Monthly Archives: November 2015

Santa’s little helpers do maths

Christmas is busy enough at the best of times but trying to prepare when you HE can make it even more so.  No popping to the shops while they are at school, no commute to stop off en route and get some late night shopping done.  It’s all shopping online and  having helpers in tow 24/7.  Does this sound familiar? To help a little with this, I thought I would share some maths we did  last year, which C and I loved, and shall be repeating this year with an extra elf on the team!

Once we had printed our wrapping paper (star potato prints, but this could easily have been more mathematical with repeating patterns or sequences), we set up an elf workshop n the lounge.  Nothing fancy Just 4 work stations:

Weighing area

Measuring area

Cutting area

Wrapping area


We planned these together with C making the signs and then preparing our resources before we set to work.  I think the areas speak for themselves.  What was key here though was how the learning was extended so that it was fun, but he was still learning at a level suited to him.  We devised a basic chart for him to record the weight and length of each present before he moved it to the cutting area where I had to follow his recorded measurement to accurately cut the paper.  He ‘quality controlled’ this!  We then wrapped together and placed presents in weight or size order before placing under the tree.

... and under the tree
… and under the tree

With gentle questioning, whilst keeping in role, I got him to find the difference between parcels, ” How much more does x weigh than y?”  “Let’s see what the combined weight of ….. is?”  “If we put these two side by side, I wonder how much space will they take up in the van or sleigh?”  And so on.

These ‘wonder how’, ‘wonder why’ type questions are a perfect way to stimulate thinking without the pressure of feeling there’s a right or wrong answer.  Obviously for these examples there is a right answer, but by phrasing it as an open question it can often mean that children are more inclined to offer a solution.  A closed question can lead to resistance or a barrier and instant feeling of ‘I don’t know’.  It’s worth taking a few seconds to mentally rephrase, particularly during hands on activities like these.  Theres a more comprehensive list of examples on the NRICH site for more ideas and an explanation of why this is important in maths.

I do try to keep structured with our HE, or at least semi structured.  So for me, planning activities like this gives a real purpose to the learning while satisfying my need to ensure that there is still curriculum coverage and evidence ofprogress being made on a weekly basis. This year I will be extending the elf helper’s learning with some time word problems to solve too.  If you want to give it a go, you can download the delivery notes  here.   These will be appearing at our breakfast table sometime soon in a suitably sparkly envelope and a letter from either the post office or the elves.  Possibly via one of the fairy doors, but either way, set into an imaginary context to set the scene!

santa delivery notes download increases slightly in difficulty;  working out the dispatch time is the hardest as the children  will need to work backwards from the arrival time.  I would start with the delivery notes that give the dispatch and length of  journey, before moving onto these.  If you would like a blank version to enter in your own times, please drop me a line and I can send this to you.


A very brief post to share some of our work around Stonehenge.  We went on a visit with some HE friends and whilst the boys don’t fully appreciate the importance and significance of such a landmark, there was enough awe and wonder to make it worthwhile!  The more we have read since the visit, and the more they have understood just how difficult it is to move a heavy rock without machinery, the more impressed I think they have become.


Seems that, even with 4, we need 99 more men to shift the rock!
Seems that, even with 4, we need 99 more men to shift the rock!

As is so often the case with these visits, the staff on site can make a huge impact.  At Stonehenge we got chatting to possibly the most enthusiastic EH employee I have had the pleasure to meet!  I wish I had caught his name.  He was able to answer one of our burning questions…

Just how long would it have taken to have studied the movement of the sun and changing seasons to work out where to position the stones to cast the perfect path of light on the shortest and longest days?  He tells us it ‘s been estimated at 111 years!  Wow!


The boys are fascinated by the idea that each family member would have had a star to observe each night, in order to learn what was going on up there.  The employee we chatted to reckons it would have been their entertainment. I might try it!



Since our visit we have made a plasticine model of Stonehenge along with some more stone sketches, explored direct and indirect speech in order to write a time travelling newspaper report and begun some research into Paganism and the Winter Solstice.  This final piece of learning has had some unexpected and pleasing outcomes for C as he has learnt the names of some of the Gods and they tie into The Avengers!  This sets the context for some more comic book making, as off topic he has been reading and recreating some Star Wars stories in comic format.

