really pleased to be offered the chance to review these ones from the excellent New Heinemann Maths series instead.  They were sent to us by Junior Scholars – more about them to follow as we have since been to a lovely bloggers event at their shop in Watford.  But for now, back to the Maths books…

nhm maths books

Owl was sent the assessment book for (the end of) Year 5, which is the school year he would have just started, and he has completed the first few pages easily.  I rarely seek to compare their work with school levels, as I don’t think it matters in the long run, and it is much better for children to learn at their own pace.  However it is obviously nice to discover by chance that he seems to be well ahead!

nhm assessment bk 5

Monkey received the Year 3 assessment book.  Although he is not as confident as Owl, with a little encouragement he completed a couple of pages – he needed hardly any help, although he thought he did!  So I’m pleased with what he can do, and I just need to find some ways to help him believe in his ability.

nhm assessment bk 3

Rabbit has been given five year 1 activity books, and she chose to start working on one about Shape, Measure and Data Handling.  She completed the first section about 3D shapes easily and confidently.

nhm shapes

We had fun assembling a collection of 3D shapes from around the house too!

3D shapes

I am really pleased with the New Heinemann Maths series because they are simple, clear and easy to use, while covering a lot of detail.  Highly recommended 🙂

We were sent the workbooks by Junior Scholars free for the purpose of this review.


Poo! What IS That Smell? – Review

We’ve been sent another great book to review by Macmillan – Poo! What is that Smell, written by Glenn Murphy and illustrated by Laura Murphy.  In fact, I’ll be honest, we were sent it a little while ago.  We started reading it, then lost it, then found it just as I was starting to panic and think I would have to get on and buy myself another copy.  Anyway, after that false start we are loving it.  The title is perfect for catching children’s attention, and the book doesn’t disappoint.  It is full of really detailed Scientific information, but very readable and entertaining.

Poo! What is that smell

The book has a chapter on each of the five senses, and so far we have been reading the first chapter which is about Sight.  I asked the children to recall one fact that they had found interesting from the chapter and draw a picture.  Owl and Monkey both chose to illustrate the reason why zebras have black-and-white stripes.  “It’s so they can hide among each other.  A herd of stripey zebras presents a confusing optical illusion to lions and hyenas.  The stripes disguise the outline of each animal in the herd, making it hard to tell where one zebra ends and another one begins, or which way they might be facing.  This makes it especially difficult for their predators to select a target, let alone predict which way they might run once the chase begins.”

Animal drawing 1

Don’t ask me why there are rabbits flying overhead, and animals holding up umbrellas to protect themselves from their droppings.  All I can say is that the boys found it very amusing, and I hope it helps them to remember this Science fact!

animal drawing 2

Rabbit was interested in the fact that some animals can see different colours, or types of light, because they have more types of cone cells in their eyes.  “Many birds, for example, can see ultraviolet (UV) light.  This lets them see patterns of light on flowers, trees and grassy hillsides that are invisible to humans.  Snakes, meanwhile, have extra cone cells that can detect invisible, infrared (IR) light given off by warm objects.  With this special, snakey , super-vision, a pit viper can pick out the warm body of a quivering mouse in complete darkness.  Good news for the snake; bad news for mousey…”

animal drawing 3

I am really enjoying reading this book to the children, and I’m learning a lot too!

We were sent the book free of charge for the purpose of this review.

Maths with Lego Education and Twinkl

For this month’s education carnival, Jax has asked for posts about favourite educational resources.   That is such a huge topic that it’s hard to narrow it down.  There are so many resources that I love and use regularly.  Online, there is Twinkl for printable activities, Reading Eggs and other interactive learning programmes, and some great free sites such as Maths is Fun, BBC Bitesize and NASA kids to name but a random few.  Then there are books – fiction and non-fiction.  We have thousands of them, and I wouldn’t know where to start in picking our favourites.  Even if I could, that would definitely be a blog post of its own – or several.  We also have some good text books (Galore Park) that we use as a focal point for certain subjects, and a variety of workbooks which can be useful, though I wouldn’t recommend getting too hung up on them.  There is also a whole world of resources outside the home – museums, parks, National Trust properties, castles, beaches, woods, farms, libraries, sports clubs, home education groups and in our local area an ecology centre and lavender fields.

