All posts by Emmajane

Homework tips for English, including emojis!

Are you half way through the school holidays and worrying you haven’t done enough writing?  I always find that maths is so much easier to ‘teach’ at home.  It comes up naturally in shopping, cooking, games, sorting and so on.  Yet to provide writing opportunities naturally in the home can be harder.  Back in the early days of teaching I would ask parents how often children saw them sit and write?  They see us doing everyday maths, and possibly see us reading, or at least are aware that we do it (books on the bedside table, magazines and newspapers around the house).  Helping parents to find ways to reinforce writing required some creative thinking!

Nowadays (I sound old!) I think it has become easier.  With the development of social media and related technology children are more likely to see us communicate in writing. My youngest has been sending texts for a long time now, thanks to his discovery of emojis!









When it comes to homework and writing at home, here are some successful things we have tried, as home educators, teacher and mum…

text messages as shown above – help to develop an understanding that writing is communicating

card making – writing greetings, developing fine motor skills and practising name writing

word games – bananagrams, scrabble, boggle, hang man are all favourites in our house.  When I am feeling really inventive we use these to look for current spelling patterns

home made word searches and crosswords – these are a great way to practise spellings sent home from school or that you have identified

letters to complain, thank or share news

small world play incorporating signs, fairy gardens, dinosaur world, roadways etc

warning signs around the house…

My pegs to hang my coat. If you come in my room please may you take responsibility (he came and asked me to write that one!)


Don’t come in without asking but I am allowed










writing in role, – one of my favourites was playing a spy game, a then 4 year old C ‘hid’ in the kitchen writing his observations of what daddy was up to as he filled the kettle, walked to the sink and so on.  I explained to him that he needed to describe the suspect and he listed his blue jeans, t shirt and trainers.  It was very cute piece of early writing.

If a child is in school, no doubt they will have targets sent home.  It is however, always worth keeping in mind a child’s next steps and it is surprisingly easy to incorporate these into a writing situation.  To give an example, when C started to attempt to write past tense using -ed endings we played a few games to read and match words.  We explored how you double the consonant when the root word has a single vowel (hop,shop, skip, rob etc) and then put this into practice by writing a thank you letter to the organiser of a trip we had been on.  His challenge was to include as many -ed spellings as he could.  He loved it, the letter was a bit strange but it was a perfect way to put his new learning into practice in a meaningful way.  So much more engaging than simply testing him on them or completing a  spelling activity that bears no relevance to his day to day life.

I have done the same with formal letter writing, having identified the need to use extended sentences, we set about writing a complaint letter to a restaurant, using words like furthermore and consequently.  This was after the boys were given activity packs at the table.  They were most put out when the crayons supplied were green, red and blue which made colouring the farm animals difficult!  This turned out to be a great lesson in citizenship / having a voice as the subsequent letter to the restaurant chain led to a surprise pack of activities in the post along with the promise that they would look into it.  

So no need to buy any writing work books.. There are lots of ways to keep our children writing over the long summer break, enjoy!

Managing homework (maths)

One of the things I have found hard about the boys being back at school is not having such a good overview of their learning and where they ‘are’, making me a minority parent in that I like homework!  On the other hand, we have far less time together and I don’t want it to feel pressured and become all about homework (tempting as that may be with my controlling teacher hat on!)

Number arrays allow a young learner to see that 3 lots of 2 is the same as 2 lots of 3

Finding a balance then has been key and we have tried to ensure that the homework feels just as purposeful and engaging as other activities may be around the house.   Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been doing and how I have managed to incorporate school expectations with my family time.

L loves to help, with anything and so incorporating his targets into dinner preparation is easy.  He may count out grapes or strawberries into pots for everybody, and as he does so I can ask him “how many in each group now?”  “How many altogether?”  This language is key as it is reinforcing the visual, helping him to understand that 4 lots of 3 is 12, 12 shared by 4 is 3 and so on.  When it then comes to working from a work book we can refer back to this and link the language.  Often just because it is called ‘times tables’ it can feel like it’s something more challenging when in fact at Y1 level these practical experiences are invaluable.

Cake making or anything that involves laying out in rows (arrays) like our easter eggs are another powerful visual to aid with learning times tables.

A chocolate workshop at christmas – not an obvious homework activity but it naturally allowed for counting, multiplying, working out how many more…
Sometimes it’s not about the activity itself, but how you question and prompt the thinking as they work / play.

Pocket money is obviously a great opportunity for maths.  I was astounded by my 6 year old counting in tens to work out how many pounds he had to spend.  Not so much the tens but the fact that he was so quickly scooping a handful and saying how much he had without counting in steps.  So for example, he had 8 ten pence pieces and immediately knew he had 80.  By being aware of the class targets the adult role at home is easy, as in this situation I could ask him how many more to make 100, how many to make 200 and so on.