There are plenty of resources to follow up on Activity Village, so I didn’t bother to create much of my own for this, other than a short grammar exercise for C to choose correct verb – subject agreements.  For this, I wrote out some Stonehenge facts and he simply had to choose those which were grammatically correct.  A little dry, but a useful reminder as he has started muddling was and were, much and many.  Something that is very common, but very quickly addressed through some simple activities.

L has loved doing yet more stones maths!  Asking me to draw him number lines and number patterns on a daily basis!  C has been learning his 3 times tables by singing this Uptown Funk cover, and apparently L has too it seems!

Over on my FB page I’ve been trying out different times tables songs and recommending those which have worked for my own children and those who I tutor.  Do take a look, it could save you an internet trawl!


So today my boys and I have made it into the pages of a magazine.  Woohoo!!! We’re a bit excited in our house today, with our new found fame, so forgive me if you follow me on FB or Twitter and you’ve seen my photo popping up everywhere!  Army and You magazine is circulated to all British Service families so I am very excited to be spreading the Home Education message and hopefully being able to support more families by doing so.  It’s been in the pipeline for some months now, hence the excitement!

Why do I want to share our story? We’re not desperate to get our faces known, or to achieve some kind of local celebrity status I can assure you.  But I meet a lot of parents who are unhappy with the school placement they are offered, or who start in one school and then move when a preferred place becomes available.  This always saddens me:  Service children move a lot as it is and some then make another unnecessary move because the law is interpreted as children need to be in school. Children need to be full time educated.  That’s it.  That’s the bit we need to adhere to.  It’s all outlined very clearly on the Ed Yourself site.  The key phrase in the Education Act is that this education needs to happen by either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Otherwise.  Other than at school.  Learning can and does happen elsewhere as we know.  It seems to be that there are many parents who would like to HE but think they need to be qualified, or they worry about the emotional relationship.  Whilst it is true in our case that the journey can indeed be an emotional one;  HE does also mean connecting with the children in such a special way.  It’s hard to fully emphasise just how much I value having this precious time with them.  Even on the bad days!  Yesterday we argued a lot, but it was still valuable time.  I was able to explain to C why I was frustrated, he was able to tell me I should cry, bless him! “you should cry, it’s good for you, and healthy to cry mummy” (we had been to a funeral the day before and so have had a lot of conversations about the importance of showing emotions). I feel I should add that I wasn’t actually crying, although the introduction to long division did bring me close!  For me, the positives and the consistency of education I can offer far out weigh my emotional involvement.

As for being qualified, it isn’t necessary.  I can see why it concerns some, which is where my planning helps.  Many people I plan for only need to use me once:  Clients who just needed that little confidence boost to confirm they are doing / can do the right thing and that they can see progress being made.  Those are people that want a little bit of structure.  My plans can be very structured or just a series of activities with adult prompts and key questions to guide the learning. It really depends on need and learning styles.  But again, I want to reinforce, HE doesn’t require a teaching background, or endless planning.  You just need to have an awareness of what your child needs to do next in order to make progress and this doesn’t have to be measured using school measures or tests.

At home we cover a lot of ground by playing.  One of our favourite games for maths learning is Shut the Box.  This is one I often take out when tutoring.  It’s great:  A very simple dice game that requires mental addition of 3 numbers (I use this to assess which strategies a child is using), followed by partitioning the number to then shut boxes totalling the same.  When no more boxes can be shut the players turn is over and the remaining numbers have to be added together to find the score. This last step involves long addition, often of 2 digit numbers.  Both mine love this.  L can count the dots, do the  basic addition and develop his number recognition and C adds up his score for him, although I doubt it will be long before he can do this too!

We also love Mastermind (are you spotting the retro theme here?), mine is so old the pegs are still kept in an old beaded purse of mine from the 70’s.  It’s a time for reminiscing when we play this!  Mastermind, if you don’t remember it, is a game of simple strategy with one player creating a hidden sequence and the opponent trying to crack this code.  As always I’ve created a link for you, and in doing so was very excited to see that my version is available – as a vintage version.  Am feeling old!

These are just two examples of games that we happen to use.  There are lots more.  Some are clearly maths focussed (Sum Swamp for example, is another that mine have enjoyed) but they don’t have to be.  Anything involving a dice or a board reinforces number recognition and counting on and so has a place in the maths learning, as do games like Hungry Hippos or Elefun.  These last two really helped L to cement his 1:1 correspondence, but we also adapt the rules so that the yellow butterfly or ball is worth a different number.  This started as an adaptation of the rules to make it more exciting (otherwise it’s game over when one player gets the yellow) but also gave C the opportunity to practise mental addition.