So I thought about all that for a while, then I started thinking about the subject-specific learning resources we have at home.  Our house is overflowing with art and craft materials and kits.  We have Mr Maker-style doodle drawers for paint, brushes, pots, collage materials, recyclable materials for models and so on.  Then we have several large boxes of Hama beads (Maxi and Midi) – we get ours from Craft Merrily.  We have Science kits, magnifying glasses, a microscope, bulbs, wires and buzzers, torches and magnets.  Then there are magnetic letters, letter tiles, flash cards, and games like Banangrams and Scrabble.  Maths is the subject for which we probably have the most specific resources.  We have magnetic numbers, number tiles, number templates, Maths card games and board games, Multilink cubes, base 10 materials, Cuisenaire rods, number fans, fraction magnets, counters, dominoes and dice.  It was really hard to choose what to write about, so I used the random selection method of picking the most recent photographs of educational resources in use – and here they are.

Lego Education

This is a Lego Education set (which we found on eBay) of number tiles, operation tiles and blank tiles and two white base boards.  They are also compatible with our two large Duplo base boards as well, which is very useful with four children.  We have used coloured stickers on the blank tiles so they can be used for matching and sorting activities.

Last week we got the set out for the first time in a while, and I gave it to the children without any instructions just to see what they would come up with.  I really enjoyed seeing the variety of ideas they had.  Owl and Monkey made lots of sums, using the four operations and the less than and more than symbols, then combined some of them to make a number crossword.  Owl then ordered the tiles from 0-9, started at 0 again and repeated the sequence over several times, and then observed the patterns of numbers reading down the columns.  Meanwhile Rabbit made a few sums but spent most of her time using the tiles with the coloured stickers on.  She sorted them by colour and then by number, and then matched the number tiles 1-6 to the corresponding sets.  She also used them to make pictures (a robot made out of a box, and an aeroplane!)

All of that was without any input from me, apart from explaining the less than and more than symbols to Monkey.  The next time we use them, I might add in a few suggestions of my own but I wanted to see what they came up with first.  These are some of my ideas:

  • Print off some Number Digit Cards from twinkl and use them as target numbers for the children to make sums using the letter tiles.
  • Use Duplo bricks and build towers, then place the number tile on top, or next to it, corresponding to how many bricks have been used.
  • Also with Duplo bricks, make towers of two colours (e.g. three red and seven green) and then use the tiles to write the sum (3+7=10) to practise number bonds.
  • Give the children a selection of number tiles to order, then follow up with a Number Ordering activity from twinkl.
  • Sort small objects (Hama beads, Lego bricks, Multilink Cubes, counters) into sets to match each number.
  • Use the tiles (and possibly bricks as well) to make bar charts.
  • Leave the boards lying around with some sums on and see who chooses to answer them!

Any more ideas welcome 🙂

Settling in to a new term – with a little help from twinkl

It’s taking us a while to get back into term-time mode this September.  We spent the first week on holiday in Wales, and this week we have been staying at my mum’s house.  The children have been gently getting back into a bit of a routine and doing a little more written work than they have over the summer.   I have been starting to think and plan a bit about what we might do this term.  I don’t do written plans, because it makes me too focussed on ticking things off when I should be going with the flow and following the children’s ideas.  (That is basically my problem with the National Curriculum in a nutshell!)  However, I do like to look ahead and come up with a few ideas for the term which I can fit round whatever else my very creative children come up with.

I have been browsing on the lovely twinkl website again, and getting excited about their excellent range of resources, so I thought I would share some of my favourites here.

  1. Gruffalo Story Sack Resource Pack
  2. CVC Word Activity Sheet Pack
  3. Compound Word Matching Game
  4. Toy Shop Bingo
  5. Number Playdough Mats
  6. Colours of the Rainbow English French Spanish and Italian
  7. Leaf Hunt Checklist
  8. Book Review Worksheet
  9. Invention design sheets
  10. World War Two Letter Writing Challenge Cards

We have been given a free twinkl premium subscription in order to review the resources, so I’ll let you know how we get on!