Laying out pocket money like this enables a child to see the relationship between the coin values

In KS2 the concepts often still need to be reinforced with concrete experiences so the above may still apply.  I tend to drop in maths at any opportunity.  There was 30% off of an item we wanted last week.  Perfect.  Our decision making around the purchase may have taken 5 minutes longer, but C applied his understanding of fractions, converting to decimals and then mentally subtracting, all in one go.  We bought what we wanted (we had to after all that!) and I felt satisfied that concepts he had been working on in school could be applied to real life.  Setting into context like this may seem obvious but it is such an important life skill to realise the importance of everyday maths.  It really is about creating or capturing the opportunity and reinforcing the language and imagery.

So my tips as a teacher and parent would be:

  • to find out from school exactly what areas are being worked on.  You won’t be pestering as most teachers will be glad of the support at home.  5 minutes spent with a parent after school finding out how you can help at home will have huge benefits back in class.
  • Find fun ways to reinforce the language.  Many maths skills can seem to be solid but then a child can’t apply this to other areas.  So, for example, once they begin to have an understanding of grouping, get them sharing and dividing, counting money, sorting action figures.
  • If the school sends home a sheet don’t try to force the homework if one of you is simply not in the right mood.  I guarantee it will not only take longer, but there is likely to be stress on both sides (resulting in zero learning!) and possibly even tears (from either adult or child!)
  • Go online to find times table songs that you can handle listening to.  There are loads, but there are also loads that will just irritate!  We particularly enjoy Mr DeMaio and his covers of current songs. 
  • Make the most of the free games online too, one of may favourites is topmarks;  You can filter by age and category.  The games are simple enough to be able to focus on the maths, rather than be distracted by over detailed graphics or game rules, and they can be played independently.  A great way to reinforce tricky areas or consolidate.

For an able mathematician more of the same can get boring.  Take a look at  There are lots of open ended problems and challenges that get children thinking more creatively.  I have often used the frogs on lily pads activity.  It works for various ages and is fun to follow up with a practical activity if needed.  We gave it a Valentines twist for a tutor group back in FebruaryThere are lots more ways you can turn homework into activities at home, food is always handy…

visualising equivalent fractions 3/3 is the same as 12/12,         1/3 =4/12 and so on
relating numbers to fractions to understand division










If you are interested in more personalised ideas or advice to help with homework, please do get in touch.  It’s what we love to do!

All Change

So it’s been all change round here!  It’s often only when sitting and reflecting at a later date that you realise just how much has gone on.   Since my last post (was that really back in the summer?!) we have had to get rid of 2 cars, are potentially writing off the camper van, have bought a house and the boys have made the decision to give school a go.  This last change, whilst probably not as major or stressful as house buying, has had the biggest impact on me and is probably why I stopped writing.  This was, after all, a blog to document our Home Ed journey.  I felt like I had no reason to be writing, lost my audience.  But recently I have found I missed it.  And several friends said they missed it too.  So here I am.  Domain name refreshed, hosting re purchased and ready to write! We will just see where the new learning journey takes us…

So what of all the changes?  Well we can safely say that my boys HATE house hunting.  With a passion!  One of our last HE trips was to Kidzania, which I can highly recommend, and they were hilarious upon noticing the role play Estate agents.  Kidzania, if you haven’t heard of it is an amazing indoor kids city where children get to try out around 60 jobs in authentic settings.  Mine loved making burgers, training as pilot, firefighter, police officer, medic as well as trying their hand at security, hotel management, ice lolly making, air conditioning engineer… They loved it all.  Just not the estate agents.  No, not that one; they are scarred for life!

At ‘passport control’ all children are given a wrist tag – very handy so you can find out where they are throughout the day!
Before entering Kidzania you are given some kidzos to spend. 

Preparing to move

We chose this house based on the fact that they have equal sized bedrooms which is great.  The boys have been sharing for the last year so both were very excited to have their own space again.  Two things which stood out and which I felt helped them to prepare were that C planned to graffiti his wall (in an artistic, neat kind of way!) and L asked several times for me to draw a map of how to get from his room to ours.  Now this is no mansion and in fact he doesn’t even have to turn a corner to walk along the landing to get to me but this was definitely a reassurance he needed.  We drew the first map one bedtime and he kept it under his pillow.  When he lost it somehow it was always at bedtime that he asked for another map.  This was his way of visualising the house prior to moving in.

Being involved

We’ve moved a lot recently and each time we have treated it as an exciting adventure.  The first time I had borrowed the set of Home Alone dvds and they watched the whole set while the removal men loaded the lorry, they loved it and I think have felt slightly let down on subsequent moves!  Key to them not feeling anxious has been getting them involved with packing.  Each time they have wrapped toys and packed their belongings.  This has allayed any fears about where things are, but also has meant that seeing the rest of the house being slowly boxed up has had very little impact on them.  I realised that it was especially important for a 3 year old, as he had assumed that the new people would simply move in and play with all his stuff.  We can so easily take for granted that children know what’s going on, but all these experiences are brand new and often taken very literally.  I hadn’t planned this level of involvement with too much thought, other than it was fun to involve them, but looking back I realise how much it did help in terms of coping strategies.


