Monday, 3 February 2020

February Love

I ❤ February. The days are starting to get a little longer, the promise of spring is in the air and the garden. Bulbs are sending up green shoots, like fingers tentatively checking that it's safe to come out before displaying their glorious colours to a waiting world.

February is the month of Valentine's Day, a day to celebrate love and matters of the heart. Legend has it that St Valentine was a bishop in Rome who disobeyed the Emperor's law prohibiting marriage. Emperor Claudius II had this bright idea that men would make better soldiers if they weren't distracted by wife and family. Anyway, Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret but was eventually caught and thrown in prison. There, he cured the prison guard's blind daughter, Julia, and they subsequently fell in love. On the night before his execution on February 14th 270AD, he sent her a final letter signed "From Your Valentine".

Since the Middle Ages the feast day has been traditionally associated with romantic love, but nowadays, you can now find lots of activities online that celebrate familial and spiritual love too. In fact, I've collected some ideas together on a Valentine's Day Pinterest board for you to explore with your children ❤

This woven heart-shaped craft from First Palette is one of my favourites. I tried it with my Sunday school class and it proved a little tricky for younger children, so they simply wove the strips under and over each other to make a flat heart-shaped decoration instead. We glued the ends of the strips together to stop the heart from falling apart.
If you have older kids who have mastered the instructions, maybe you could set them the challenge of making baskets of different sizes so that they have to work out how to make the template for themselves ❤

February is also National Heart Month here in the UK. The perfect opportunity to learn about the science of the heart. You'll find lots of hands-on ideas, videos and printables on the Circulatory System section of my Human Body Pinterest board. There's something for all ages, so please pop over and have a look ❤

This February, we've got Pancake Day to look forward to as well. I can't wait :) Ooh, and don't forget that it's a leap year. I'll be taking the opportunity to tell my teenage children some leap year traditions. I think they may be a bit too big to play leap frog now - our own tradition when they were little 🐸 

What's your favourite thing about February? 

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Sunday, 29 December 2019

Big Bird Watch

The last weekend in January (25th to 27th) is the Big Garden Birdwatch run every year by the RSPB. If you visit the RSPB website, you'll find lots of free downloadable educational resources on the schools page including survey sheets for different abilities, bird feeder recipes, crafts, games and printables. All well worth a look at, especially if you have primary age children. You'll find different information on the Big Garden Birdwatch page itself. 🐦

I love national surveys that anyone can take part in. They're such a great way for families to engage with nature in a meaningful way, regardless of age and ability. In fact, I've found that working together as a family often means that my children are more keen to get involved, at least during the primary years. I'm afraid teenagers can be a little more difficult to convince, at least in my house. Although, I tend to find that if I start doing activities like this by myself, Boykin will at least pop along and lend a hand, even if only for few minutes and he's usually interested in the results. 😊

We're quite lucky in that we get a variety of birds in our garden throughout the year, although at the minute, I only ever seem to see the robin. In the summer, we've had woodpeckers, collared doves, magpies, jays, various tits and finches, magpies, blackbirds and once, I even saw a peregrine falcon.

The RSPB has a lot of useful information on their website about bird watching and what kit you need.There are pages for identifying birds that even have sound clips of birdsong and maps of

There are bird related activities in the following Picture Book Explorers, if you want to take your studies a little further:
Granny Sarah & the Last Red Kite - learn about red kites;
Katie Morag & the New Pier - learn about sea ducks;
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck - learn about ducks;
Black Dog - learn about garden birds.

Of course, each of these packs has a lot more to learn about than just birds and Black Dog is particularly good for this time of year, being set on a snowy day.

My favourite non-fiction books about birds include:

What are your favourite books about birds? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? I'd love to know. Please drop me a line or pop along to the Facebook group to join in the conversation

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Friday, 13 December 2019

Hunkering Down for Winter

Winter is here, at least geographically. The winter solstice and the start of astronomical winter is yet to come in the northern hemisphere.

