Saturday, 29 September 2012

Fighting in the name of God?

In learning about the crusades, we started from the beginning at the First Crusade, by watching Jerusalem - The Making of a Holy City, to help us understand why Jerusalem is regarded as sacred to the Abrahamic faiths.

Following that, we wanted to understand more about the causes for the conflicts that led to crusades, so we watched The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross, which provides more food for thought.  The study of history these days very often lead to philosophical discussions such as:
  • the actions, motivations, and consequences behind historical events and figures;
  • whether and how view points can be informed or misdirected depending on the sources of historical records; and
  • the roles of faiths/religions at different times in history.

The following book provides a humours look into the perils of fighting in the First Crusade.

All the reading and learning from documentaries are well and good, but the most exciting part for us was when we stumbled upon an ancient church which claims to be "the oldest wooden church in the world"!  The church is still being used for services on Sundays.

The highlight of discovering this church lies on the outside of the building.  I don't normally get excited over discovering people's tombs, but there was a 12th century crusader's grave there, right outside the front entrance!  How cool is it to have seen one?!

This post is linked up to:
2) Collage Friday: Life is Short
3) Favourite Resources: September 28, 2012
4) TGIF Linky Party #49
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Really Good Monday

Friday, 28 September 2012


We decided to go and see Titian's exhibition at The National Gallery before it ended.  It was an interesting exhibition, very different from the ones we have visited in the past, in that this one consisted of various collaborations acorss different artistic fields (poetry, dance, drama, and visual arts), so we were in for a visual feast.  The visit was interesting for Tiger to see how Greek Mythology has inspired so many different forms of artistic interpretations.

Since the exhibition was based on Ovid's epic poem, Metamophoses, Tiger read a retold version of it to get a better understanding of the themes of the exhibition. Most of the stories in the poem were known to him from previous readings of other versions of Greek myths, but I like this particular version for its beautiful (and somewhat scarily realistic) illustrations and the author's attempt to stay true to Ovid's original cyclical poetic style in a few of the stories.

Again, we had our mini-gallery-on-the-cupboard-door at home, with Titian's work posted on it for the month, so that Tiger could look at them from time to time and be ready to narrate and discuss them during one of our art sessions together.

Alongside narration and the gallery visit, we did some research at home using the BBC Your Painting site as well as a few books.

Give Titian is known for his realistic portaits, it is very difficult to expect a child to create an art piece in that style so I asked Tiger to create as realistically as possible, a heroic figure of his choice.  He took five minutes to complete the assignment.  So much for following in the footsteps of the Old Masters!  The drawing is full of character though.

This post is linked up to:
1) Homeschool Mother's Journal: September 28, 2012
2) Collage Friday: Life is Short
3) Favourite Resources: September 28, 2012
4) TGIF Linky Party #49
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Really Good Monday
6) Enchanted Thursdays Blog Hop #33

Sunday, 23 September 2012

One for sorrow, Two for joy

While we hadn't set out to specifically study birds this month, the topic of magpies came about from an art challenge that I was participating in last week.  I was to draw/paint something from our backyard, so I thought it would be a good idea to invite Tiger along to do the challenge while at the same time getting some nature study in.

We started to observe more closely what was going on in our back garden.  Although we see it everyday, for this exercise I wanted to choose something that leapt out at us, something unusual or extraordinary.  It was then that we noticed an unusual increase in the number of magpies we see in the past week.

Having chosen the topic, we sat down to do some research on the bird.  We watched the interesting clips here before putting an entry into our nature journals.  The poem is a traditional nursery rhyme, which I managed to sneak in as penmanship practice for Tiger.

I started out with one entry:

But I was bugged by the 'One for sorrow, Two for joy' line in the nursery rhyme so much that I felt compelled to make a second one, just to make sure that joy is all around...

Have a good Sunday, everyone!

This post is linked up to:
1) Homeschool Mother's Journal: September 21, 2012
2) Collage Friday
3) Favourite Resources: September 21, 2012
4) TGIF Linky Party #48
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Party
6) Science Sunday

Friday, 21 September 2012

Inner learning and synthesis

"Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today. "
-- Peter Gray, article here.