Settling in

Our vendors moved across the road and so are now our lovely neighbours.  I wonder if they will read this?  If so I’m sure they would agree that they had a lovely, stylish, tidy home.  We seem to have made our mark.  Not in a good way!  I kept to my word and have let C graffiti his name on his wall, it looks good.  I haven’t managed to keep to my word on not shouting, which is a huge disappointment.  I honestly thought that they would develop this huge sense of pride in their rooms, want to value their own space.  Yes, I thought my children would miraculously change from being the messy boys they were, squashed into a tiny SFA, into proud home owners, but no.  This has not been the case, and I wanting everything to look like it did in the photos, am getting far to stressed about mess.   This needs to be my next change.  Any tips gratefully received!

Back to school

Going back to school after two years of HE is tough on the parents.  I have read lots of reflections of time spent home educating and have agonised over what is the right / best thing to do for us.  I’m going with it’s right for right now.  I think all experiences of this are useful to share and it will be a longer read so I think I’ll save that for another time.  If its something you’re thinking about or have questions about do drop me a line or subscribe and I’ll be sharing what has and hasn’t worked so well for us as we made this move.

Ancient Egypt

Working through our timeline, next stop is Ancient Egypt:  Lots of gory detail to keep the boys interested in history!  We sort of started this topic before our holiday, having spent some time looking at where Morocco is in the world, pointing out Egypt, along with other surrounding countries,  knowing that we would be looking more closely on our return.

So, armed with some knowledge about climate and the natural environment we started on this new learning in the most practical way we could… by tipping out a new bag of play sand!


C made a pretty good attempt to make Africa.  It’s out of proportion I know, with  a very huge River Nile and Pyramids that are potentially in Nigeria and Botswana, but this was a really fun and hands on way to study the shape of a continent.  L meanwhile practiced his number bonds by hunting for coins in his sand, using digger trucks to make tracks and help with the search.  What was really interesting about this activity was when he poured on the water to create the Nile.  It didn’t take long before the edges of his ‘island’ started to crumble and change shape.

“So in thousands of years I suppose some countries might change shape”


It led to an interesting discussion and further research on erosion.  We left the land while we solved some hieroglyphic puzzles and returned after a few hours to see how the ‘beaches’ had changed, even L seemed to get a good understanding of the concept.  Once again what started as a simple immersion into a new topic instantly took us onto a whole new path of learning!

Having established why settling by the Nile was a good idea we went online to explore some of the other good ideas of this ancient civilisation.   We mainly used this history for kids site  as the pitch was just about right for C to read in manageable chunks.  No need to take guesses as to what he was interested in doing first.  Ripping out human insides and stuffing them into jars?  Yep!

P1010502Notes made, we set about making canopic jars using clay and yoghurt pots.  L loved doing this too and while C wrote the steps to follow alongside his design, L drew his plans for his jar.  We used plasticine to make the organs, and arranged them on C to show how they would be on the inside.  This is an adaptation of something I saw online where someone had drawn all the organs with felt tips over the child.  We went for the cleaner option.  It also meant that we could lift the bits off easily to put into the jars.  Plus L got to do some measuring and comparing length.


C loved how his colours looked in the palette and so took some pics!
C loved how his colours looked in the palette and so took some pics!

You can’t learn about mummification without mummifying a satsuma…


First we scooped out the insides.  The boys duly noted that this would be gross if it was flesh.  Although when L got splashed with juice he relished the thought that this could be blood.


As per our instructions, we filled the empty ‘body’ with cloves and spices, followed by salt, to help soak up the liquid.


The satsumas were then wrapped in bandages and placed in the airing cupboard.  It wouldn’t be right to mummify a satsuma and then leave your brother unwrapped would it?


A few days later…


The contrast between the preserved satsuma and the one just left to the elements.  We dont have contrasting photos of the little brother.  For that we just have to imagine!  We found some good books at the library.  I’ll post some links soon, with some more photos from this topic.  It’s been a good one for maths again!

What Home Ed looks like in our house

If you know me or read my blog regularly you will know that I am quite structured in our approach to HE.  That’s not to say that we sit down at a table every day, but I do plan and guide the learning, aiming to teach the core skills every day, or at least 4 times a week.  Wanting the boys to recognise that everything we do is part of learning, we’ve taken to calling this our academic learning, emphasising that it is important to value everything we do, so the arts, the sports, forest school etc is all of equal importance in their all round development.  I haven’t found time to blog very much lately meaning that there’s a lot that I’ve wanted to share that is now out of date.  So I’m putting some ‘schooly stuff’ together here.  I suppose this is really a snapshot of kind of learning we do actually do at home.  It’s a bit longer than usual, so you might need a few minutes!