The change in season brings a change of pace in our learning day. We have more time at home and spend more time indoors. In this house, we're at the stage of studying for exams, that last leg of Home Education before they strike out into the world of college and Further Ed. While exam study has affected our routine a little, it has affected flexibility a lot. Days out have to be more carefully planned, study means setting targets based around a set syllabus and we are beginning to feel the pressure 😓

All this makes me so glad for the years that we spent home schooling with Picture Book Explorers. Reading beautiful books, enjoying playful learning, having time to time to digress and take impromptu days out made for a more relaxed and effective education. There are so many happy memories to look back on 😍

As winter sets in, I'm reminded of the lovely books we explored to fit this season.

The Mousehole Cat & Greyfriars Bobby

Most favourite activity ever - Greyfriars Bobby

Field Trip - Greyfriars Bobby

The Best Christmas Present in the World & Black Dog

More about The Best Christmas Present in the World

More about Black Dog

Fog Island is another good book for this time of year as it tells the story of the Fog Man who makes fog with his Fog Machine on an island inspired by the real-life Skellig Michael. Learn how fog really occurs with the Picture Book Explorers pack. Boykin really enjoyed exploring with this pack, not least because of the connection to a Star Wars film 😉

If you prefer a lapbook, there is a perfect one for the Yuletide season - Linked Lapbook ~ Christmas in Europe. Recently revised to fix all broken links, you'll find everything you need to study a selection of European countries with blank mini-books so that you can add more countries of your choice. There's also a page of links to crafts, recipes and more to create a full unit study for your family 🎄🎅🤶

Happy Exploring!

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Friday, 11 October 2019


I love autumn. The colours on the trees, walking through fallen leaves, a myriad of crafts, new books, cosy evenings in front of the fire and bonfires, of course. It has to be one of the most repeated topics in all my years of home education 😊

This year my favourite craft has been making corn dollies. I made this simple one with a local children's group. I found the instructions on NurtureStore. You can find more complex designs on my Harvest Pinterest board 🍁🍂🍁

I bought some stalks of wheat from Daisyshop. Delivery was very quick and all the stalks were a good length for crafting. 

You have to soak the stalks overnight before you can use them for weaving & plaiting, otherwise they'll snap. Keep them wrapped in a damp towel until you've finished with them. I'll warn you though, they do smell a bit so you might want to soak a few at a time unless you're going in for mass production in one sitting 🌾

There are so many autumn festivals, not just harvest. Other traditional British festivals we celebrate include Halloween and Bonfire Night. I know these days, many people celebrate Bonfire Night at the nearest weekend, but I'm a bit of a stickler for tradition sometimes, and we celebrate on November 5th every year, come rain or more rain....

This is the Linked Lapbook ~ Bonfire Night to help you learn more about the whys and wherefores of this annual event, including the science behind the firework colours and links to crafts and recipes to make a complete unit study for families who love learning together 🎇🎆🎇

If you are having a bonfire, please remember to check it hibernating hedgehogs.

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Picture Book Explorers Books for autumn

Go-along autumn books

Books for all seasons

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

It's Volcano Day!

I've been involved with organising and attending one of our local home education groups for almost 15 years now. It's a monthly group with a different theme every time, alternately chosen by kids and parents. We have unusual themes over the years (toilets!) and some have proved more popular(history of sweets) than others (environmental issues). This last month's theme was chosen by the kids and it proved popular with all them - volcanoes :)

As you can imagine, I was quite happy about that because I didn't have to research the topic or spend hours looking for an activity to take. I just dipped into Let's Explore Volcanoes and I was away. The pack is aimed at ages 8 to 12, but I knew that we have children as young as 4 and as old as 14 attending so I wanted to pick an activity that they could all do. So I bought 3 blocks of plasticine (orange, white & black) and we made models of volcanoes. I also printed out one of the minibooks for them to complete and took in Boykin's version for the "Here's one I made earlier" moment 😃

It proved to be a popular activity with lots of discussion and questions to be answered. Luckily, I could answer most of them not only due to having written the unit study but because I'd hen completed the project with Boykin. For those I couldn't answer, I had books on hand and when completely stuck, Google was my friend :)

was fun to do this activity with such a wide age range. It gave a small insight into how larger Home Ed families must work. There was a certain amount of juggling, but I noticed that the oldest ones worked completely independently, using Boykin's version and the illustration as a guide. The younger ones (age 10 down) needed more explanation and  demonstration to help them build the layers, but they all had their own little tweaks. The very youngest didn't complete the lapbook and were very happy just to make the model. We ended up with a fantastic array of volcano models and pictures.