I'm been relatively quiet on this blog lately, not because life hasn't still continued for us but because I'm still learning to understand the changes that are taking place in our homeschooling approach.

You see, once I've let go of my lesson plans, I am not entirely sure how to make sense of the spontaneous and unplanned learning that is taking place in front of me.  This is all very new to me, so I am very much a new learner in this sense.

Another new learning for me is to have patience.  As there is now no specific objective boxes to tick, I no longer have means to report that Tiger has learnt such-and-such knowledge in say, two days, or that he has completed five pages of certain workbooks.  What has changed is that Tiger's learning now appears to me to be more like pieces of puzzles - somewhat disjointed but all belonging to the same big picture nonetheless, even though where each piece belongs is not very obvious at the moment.  Therefore, now it takes much longer for me to piece together the seemingly random activities that he does with his time to get a sense of where he is taking them.  His learning process is a bit of a mystery to this very systematic, squential Mum, but it all makes perfect sense to him.

One example that I can discuss here with some clarity, after two weeks of observation, is this whole theme/idea/project of war (or what I currently group under "Classical Civilisations" for the benefit of my own understanding).

The following are the activities that I have observed Tiger doing on his own accord over a period of two weeks:

1) playing with the camera to make videos;
2) watching more documentaries on Greek and Roman battles;
3) clay modeling;
4) playing with toy soldiers and building blocks;
5) playing ches;
6) making armour and weapons out of cardboard; and
7) reading books.

Seem pretty random, don't you think?  However, then a few other things happened that gave me a glimpse into how Tiger is connecting the different dots together.  One of those activities is him making his own short film of the battle scene reenactments using his toy soldiers:

When Tiger realised that he did not have any modern toy soldiers to make a more modern battle scene (after watching The Battle of Waterloo 1815), he decided to make some out of modeling clay.  He declined all my suggestions and help, and figured out by himself how to mould the clay into the soldiers in different positions.  If he hasn't been watching so many documentaries and reading so many books on this topic, he probably would have some difficulty to fashion the various positions without any references.

Another activity that reveals to me that learning is continuously taking place within Tiger is through our informal discussions, which can go from talking about the hows and whys of battle successes due to strategy and positioning, to the more philosophy questions such as whether wars could ever be justified.  It would have been easier for me to record that Tiger has completed two dozen pages of history questionnaires, or that he has sat through three history lectures, but that clearly is not how he learns best.  We sat through the first lecture of The Greek and Persian Wars from The Great Courses but Tiger does not like the feeling of having someone talk at him all the time, so that has gone onto the back burner for now.

Of course, in the past two weeks Tiger has been engaged in many other activities besides the ones I've listed here.  This is only a snapshot of the activities that I have been able to make sense of within my mind after two weeks of observation.  Other observations will follow once I am able to see how they fit into a bigger picture.

This blog post is linked up to:
1) History and Geography Meme #42
2) Enchanted Thursdays Blog Hop #32
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: September 21, 2012
4) Collage Friday
5) Favourite Resources: September 21, 2012
6) TGIF Linky Party #48
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Party

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

All Aboard!

Although we had covered the Phoenicians the year before when we studied the ancient world, when a replica ship docked in London, we could not pass up the opportunity to see it for real.

We went on board the ship to learn more.  The replica ship was built by hand four years ago, based on what would have been an actual Phoenician ship from 600 B.C.  You can read more about the ship and its journey so far here.

Then we were shown the various parts of the ship and its uses.

None was more fascinating than the toilet that the crew has to actually use!  Imagine the experience of having waves washing your bottom when you squat over it.  For some reason I kept imaging the possibility of Jaws jumping up and tearing a piece of flesh off... although logically speaking, that's not possible.  Still...

At the bottom deck was the exhibition space with actual Phoenician artefacts on display.

The most fascinating part of the exhibition is the boat itself, and being on board to see the inner structure of it.  It was a good revision of what we have learned about the Phoenicians.

To refresh our memories, we also watched the documetary, The Quest for the Phoenicians.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/11/12
2) History and Geography Meme 41

Friday, 7 September 2012

Learning to be free

The lesson is for me, rather than for Tiger.