Here’s what we’ve been up to in our reading and writing

Linked to our Iron Age work, I ordered a copy of the classic The Iron Man for our bedtime story.  Both boys were hooked from the start as you can imagine and C did some reflective text editing from it, to think about how the story opens and grabs our attention.  As you can see from the photo, we went through picking out things he liked and then C attempted to replicate this style in his own short story.


He has fantastic ideas but struggles to keep to a storyline meaning that the story gets complicated and long, and he loses interest. This is quite a natural stage to go through but it is very frustrating when he starts with amazing ideas, uses a rich vocabulary, creates brilliant imagery and then he gets bored of his own story!  It will all come together I’m sure, and the main thing is not to stifle any creativity by letting the stories drag on and insisting he finish when he doesn’t want to.  My current thinking it’s better to have an abrupt ending to a great piece of writing than to have pages of story that bore the reader!  What’s great about him having me 1:1 is that we can try different approaches.  Sometimes he plans, sometimes he doesn’t.  When he plans it can be visual, as a story mountain perhaps, a mind map, or a storyboard.  We have tried planning characters in detail , descriptive settings and have made movies of stories to develop ideas.  In time he will decide what suits him as a writer, if he chooses to write more that is.

blurry copy of the letter with excited scarecrow whose permission Ive forgotten to get hence no face!)
blurry copy of the letter with excited scarecrow whose permission I’ve forgotten to get hence no face!)

C now has an email address so he can write regularly to his overseas Uncle and various friends, and he still loves a fan letter, more valid reasons to write.  He recently took part in a local production of The Wizard of OZ (scroll down their page and check out some of the promo videos;  they’re hilarious.  He particularly loved the Scarecrow, and so has written to him to tell him as much and to ask him a few questions about his preparation for the role.  Warmly welcomed into the group right from the audition day, he had a great time and a brilliant show week.  His image of a flying monkey for the Chair of the society, drawn on the audition day, was a sweet sign that he felt he ‘belonged’ from the outset.  Being part of the show has been amazing for not only his confidence, but all round literacy.  He has watched the film and so compared media; he regularly re-enacts scenes, trying out accents and expression and so creating his own oral re-telling:  This usually entails roping us in to play different parts and L now does a pretty good Tin Man impersonation!  Here’s his role model attempting a cup of tea, he loved watching this!

his interpretation of a flying monkey!
his interpretation of a flying monkey!

L isn’t keen on writing independently.  If I write his ideas for him, he sees no point in copy writing, because “then it’s written twice, and that won’t make sense”.  Fair enough!  We do a lot of small world or role play which helps develop ideas and ‘storylines’ and he will happily write lists, menus, cards, take an order or more recently, be a judge or Police Officer and take down notes, so the foundations are all there.  He understands that his writing carries meaning, which is an important first step.

I picked up this cute old writing desk in a junk shop, L loves it!
I picked up this cute old writing desk in a junk shop, L loves it!

We recently read ‘The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark‘ and he’s produced some lovely sequencing based on this.  Next step will be to generate more words to rhyme with dark, and so reinforce the ‘ar’ sound.  It’s a lovely story and really good for remembering a sequence or adding more of your own chapters.

I loosely follow the letters and sounds guidance and Jolly Phonics for the order of teaching sounds.  This way I know I’m not missing anything and the structure is based upon research that understands that s-a-t-p-i-n are strong sounds for a child to hear and once learned can be manipulated to make lots of words, a great motivator!  What is important though, is not to follow any one approach slavishly.  I do teach him the letter names alongside, and we don’t use all the actions, only those which are useful for him.  We play lots of games with letters and sounds hidden around the place and he races to find them which he loves.  I also only use a reading scheme type book, to help him practise these new sounds, about once a week.   L is now theoretically on set 4, but we’ve gone over some of set 5 as they’ve come up naturally in reading.

A lovely resource that I don’t use enough is our set of story telling dice.  We made up some varied and magical stories with some friends using these.  They are great for building confidence speaking and obviously developing imaginative ideas.  They can be quite easily made and I’ve seen lots of story pebbles on various Pinterest type posts thatI’ve been meaning to try too. Pre writing skills don’t have to be written down!


And here’s a rather creative train track story set up.  I forget why there was knife and fork bridge, but it was appropriately named the cutlery bridge!

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Some other reading / writing activities that have worked well for him have been to create little story sacks.  It’s really quick and easy to gather a collection of items linked to a story and then use this to generate some writing.

I put together the props from ‘The Smartest Giant in Town‘ along with some word cards and L recreated sentences from the story that he then wrote out.











There are lots of books that lend themselves to this.  Even the very simple teaching books.


The lego words are high frequency words which we keep stuck to the wall as words to know by sight.

And recent maths…

We have introduced the idea of missing number equations.  They both enjoyed this and could work together but at their own level.  For L it was to reinforce his number bonds, while C learnt about balanced equations.


They then went onto successfully solve some similar problems on paper, with Q Pootle’s spaceship hiding the numbers.