Not Back to School: Why we love Home Ed

I have been meaning to write a post about why we home educate for a long time, so I was really pleased when I heard Jax was planning a Not Back to School Home Education carnival.  And even more so when she kindly provided some questions and prompts to get me started.

Why do you home educate?

As a teacher, I was already disillusioned with the school system before I had children, so when Owl was born I knew I would prefer to home educate.  However, I didn’t know anyone else who was doing it at the time and it seemed hard to imagine taking the plunge.  So we tried school when he was a little over four years old.  It was a bad experience, he wasn’t happy and I wish it hadn’t taken us four terms to decide to take him out – such a lot of wasted time.  But ever since he left school he has been much happier, and we have had a lot of fun together, so we have just continued in the same way with the other children who have never been to school.

There are so many benefits of home education for us that it would be impossible to list them all here.  In no particular order here are some of them: freedom to follow the children’s interests, much more time to play, more efficient and in-depth learning, friendships with other home educating families, more family time together, less stressful mornings and evenings, visiting attractions when they are quieter and going on holiday in term-time.

How do you home educate?

We make it up as we go along!  Our approach would probably be described as semi-structured.  We have some text books and work books, we also do topic work which is often suggested by the children and we read, read and read some more.  We do lots of art, craft and cooking.  We spend as much time outdoors as we can and join with our home educating friends for lots of outings and activities.  And we play a lot.

Is there anything you’d do differently if you did it all again?

Home educate from the beginning.

What’s your favourite resource/book/website?

My two favourite home education blogs are Live Otherwise (and I’m not just saying that because this post is for Jax!) and Patch of Puddles (which I still count as a home education blog even though the Puddle chicks are currently at school.)

The book that helped me decide to home educate was Free Range Education edited by Terri Dowty.  I also like Learning without School by Ross Mountney.

What’s the daftest question you have ever been asked about home education?

There are so many competing for this one it’s hard to choose, but it would probably have to be “What about socialisation?” My children have so many friends and such a busy social life that the challenge is managing to have a quiet day at home together occasionally.

Advice for those who say…

“…I’d love to home educate but I don’t have the courage.” Try it and the chances are you will love it and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.  If not, the schools will still be there.

“…I wouldn’t know where to start.” Start with whatever your child is interested in and go from there.  It really doesn’t have to be complicated.  Find some local home educators and see how they do it.

“…We can’t afford it.” This is the hardest one.  It is an issue for almost every home educator, but we manage, and there are some inspirational home educating single parents putting the rest of us to shame with their financial juggling skills.  If your child is seriously unhappy in school you will be motivated to find a way, but why let it go that far?

“…I could never do Maths.” You almost certainly could, but if you really don’t want to you could hire a tutor (if you can afford it), use learning websites (there are plenty of good ones) and/or rope in a friend/ family member/ another home educator to help you with the subjects you are less confident about teaching.

Typical day photos…

We don’t really have a typical day and certainly not in the summer, but this might be a good place for some random summer highlights.

Summer Highlights 1

Summer Highlights 2


What would your perfect home ed life look like?

I am so tempted to say we would live in a yurt in the middle of nowhere but I suspect that’s not really true.  On a farm would be good, though I’d probably make a terrible farmer.  Or maybe the opposite extreme – I’d quite like to live in Cairo again.  But we are so lucky with what we have and where we live that I should probably stick with the here and now and be grateful.  So my perfect home ed life would look pretty much like the one I am living… but maybe a bit less busy!

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts

We have been sent another lovely book to review by Macmillan and this one has inspired us so much that it was hard to know when to write this post as we have more ideas we would like to follow up.  However, we have had the book a while so I thought we should let you know what we think of it, and what we’ve been up to so far.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Beasts by Emily Gravett is a picture book with a difference.  It is the follow up to the multi-award-winning Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears which was published in 2007.

Book of Beasts 1a

Little Mouse has found a book about the world’s most terrifying and ferocious beasts, but they are all a bit too scary for him.  So he changes the book to make it less frightening.

Book of Beasts 2 (2)a

He gives the lion some pretty mittens to cover up his sharp claws, and removes his loud roar.

Book of Beasts 2 (3)a

He removes part of the instructions for making an origami shark, and adds his own for making an origami mouse instead.