Week 1 of Year 3, and BANG!  Immediately I was presented with the choice between (1) insisting upon following my perfectly laid out plan and (2) respecting Tiger's wish to direct his days and his learning.

Luckily for me, such resistance and cry for freedom occur at least once a year here, so I have learned (after an emergency consultation with the very wise Tortoise) to see each occurrence as necessary feedback to better align my efforts to suit Tiger's growing need for autonomy.

I decided to let go of my schedule for this week and see what happens.  My greatest worry is that the week will pass by without any form of learning taking place.  Let's see what has transpired this week when Tiger has been given free rein to organise his days:

1) Art - a more detailed version of these sketches can be found here.

2) Life Skills - Cooking

3) Science - Chemistry


4) Nature Study

5) Classical Civilisations
Since Tiger has sustained his fascination with wars and battles for two years now, especially those that took place during Greek and Roman times, I thought it would be sensible to let him follow his interest in this area rather than hurrying him along history study just because I have boxes that need to be ticked.

When given the go-ahead to pursue his interest, Tiger watched these documentaries again this week:
He must have watched each one at least 3 times in the past, yet he still wanted to watch them again.  Why does he want to learn about the same topics repeatedly?  There is a clear motivation there, although where that will lead is not entirely clear to me at the moment.  When I am tempted to think, "What's the point of knowing about all these battles?" I console myself by thinking that a Military Historian is quite a respectable profession.

6) Reading

7) History/Literature
Tiger has read at least three different versions of the legends of Robin Hood, two of which are:
Like King Arthur, nobody knew whether Robin Hood actually existed, so we decided to find out by watching the Robin Hood documentary.

8) Literature
Tiger has read the entire story of The Chronicles of Narnia five or six times, so when I got wind of a superb theatre production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I asked him whether he would like to see it.  To my surprise he at first declined, thinking that it would be a dumbed down pantomime shown to children.  He only became interested after watching a clip explaining the puppetry and design work that went on behind the scenes.

We made the trip down to Kensington Gardens to watch the production.  Tiger was mesmorised by the special effects and theatre work that went into this production.

9) Games

Ok, so the week hasn't been one based on idleness or loafing.  I clearly have much to learn about trusting my own son to know how, when, and what to learn.  What started out as a difficult first day was quickly saved by all of us being flexible, willing and able to negotiate, and meet at a common ground where everyone benefited.  That's the beauty of homeschooling - immediate response and application of required changes. 

This is a summarised version of the various aspects of learning that took place in a week.  When I find the time to organise my thoughts and records better, I will write in more details about specific topics and observations.

Hope you have had a good week of homeschooling too!

This post is linked up to:
1) Enchanted Thursdays Blog Hop #30
2) Homeschool Mother's Journal: September 7, 2012
3) Collage Friday - Chicken Pox
4) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One where the Toad Returns
5) TGIF Linky Party #46
6) Favourite Resources: September 7, 2012

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Don't hang on my words...

or my booklists, for that matter!

I have noticed that, despite deliberately not linking up to any other blogs, and holding it until the very last minute to publish my yearly plan, it has become the post with the highest hit in a single day.  How does that happen?

I am concerned that the plan might give my readers the wrong idea of our intention and approach, so I feel the need to write this follow-up post to clarify a few things:
1) I have deliberately placed emphasis on my intention to apply flexibility rather than rigidity in schedules, completion, "targets", time frames, and resources, which is why I have left many categories open to "various resources".

2) If you have been reading this blog for a while, you would know that even the most beautifully laid out plan of mine does not take long to change.  Last year, I had four months (September to Christmas) before I had to let go of my plan, this year it is changing already -- and we just started Day 1 yesterday!

3) At the back of my mind, I always knew that my published plan is but a back-up, contingency schedule that I fall back on if there is nothing else interesting going on.  Real life, when one is open to its possibilities and experiences, is never dull - at least it has never been dull for us, so I don't actually think that we will have to evoke our contingency plan much at all.  However, that is the only written plan that resembles some kind of structure that we do at home.  As veteran homeschoolers know fully well, actual day-to-day learning doesn't automatically fall into nicely-fit boxes or categories.  More often than not, learning appears (to the untrained eyes) to be slightly chaotic and random, especially for a non-sequential, non-linear learner.