Not one to miss a time saving opportunity, I decided that our usual home made wrapping paper would make a nice maths activity for L and we created some repeating patterns using potato prints.  They are meant to be spiders and butterflies.  Can you tell?


For me the trick to managing our time and still feeling like ‘mummy’ and not just a teacher, is taking our day to day experiences and either turning them into learning opportunities, or finding a way to reinforce or pre teach.  So C attending woodwork classes on a Monday evening has given him a practical and hands on experience, putting his measuring to good use, and I’ve been able to draw on this to begin work on area and perimeter.


He’s also getting rather handy with a power tool!


Lots of maths for C is about giving him practical experiences so that the abstract will make more sense.  If he were in Y3 at school he would be learning to add and subtract fractions.  Without a solid foundation this can be hard.  So we’ve been playing a lot with plasticine, finding equivalent fractions and then applying this to  some games on the iPad as well as picture representations on paper.  Too many times I’ve seen children completely confused by fractions because they haven’t spent long enough on the ‘playing’.

Maths for a 5yo is much easier to incorporate into life.  L joined in with the fractions by making his own plasticine snakes and ordering by length.  We cook about once once a week and share, add and take away wherever and whenever it is natural to do so.  He seems to be able to count in threes now too, thanks to the lovely Mr DeMaio’s times table song!  If you like Uptown Funk you must click on this link!


Iron Age and learning on holiday

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun Home Educating two boys!  I have actually started several blog posts over the last month but never quite found the time to finish them.  I’m always too tired!  I also took on a new tutoring student for the month too, to help with some pre SATs nerves.  What a star she has been; having changed schools she wanted to just make sure there were no gaps in her learning.  I don’t think anyone can have worked as hard as she has this last month!

But back to us – Star wars as a theme fizzled out naturally and together we decided to get back to our history timeline and move onto the Iron Age.  Bronze Age had been a light touch while reading and learning about Stone Age, so we recapped this a bit too, the book Life in The Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age was a good introduction.  I love how we can be completely child led with how the topics move on, without any pressure to feel that we’ve ‘covered’  everything but simply to have enough knowledge to decide when and how to move on.  A great balance of skills and knowledge based learning.

During our first week we visited the Iron Age museum, planning questions about what to learn next.  This guided our learning and helped us to plan outcomes.  For Stone Age it was the meal, the game and art work, for Iron Age it has been more about the visits and smaller outcomes along the way.  Outcomes are important for us, giving the learning purpose and direction.

C had planned some questions based on his reading, and set about finding answers during our visit. The museum in Andover is only small but really well thought through, with lots of hands on tasks to explore in each room (this may have something to do with our moving around in between a school carousel of activities, so I can’t be sure they are always there) which really engaged the boys.  Having walked through a cut-through of Danebury Hill fort we entered into a mock up round house, where lots of artefacts and information about excavation could be found.  From here, the boys attempted to sort food according to whether or not it was around during the Iron Age or not.  This immediately got us talking about trade and import – a really valuable discussion.  We moved on to a timeline of artefacts to sort, some skeletons to hunt and then a room to explore weaving.


We followed this up at home with more weaving, some poetry and a lovely visit to Danebury where we painted the landscape before heading off for an explore with a friend.


making good use of the empty Calgon box!
making good use of the empty Calgon box!


after an hour of painting we needed to get moving!

After an hour of painting we needed to get moving!

The only written outcome for this short topic was a very gory poem:  Beautifully describing the arrival home of a father, after battle, with two heads to display!  We did create some clay pots, following the method described in one of our research books.  Suffice to say it’s not a good method as they didn’t make it to being painted, the snaking round technique isn’t very strong!

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our Calgon box weaving was nearly as good!

We have been going to a wonderful art group and as luck would have it, shortly after we had a go at weaving at home, a professional was brought in to the class and the boys got to have a go on proper looms.  Really bringing the experience at the museum to life…






It was a very short topic as the countdown to our holiday began and with over excited boys it made more sense to start to research Morocco; building on some Geography skills in preparation.  Going away always makes me question why schools can’t be allowed to authorise one holiday on the basis that the child can reflect on the learning – share back at school maybe?  There is so much learning to explore by travelling.  We all know it and yet so many families aren’t able to go abroad because of the peak season costs.   We looked up where Morocco is, and drew maps.  L made aeroplane tickets,  googling images of the country to cut and paste onto these.  So not only was this purposeful writing in role, but he developed some great ICT skills finding his images and dropping them onto his tickets.  We played aeroplanes, so going over what to expect at the airport, talked about climate, food and cultural differences and planned some things we wanted to experience and see.  Our wonderful chef friend even made us Moroccon spicy sausages and couscous for tea one evening.  All this before we even left home!

To keep him entertained on the journey and at times during the holiday, I made L a scrap book to record aspects of the airport, the flight etc.  He was too busy to do much of it while we were there but it was a great follow up on our return.  Here are a few snaps from the week…

the obligatory camel ride (only needs to be experienced once in a lifetime!)