It all served to reinforce my previous experience of unit studies that different ages and different abilities are able to work together o
n the same topic. As a facilitator, for me the biggest challenge is not to interfere too much by trying to correct and direct. This is especially true when they are little - I found that doing the activity for myself alongside them really helped with this. It also gives them to observe another way of doing things that they can choose to copy or ignore. By joining in with them and working alongside them, it adds value to their learning experience and it helps to reinforce the idea that the activity is worth doing. All of which sets them up with a good attitude for the future as they begin to work independently.

What are your biggest challenges when working with your children on a unit study? How do you overcome them?

Other activities we did at the group:
Volcano splatter paintings - brown cones with vibrant splatters of red, orange yellow and white
Bicarb and vinegar volcanoes - classic volcano activity
Exploring tectonic plates with building bricks and cardboard sheets
Active, dormant, extinct volcanoes - kids act out each stage of the volcano as it is called
and we learnt the chorus of this rap song with added actions and dance moves 😉

As a family, we came home and watched Doctor Who Series 4 Episode 2 The Fires of Pompeii t finish off our short return visit to volcanoes 😂 What's your favourite fun finish to a topic?

Happy Exploring!

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Friday, 31 May 2019

Build a book unit study....

...around a picture book about gardening.
Picture Book Explorers packs are each divided into five sections. I'm going to use these sections to show you how to build your own picture book topic pack with a gardening focus. This would make a perfect project for spring and summer, when the world is in bloom :)

First step, choose your book carefully. Do you love the illustrations? Are there lots of pictures of gardens and plants? Do you love the story? Is there a lesson in the story? Does it stir your emotions - make you laugh or cry? Can you foresee interesting discussions with your children about the characters/plot/pictures? Do you think your kids will love this book?

Some of our family favourites are


Day 1 - Explore the Setting
When and where is the book set? If it's a real place or historical time period, do some research together. Or the setting could simply be a garden, allotment, park, stately home or even a garden centre. If possible, take the time to go and visit some of those places in real life.

For a fun geography activity, ask your children to make a map of your garden/local park/allotment etc. Find north then draw the compass points in the corner of your map. Let your child devise symbols to use as a key. So many skills are being developed here - map making, spatial awareness, drawing, geography, observation...

Use the map to play "Where am I?"
- pick a location on the map
- give clues as to your location e.g. "I am west of the rosebush and north of the lettuces"
- take it in turns

Day 2 - Exploring the Words
Look for literary devices in the writing or grammar & punctuation marks that you want to introduce/revise with your children. Come up with some games/questions to help your child understand these.

A good way to build vocabulary skills is to make a glossary. Start by asking your children to make a list of all gardening related words in the text of your book - plant names/parts, gardening features/tools. Together, look up the definitions of these words in a dictionary or online.
Make either two part cards or three part cards if you add an illustration - word/definition or word/definition/picture.

Use the cards to practise putting words into alphabetical order. Children can match the words to the definitions to develop reading skills. Once they are familiar with the cards, use them to play Pairs or Snap!

Day 3 - Exploring the Pictures
Have a good look at the illustrations of plants & flowers in the book. Can you spot any that you recognise? Do you have them in your garden or local park? Use a plant/flower ID book with your children to learn the names of the plants then go and find them in real life.

Take your children outside with their art materials. Practise creating observational drawings & paintings of the flowers in your garden or park. 

Look at the style of the artist. Do they use bold lines? What colour palette do they use? What shapes do they use? What medium do they use - paint, collage, pencil etc? Try drawing flowers and plants in the style of the artist.