I could write just as much about literacy at home, there really is so much you can do, but this post would become very long!  If you have come across my blog as a result of the Army and You article, I hope that these few ideas have given you some reassurance that there is a lot you can do.  Please do get in touch if you have any questions.  Quoting your code will mean I can help in lots of ways too.  And I really do want to!



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Enjoying the Fresh Air at Forest School

Moving to the country you would think that we would be out and about in the fresh air every day.  I envisaged long walks, cycle rides, woodland exploring, enjoying nature… In fact the opposite is true!  There are no footpaths near us, so walking with small children is not an option and the 50mph speed limit is slightly off putting for beginner cyclists!  The result is that we find ourselves driving a lot more than we used to.  C and I enjoy driving through the the beautiful surroundings but today L reminded me, “like I keep telling you mummy, I don’t. like. looking. at. just. treeeees.”  he likes to see ‘the distance’.  Bless him!

Needless to say we were very excited when we found out about a local Forest School.  So now, once a week, whatever the weather, we spend a fun and productive three and a half hours in the woods with a wonderful Forest School leader – Adrian Goodhand.

Forest School Base Camp
Forest School Base Camp


I love the hand washing facilities!
I love the hand washing facilities!

Forest Schools are great; the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills through child led and self motivated activities.  They learn to take risks, problem solve and co-operate in a way that indoor activities just can’t provide.  This hands on learning, the self awareness that develops, can’t be compartmentalised into neat little curriculum boxes, which is perhaps why the Executive Head at my son’s old school put a stop to it.  No measurable results, no tangible impact on test results.  Not much more I can say there.

At our FS, Adrian has the perfect balance of appearing very laid back but with the authority needed to ensure everything is safe and runs smoothly.  Children have complete freedom to explore with careful guidance and encouragement.  His tone if something needs mentioning is always non confrontational.  There are so many more powerful ways to say ‘be careful’ and he seems to naturally find these, meaning that children (and indeed adults, myself included!) are in the position of reflecting on their actions and making any necessary amendments to keep themselves and others safe.

Making a spark to start the fire
Making a spark to start the fire
Success! Cotton wool fire lighter









Some months ago I stumbled upon a lovely blog written by ‘Teacher Tom’.  Last week he wrote about this same subject from his pre school perspective, and sums it up better than I can…

“Every time we say “be careful” we express, quite clearly, our lack of faith in our children’s judgement, which too often becomes the foundation of self-doubt.”

(taken from eleven things to say instead of be careful)

I am going to try to keep this in mind from now on.  Our words can be so powerful.

And on that note, I’m not going to write any more about Adrian’s Forest school.  My almost 8 year old will be taking over…

Forest school

Have you ever herd of forest school? It is not actually a school, it is like an outdoor camp in the woods where we explore and have fun for 3 and a half hours!

When everyone arrives we collect firewood for the fire.  It is important because everybody works together and then you feel proud because you know that you helped make the fire.  Some people get to use the special lighter to get a spark to light a piece of cotton wool and then you put the cotton wool on the fire and then the fire has begun ready for our lunch, and hot drinks. 


cooking flat bred
cooking flat bred

On my second week I had a go at making a spark, I felt just a tiny bit scared because I thought I might burn myself because the scraper wasn’t that long and my hand was really near the spark.  It’s quite a good feeling as well because you’re trying out a bit dangerous things, new things, in a safe way.

Click here to watch me doing it: IMG_8337

working together.
me using a hand saw!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
me using a hand saw!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
5 year old with a saw!
5 year old with a saw!
Me whittling a spear
Me whittling a spear

You can help you’re self to Adrian’s tools (Adrian has lots of tools) and whittle spears or make a den. But you have to get permission off of Adrian to use the whittling knife because it is sharp!!!

I like making dens because it feels like they are secret hideouts!

Whittling spears and cooking pizza was fun, to whittle a spear I used a whittling knife and green wood fresh out of a tree, to make the pizza we made the dough and put on cheese salami and then bacon! We cooked the calzone pizzas on our fire and then ate it. It was delicious.

Our pizza was called calzone
Our pizza was called calzone

Don’t go into the fenced of bits that is somebody else’s land, and they mite not like it.

I recommend you come,or find forest school near you!

Written by C age 7