There was an artist in residence at the hotel.  The sessions were meant to be for 12 and up but it was quiet and he was persuaded when I assured him of C’s ability to concentrate.  Upon meeting, he agreed he would be fine, due to his calmness, hmmmm!  I’m so glad he took him in though.  He taught C how to paint a sunset, which he then did independently, next the teacher painted the first tree to demonstrate and C did the second.  Same for the shadows.  The silhouettes they did together.  Modelling and scaffolding at it’s best!  C couldn’t be prouder of the end result.

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Finally some beautiful pictures taken at the Souk.  Not all mine, but they are so beautiful I wanted to share!





And what better History topic could be next for us than Ancient Egypt.  We’ve already located Africa and it’s position in the world.  In my book that’s a start to the new learning already!

Too young to be financially aware?

This evening L told a friend that he could buy himself a nerf gun modular, because he has “a hundred and something pounds in the bank”, but, he added, he won’t because he’s saving that for a car.  This was news to me as he had previously told me it was to go towards our house.  Never mind!  We chuckled at this but it did get me wondering, should he have a better idea of how much he has? Is he too young to be financially aware?  Would it be better to have money in piggy banks again so that the boys can see and count how much they have?  This of course would be a bad idea as he does have well over £100 and keeping that in the house would be far too tempting for me.

So how do we make our children financially aware?  I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering the savings accounts books we used to have; if we were lucky enough to have a few pound notes tucked into birthday cards (yes I am that old!) we could pay them into the building society and watch our savings grow.  Today, I have savings pots for the boys and they rely on me to tell them what they have.  Perhaps it’s now time they had their own accounts and can begin to learn that money in the bank earns more money, if you leave it alone.  To begin to understand about interest and lending is a valuable life lesson.  At 8 years old, the maths isn’t too difficult for C to begin to work out the interest on a savings account, so helping to research the best place to put his money would be a good start.

Now that he has picked an account I will sit down with C to help him plan.  Nadine Monks, from Evolution Forces Families discusses the importance of this for adults.  I see it as a useful process to go through from an early age.  She suggests that  you ask yourself:

‘What do you want to achieve?

Set a clear goal for yourself. What is it you want to achieve? Do you just want a regular income or are you looking for a lump sum further down the road. This will tell you how much you need to invest and in what time frame.’

This applies to children I think, too.  C constantly asks me if he can buy things from his ever depleting pot of money, so to develop a short term savings goal will really set him up well for the future.  L, with his stash, never particularly wants to buy anything!

To overcome this last issue, of not knowing how much he has, I have registered C for a Go Henry card.  If you’ve not heard of this, do check it out!  We first heard about Go Henry last year when he was still too young (you have to be 8) and so we are both pretty excited waiting for his card to arrive.  It works like a contactless bank card.  I can pay his pocket money directly onto it and we can both use the app to monitor spending and saving.  He gets to use it independently in shops and cafes which he will love, and  I love the fact that when he is older I can see how he’s using his money and help him look at his spending patterns (not that he’ll listen I’m sure, but it’s a nice idea in my head).

(note – I am not affiliated in anyway with GoHenry, and am not being compensated for mentioning them here)

Some time ago in school I was teaching a small group of Y6 children who needed lots of practical hands on learning to transfer back to the classroom.  We set up a role play bank to teach negative numbers and I supplied them with lots of bank statements to work out how much debt the customers were in.  They loved it and really got the hang of calculating in this way.  I do remember that they were rather shocked that it was even possible to buy something if you didn’t have enough money.  Let’s hope they remember that lesson and  don’t ever apply for an overdraft!  I have done something similar with C; we used Power Rangers and lent them money, only to take more back from them.  Interestingly he can get his head around this concept and is more surprised by the fact that the bank will give him money on top of his savings!

For very early money maths understanding coin values can be hard.  It can be such a frustration when a child can add quite easily until you put it into the context of money and then they get confused.  Lots of playing with money is essential.  When I first started giving the boys pocket money I laid it out in lines so they could see the equal coins.  So for the first few weeks it was only 20p.  Nice and clear to see, and cheap too!

one way to lay out the pocket money each week

Gradually increasing the amount reinforces this clear visual, and visualisation as we know can really help to move from the concrete hands on learning to the more abstract, on paper.    I’m currently tutoring a few children for whom this concrete part has been skimmed over.  It means that now, towards the end of Primary, problems are occurring with the more complex maths simply because the practical bits weren’t solid enough before they were moved on.  It’s a common picture, not just with money but in all areas of number.

So the message here then is if we want our children to be financially ‘savvy’, start them young!  Play with money, play shops, give them their own pennies to spend in the gift shop and let them work out the change.  As they get old enough to understand what they have, let them make choices about what to buy.  When We went to the Harry Potter tour, C chose to buy a wand and a broom, having already bought photos,  knowing that this wiped out all his savings but he was happy with that and it gave him the opportunity to have good long think about how much he wanted to buy both.  Hopefully, I’ll be setting him up with good money habits for life.  Maybe I will improve along the way too!

