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!

Friday, 1 February 2019

It's Snow Use....

We've been enjoying freezing temperatures and some long awaited snow here this week. It's been great for cosying up in the house in pyjamas with hot chocolate in between dashing out to measure the thickness of the ice and the depth of the snow.

We've watched the birds and observed their footprints in the garden as well as spotting the different size prints of all the neighbours' dogs as we walk up and down the street. I love these simple winter pleasures 😊

We've not had enough snow quite just yet for sledging, but my kids live in hope. I think I'll stay home and make sure the fire is lit and the kettle is on for when they get back 😉

There are so many ways to make good use of the snow. Freezing water-filled balloons is one Boykin wants to try again tonight and I'm thinking of hanging my towels out overnight to dry (or not) to find out whether or not it's true that frost softens them. I also want to try putting leaves and berries in water filled bowls to make ice hangings for my garden. I've seen them on pinterest and they look so pretty :)

I'd love to hear about your favourite snow activities. Please leave a comment below or drop me a line 🙋

There are Picture Book Explorers just perfect for this time of year and this kind of weather. You can have fun with the art activity in Greyfriars Bobby, or enjoy exploring frost with The Best Christmas Present in the World. Or take full advantage of the weather and explore snow in a very hands-on way with Picture Book Explorers ~ Black Dog.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Lapbook Tutorial #2

Have you ever wanted to make lapbooks that are different sizes?

This video demonstrates how to make a mini-lapbook base. They're used for the mini-lapbook packs I have on TeachersPayTeachers and Currclick and we've also used them for quick projects than can be completed in a day.
For instance, we made a quick Denmark one for book group - it had a flag, map, a layered minibook with information about the country and a minibook about Hans Christian Anderson. All the minibooks were made from scratch. The covers had written titles for the most part, but The Girl drew a picture of the little mermaid on the front of the Hans Christian Anderson minibook.

We've also used this method to make bigger lapbook bases to use as a display board when we have done geography fairs at our local Home Ed group. We used stiffer card from a cardboard box for that and covered it in coloured paper :)

I hope you enjoy this sort video. I will be making more, so subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you don't miss them :)

Happy Exploring!

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Saturday, 12 January 2019

Lapbook Tutorial #1

How to make a lapbook base from an A4 document wallet

This is my favourite way to make a lapbook base. It's very quick and easy.

Make sure to buy good quality document wallets. The stronger, the better. Avoid the ones from the pound shop. They tend to be grey inside and VERY flimsy. It's worth paying a bit extra, believe me. Our lapbooks have been taken out so often to be admired, re-explored and re-read and I've found that the cheap wallets just don't hold up to so much handling, much to Boykin's disappointment.

I'm so glad that we found lapbooks. They encouraged him to take a real pride in his work  👩

Happy Exploring!

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Friday, 4 January 2019

Woohoo! I won an award!

Have you spotted the lovely bright Blue Ribbon in the sidebar? -------->

I'm so excited to be able to tell you that I have received this Blue Ribbon for Favourite Elementary Product 2018 as voted by The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew for Picture Book Explorers ~ Paddington.

This means so much to me because the voting was done by other home educating parents. These are people who use  a lot of different resources and are very discerning about quality and value. I don't mean simply monetary value, but real, educational value. I feel very honoured and humbled to receive this 👩

Oh my goodness! Is this post turning into an Oscar speech? I am just so grateful that these family took the time to learn and explore with this pack. Thank you, thank you all 😍

You can find links to all the different reviews here.

My own favourite memories of exploring Paddington with my own children have to be all the foam activities - meringues, elephants toothpaste, foam painting Paddington...

… and shaving foam fun 😂

There was a good dose of academic learning went on too with maps, maths, creative writing, architecture and science 📚

You may be interested to know that Michael Bond, the author of Paddington Bear was born on 13th January 1926, making this a perfect tome to  explore the book 👩

You can find Picture Book Explorers ~ Paddington on the Branch Out World website, on Teachers Pay Teachers and Currclick.

I'd love to know what messy fun your kids get up to. Leave a comment below :)

Happy Exploring!

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