Day 4 - Exploring the Science
Picture books about gardens offer lots of inspiration, not only with the plants depicted but also with other wildlife depicted in the illustrations.

Children can research a plant or animal and make a fact file for it. They can include drawings or photographs, maybe find out the Latin name and the classification for it. Give them some questions to answer to help them get started e.g. Where does it live/grow? How big does it get? etc.

For a more hands-on activity, dissect a flower and identify the parts. Children may enjoy drawing their own annotated diagrams of their dissected flower.

Day 5 - Exploring Maths, Crafts & More
Coming up with maths activities can often be the hardest part of building a Picture Book Explorers pack.

Younger children can explore the pictures and practise counting and addition skills by finding flowers, or animals. For older ones, you may have to think a little bit out of the box and develop those maths skills through a practical craft activity related to the story.

The craft could be something for your own garden, like a square wooden planter. They can measure the wood  before cutting it and create right-angles at each corner before fastening the pieces together. When it is built, they can take the internal measurements and use them to work out the volume of the planter to find out how much compost it will hold. Depending on what is being planted in it, measure area of the surface to work out how many plants/bulbs/seeds to buy. 

If they are painting or treating the planter, they can work out the surface area so that they know how much paint/treatment to buy, using the information on the paint tin.

In every Picture Book Explorers pack there is a recipe. This is either a regional recipe or somehow related to the story in some way. What better way to finish off a garden unit than a picnic in your garden? Let your children choose their favourite sandwich fillings and bake their favourite cake. Maybe even serve home-made lemonade or ginger beer :) 

I hope this post has inspired you to write your own lit-based unit study around gardening. Without a specific picture book in mind, the activities suggested here are very general so you should be able to use them with any gardening related picture book. Of course, a Picture Book Explorers pack is more finely tuned to a specific picture book and it includes all necessary worksheets/minibooks/factsheets & maps to save you time and energy. There's also a fab Linked Lapbook ~ Sowing & Planting that would be a great go along for any gardening project.

Happy Exploring!

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Friday, 8 March 2019

Spring is in the air...

I'm really enjoying the longer days and am delighted to see the flowers beginning to bloom in my garden. I love the bright splashes of yellow daffodils on the verges that follow the white and purple mix of snowdrops and crocuses. Everything begins to feel so much brighter and we all begin to look forward to the warmer weather to come.

Many teenagers are preparing for the summer exams and quite a few will have received their results for the January sitting. We're still a year away at least from exams here, thank goodness, and I am determined to make the most of our remaining exam-free time by revisiting some of the resources on the Picture Book Explorers website and, hopefully, getting a couple of new ones in there too :)

When my kids were younger, we used Picture Book Explorers to fit the season. For spring we would choose The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck or Granny Sarah & the Last Red Kite. We would explore Wales, the Lakes, birds, feathers, wind and trees. We would go out to look at ducks and visit places where red kites could be seen flying overhead. Happy days :)

The Boat is another spring-ish one if you want to explore rain - we've certainly had plenty of that round here the last few days :/ And of course, you may want to explore Ireland as St Patrick's Day approaches with either Fog Island or The Day the Crayons Quit - that one was a definite favourite here

Another project that's perfect for this time of year is the Linked Lapbook ~ Sowing and Planting. This is a full hands-on project with science activities as well as minibooks to record the progress of the plants you grow, be they flower, fruit or veg :) Actually, that might tie in nicely with Floss where you explore farms and farming :)

Oh, and of course, Mother's Day is fast approaching. Have you seen the My Mum Mini Lapbook that you can make on a piece of A4 card? It's a lovely little project that can be finished in a very short time. It can be completed as an interview between mother and child, or maybe another adult or older sibling can help with it to make a very personal surprise gift for Mum on Mother's Day. Why not add a photo or drawing of Mum to the cover? It will be great to look back at in years to come :)

D'you know what? Seeing as how it's Mother's Day soon, I'm going to give a FREE copy of My Mum Mini Lapbook with every purchase made through the Picture Book Explorers website throughout the rest of March.

Happy Exploring!