‘Kung Hei Fat Choy!’

Our Chinese New Year learning is a bit more low key this year.  Mainly as I can’t find anything much going on in our new area which is sad.  We will be making some masks, and having another go at sushi, as it was so easy and successful all round!  I enjoyed looking back at our post from last year… Maybe you will too!

‘Kung Hei Fat Choy!’











We are officially ‘pigs’.  Turns out C and I have the same Chinese sign of the Zodiac.  We’ve had some fun reading up on our characteristics to see how like the descriptions we are and have used this to explore connectives in our writing whilst trying to describe our ‘pig – like’ qualities.

Once we had researched these, it was onto the serious business of food!  After a recent trip into London’s Chinatown and a visit to the wonderful See Woo wholesalers in Greenwich, we marked the Chinese New Year by giving out some lucky coins in lucky envelopes and preparing a huge feast of dumplings, spring rolls, fortune cookies and some mathematical (fractions) sushi.  The boys, inspired by the vibrance of Chinatown, made some lanterns and had a go at some Chinese writing.  I think the writing says ‘See Woo fine noodles’ but we’re not 100% sure on that one!

Sushi making sequence…








The celebrations have led to some rich learning opportunities as we now begin to explore facts about China.  We’ve taken a Google earth tour and learnt how to take notes.  From these a draft leaflet has been designed which is now in the process of being created on the computer.  Preparation for a role play Travel Agents.  Or maybe a ‘school trip’.  I do always emphasise the importance of bringing learning to life so it could be justified…

Back to reality and, due to the lack of funds for a field trip to China, the learning… Note taking: Early note taking is best taught in stages, starting with key words around a picture (in this case The Great Wall of China) before moving on to taking notes from texts.  This prevents the temptation to copy out long chunks as they child first learns to note key words when there are no words to copy.  We then moved onto a very simplified site, where again there were too few words to be tempted.

The leaflet writing and subsequent advert for the Chinese New Year Parade has been the platform for teaching about persuasive writing techniques.  Once again he has impressed me with his ability to retain some pretty advanced stuff.  We have been putting our persuasive skills to the test in all kinds of situations, quite often in the car.  He did a very good job of trying to convince me that the skate park was better than riding a bike.  Needless to say I won’t actually be trying it.

Enjoying the parade
Enjoying the parade
Enjoying the parade
Getting up close!
Getting up close!

The Chinese theme continues as we embark on some basic learning about the economy and the concept of fair trade, to celebrate Fair Trade Fortnight.  Remember that small changes in our shopping make a big difference!

smellyarmus, and other magical stuff…

Don’t you think that JK Rowling should have included a spell called smellyarmus?  I couldn’t bring myself to correct L and tell him it should be expelliarmus, why not have a spell that gives smelly arms to your enemy?  I think he could be onto something!  The boys were very excited to have a day of Harry Potter again.  Our local library Harry Potter Book Night event was unfortunately cancelled so it was potions and spells at home for us today!  It meant a move away from our animations and story work which, if I’m honest, was a welcome relief as C is spending far longer than necessary on his.  It will be epic in the true sense of the word by the time he’s finished!

We started the day with a breakfast game of pairs – matching spell cards.  It was a draw so as a tie break we had to answer questions to name the outcome of a given spell.  Needless to say, C won when I was unable to explain the effects of petrificus totalus!  Following this C did a bit of handwriting, he used his feather pen to copy out some of the spell names in a calligraphy style, as ‘fancy’ as possible.  He’s getting quite good, and now thinks we need a quill!

Our activities weren’t dissimilar to last year, so here are a few photos, after which I’ve been a bit lazy and have included my blog from last year, which includes a letter from Dumbledore for you to download, should you be wanting to recreate your own potions session!

Breakfast before our day properly started – buttering the toast using a freshly whittled butter knife!


First was a bubbling mixture, using carefully combined ingredients to include vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and an alka seltzer tablet, amongst other things.


L then prepared several concoctions of his own, with some attempt by me to get him to read the measures on his  syringe and measuring jug (he was having none of it!). I liked how he got himself organised!

IMG_0277 IMG_0276


Meanwhile, C followed instructions to make his own invisible ink…


We ended with a bang, well maybe more of a pop!


We forgot to take a photo of our first exploding potion, but this was the result on one of the wall cupboards…


My kitchen has never been cleaner. This one really did explode everywhere, resulting in washing down all the wall tiles, the floor, the cupboard fronts and the kettle!