Writing this blog is my attempt to present a framework/structure based on Tiger's learning experience, which in its true form is essentially more organic and much broader than it appears to be on this blog.  You already knew that, don't you?  :-)

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Year 3: Academic Plan

I have learnt that flexibility and balance are two key areas I want to focus on in our homeschooling this year.  While we started off with well-crafted plan last year, by Christmas it had mostly gone out of the window as we were lured away from our desk to attend numerous outside activities.  While we certainly have been exposed to many interesting areas of learning, met new people, and made a few friends at the outside classes, I feel the need to re-establish what we do best at home, i.e. in-depth learning and concentration.

Given the need to balance Tiger's interest and his non-linear way of learning, I figured the most appropriate way forward is to drop the whole idea of following a 'completion schedule', ie that he must know certain things by a certain time, and to allow time and space in our homeschool to immerse in topics that fascinate him, all the while keeping the Classical Eduation as our broad, underlying aspiration.  The areas in which we will begin to pursue exploratory, context-based study are Literature, Classical Civilisation, Science, Nature Study, Art, and History.

Below are the my plans for Year 3 (September 2012 - July 2013):
1) Language Arts (9 hours per week)
  • Grammar and Writing:  
I feel as though we had wasted two years on a curriculum that did not suit Tiger's learning style.  We barely struggled through its boring repetitions in Year 1 but I thought things might get better with Year 2 but it did not.  Tiger hardly retained anything about grammar from using the previous curriculum so I have finally learned my lesson the hard way and abandoned that approach.  For Year 3, I will use a more humourous, games-based approach to grammar study.  Since Tiger is still not an active writer, I will use this year to focus on grammar as a foundation to writing, rather than having a separate curriculum for writing.
    1. Grammar-Land with worksheets
    2. Grammar Games and Activities that Boost Writing Skills 
    3. Instant Grammar Practice 
    4. Punctuation Tales
    5. Grammar Tales
  • Penmanship: Copywork in cursive writing
  • Literature
  1. Enjoying Poetry
  2. Robin Hood with lapbook 
  3. The Travels of Marco Polo with lesson plans for grades K-2 and grades 3-5
  4. Shakespeare with various resources
  5. Drama class*

2) Modern Languages (5 hours per week)
  • Mandarin Chinese
    1. Chinese made easy for Kids Level 1
    2. Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese 1

3) Classics (5 hours per week)

4) Maths (5 hours per week)

5) History (3 hours per week)
  • World History: AD1150-1550 (topic study using various resources)
  • UK History
  1. Richard I to Henry VIII (topic study using various resources)
  2. Young Archaeologists Club*

6) Music (1.5 hour per week)
  • Instrument:  
  1. Piano Lessons Made Easy Level 2 
  2. Finger Exercises Made Easy Level 2 and Level 3
  3. My First Theory Book 

7) Science and Nature Study (3 hours per week)
  • Science: topics study in Chemistry using various resources
I'm trying out the interest-led approach in science this year.  Tiger has expressed a keen interest in chemistry, so instead of making him wait for it while we follow some arbitrary learning schedule, I've decided that we should give chemistry a go.  My research tells me that the 'basics' of chemistry mostly involve knowing topics about the states of matter, as well as atoms and molecules, so we will go with those using various resources that I have gathered, which I will be sharing on this blog as we learn through the year. 
  • Nature Study: topic study through the seasons using various resources
I intend to make nature journaling a consistent practice this year.  We have had an encouraging (re)start with nature journaling in Year 2, and I have taken a personal interest in nature journaling as part of my own sketching practice.

8) Art (5.5 hours per week)
  • topic study using various resources
  • Clay sculpture class*
  • Film animation class*

9) Sports (4 hours per week)
  • Off-road cycling
  • Karate*
  • Tennis*

* denotes regular external classes where Tiger meets and interacts with different age groups of people from diverse backgrounds.  That's socialisation taken care of!

Update: Before anybody gets too excited by this plan, you'll be wise to read this as well.

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