Book of Beasts 2 (4)a

The rhinoceros is given a selection of dainty shoes.

Book of Beasts 2 (5)a

The jellyfish is crossed out and replaced with a dish of jelly.

Book of Beasts 2 (1)a

And at the end, the mouse is cleverly transformed into a monster using parts he has torn from the previous pages.

When I first shared the book with the little ones (aged three and five) I think they were a bit bemused, and I felt I had to do a lot of explaining.  The older boys (aged seven and nine) liked it immediately, so I thought it might appeal more to this age group despite being a picture book.  However, the younger children did enjoy it and it definitely grew on them.  I liked it because it sparked off so many ideas for activities we could do together.

We talked about how it would be fun to draw our own pictures of animals with a difference and we decided to play heads, bodies and legs (like consequences but with pictures.)

Heads, Bodies and Legs

Then we decided to have a go at some origami.  First we made some origami planes using an excellent kit from Djeco.

Origami Planes

Then Rabbit and I tried out the much more fiddly Safari Origami kit from 4M.  We just about managed the butterflies and birds which are for beginners but quite hard.  We haven’t tried the rest of the animals yet but we will!

Origami Animals 1a

The following day we had another go with the much easier Djeco origami animals kit.

Origami Animals 2a

Next, Owl wants to try following the origami instructions in the book to see if they work.  Will they make a shark or a mouse or something else?!

And we are also planning to draw some animals and then change them in the way the Little Mouse has done.  That should suit all the children, as the older ones love drawing and the little ones love cutting and sticking!

So what else would you do?  Any more ideas gratefully received.  I have a feeling that this book is going to be keeping us busy for a while!

The book was given to us free to review.  The origami kits were our own but I have linked to Craft Merrily because that is where I would go to buy Djeco products.

Paint, glitter glue and bug hunting

On Wednesday, we had home education group at our house again.  I was anxiously watching the weather, as I had planned a messy painting activity and was hoping to be able to do it in the garden.  Jennie asked earlier in the week if people could do some pink and purple messy play in the week leading up to Matilda Mae’s Mile in Memory walk which is taking place tomorrow, so I stocked up on pink and purple art and craft materials, as well as a multicoloured selection to give the children plenty of choice.  It was cloudy and wet in the morning, but by lunchtime the sun was out, and by the time everyone arrived it was warm enough to be in the garden.  There were five families this time, and a total of fourteen children ranging in age from four weeks to nearly nine years old.

I set up the pink and purple materials in one Tuff Spot and the multicoloured ones in the other.  We had glitter glue, paint, paper, feathers, foam hearts, fabric stars, pipe cleaners, water beads and a few other random bits and pieces.  I also had a big table with an assortment of boxes, cardboard tubes and glue for model-making, and a small table with finger paint and sponges for painting directly on the table as well as on paper.  And inside, I had pencils and paper on the dining room table for anyone who wanted a quiet place to sit and draw.

paint glitter bugs 1

It was a lovely afternoon, the children were busy and happy, the adults had time to chat, the artistic creations were wonderful and there was, as always, a good satisfying mess.  As well as painting and drawing, the children enjoyed climbing and swinging, scooting and riding bikes, and the inevitable bug hunting.  The children were also very excited to find a nest with four eggs in, right inside the “talking bush.”  This is a bush at the bottom of the garden which the children love to play in, and they think it is funny that from the outside we can’t see them so the bush appears to be talking.  By the end of the afternoon, the model-making had become quite elaborate and there is now an extensive and luxurious Matilda Mae Bug Hotel in our garden!  We will always remember Matilda Mae here, even if we show it in unusual ways.

paint glitter bugs 2   paint glitter bugs 3

paint glitter bugs 4  paint glitter bugs 5

paint glitter bugs 6

We are also showing our support for Jennie and her family by walking a Mile in Memory for Matilda Mae tomorrow at the Rare Breeds Centre in Kent.  If you would like to help, you can donate here to support the work of the Lullaby Trust, and you can buy something lovely in the Matilda Mae Memorial Auction which will be launched tomorrow.  Sharing this post, and any of the posts I have linked to, would also help, so please do that too as much as you can.  Thank you.