Tomorrow we will be formalising some of the learning a little by recording and reading measurements of potions, for now, here’s what we got up to last year:

I had identified a need to recap finding the difference as a method for subtraction.  This one is often tricky, but necessary, for younger children to visualise what it is they are doing when subtracting by working out the difference between 2 numbers.  C keeps telling me he “doesn’t like maths” and so I am trying to think more creatively about IMG_7047how we teach it; my solution for this was to incorporate ‘finding the difference’ into some play with the Scaletrix.  We  had timed races and when the timer was up, calculated how many laps we had each done by recording along a blank number line.  This enabled him to draw out the jumps, for example from 32 (no. of laps left) to 45 (the total no. of laps on the dial).  Our Scaletrix dials countdown from 45 so you can easily see how many laps are remaining:  It’s not so easy to see how many you have completed.  To follow on from this the next day, I stuck up some envelopes containing house points for the Hogwarts houses.  With these he had to work out the differences between the different houses and the winners.  We started together, with me modelling how Dumbledore would have mentally calculated how many more points were needed to put Gryffindor into the lead and then I left him to do a few more calculations independently.  This has all served to be successful scaffolding.  We started practically, followed up on paper with support and then gradually took away the support.  He’s got it!  And very pleased he is with himself too!

IMG_7051  IMG_7058

Upon leaving for Nursery one day this week we discovered a letter on the mat from Dumbledore himself, giving ideas for us muggles to make potions. IMG_7062 Once the letter was read and digested we set about, the three of us, creating some pretty disgusting tasting potions (recording and adding up the quantities as we went along).  The boys are convinced they made it snow with these as sudden snowstorm began while they syringed and mixed apple juice, lemonade and milk, yuk!  And of course, our crazy L loved it – drinking a fair bit until I insisted he stop before he was sick!


I have been so lucky with our HE community here.  Our lovely group organiser set up an online HP quiz for us all to take part in.  C has thoroughly enjoyed re calling his (limited) HP knowledge from his one film viewing and attempted all 6 rounds with very little help from me.  So good multi media comprehension there from him.   Some amusing, some random guesses, Professor Spinach instead of Sprout was my favourite I think.

To end this week, here he is sketching a portrait of Harry Potter, obsessed?   Who him?!


harry potter maths download


Learning about characteristics through games

MB Games / Hasbro  watch this space… I seem to have two little game entrepreneurs on my hands!  Last week we started to look closely at the characters in Star Wars and Thomas The Tank Engine (TTTE) in order to widen vocabulary and think about characteristics alongside features.  It has proven to be a really worthwhile activity, and much more fun than simply writing about characters on a book review sheet.  Although, if you do decide to give this activity a go, be warned – it is long!

The boys have decided to make my life slightly trickier by insisting on these two topics, and so the Guess Who activity has been a brilliant way to merge the two, creating the same outcome, yet working t totally different levels.  I’m not a huge TTTE fan and was rather surprised to find a whole website dedicated to outlining each character. Apparently Thomas has a lot more friends than just Percy, Gordon and Edward.  You never do stop learning do you??!

We don’t do an awful lot of story writing and planning, so for this term I decided to make it a focus.  Our learning sequence is to first look at the characters, drawing them and recording characteristics.  I have scribed for L and C has made notes alongside his game making.  Next we will look at settings, describing the opening for the story which will then be made as a backdrop to a short stop animation film.  I am hoping that the animation will then lead into a short written story for C as he would like to enter the BBC’s 500 words competition.  Story writing is so much easier when there has been a practical hands on or play based experience to refer to.  In the same way, drawing pictures before writing provides the opportunity to rehearse ideas, get the sequence organised, before attempting to write the story in words.   This is interesting, as so often I have seen children told that they can draw only when they have finished the writing, despite an increasing understanding that if you can’t say it, you can’t write it.   The play and the drawing all help with this in a HE learning environment.

So this is how our game has developed.  Hopefully I have managed to give you an idea of all the learning that has come from such a simple activity.

First we planned how many characters to make and the boys removed that number of cards from the original game, making sure that they removed the same people.


C went on to measure the card as accurately as he could, applying his recent learning of decimals, while L measured by placing cards along a sheet of card to see how many we could cut from one large sheet:  Lots practical application of maths to start.  I must have been too involved at this stage as I didn’t take any photos!

The boys then set about drawing their chosen characters.  This of course involved a LOT of attention to detail from C, who spent hours on this!  He did also make notes for each one as he went along, discussing what he already knew about the characters and finding powerful descriptive words.

L and I also made notes as you can see below…


I think the longer C took, the more characters L was finding.  I had to ask him to stop in the end!

Some good problem solving next as C realised that in order to play it properly we actually needed 3 copies of each picture, so up to the photocopier we went…

P1000602 P1000603



Where the little one had a little lesson in technology.  Children are so fascinated by photocopiers!




Finally, all the new cards were inserted and we are ready to play!


We are pleased to say it works!  You have probably realised by now that it actually doesn’t matter who you take out as it is best to play only with the new cards.  Otherwise it’s totally obvious when you’ve picked an original and your partner would win instantly!  The note taking came into play here as well, as the boys needed to ask searching questions about personality traits.

I’ve planned this in the past for Roald Dahl characters, and think it would work well for any set of books with strong characters.  I’d love to hear from anyone who’s given it a try!