Monday, 25 June 2012

The Story of the Olympics by Richard Brassey

It turns out that today the kids have been learning about what I've been teaching all day at school - the Olympic values.  We had a very long chat about them all this evening, and I am now toying with the idea of trying to get some tickets for some of the events. There are still some available, and although the logistics of getting there with two children are challenging, there will never be an easier time for us to see an Olympic games!

This evening's story was, of course, Olympic themed.  We read The Story of the Olympics by Richard Brassey.  I bought it from The Book People, thinking that it might be a bit of a boring band-wagonny book, but that it didn't really matter, as it was also v cheap.  It turns out it's incredibly entertaining, funny and infomative.  I was thinking of just fobbing the kids off with a few choice facts, but ended up reading most of the book to them.

Probably a bit too wordy for very little children, but a definite winner, if you'll pardon the pun, for ages 5+.

I have ordered a couple more Olympic books, which will feature here soon.  For the educators amongst you there's an absolutely fabulous scheme of work produced by Oxfam called "Heroes and Heroines", available to download for free from their website.  There's a version for primary aged kids and one for secondary.  Lots of the activities would be adaptable for home-educators.  I used the first lesson with a Year 7 group this morning, and it worked really well, and certainly got the children thinking and discussing.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

An eclectic mix of reading materials

What a difference a good night's sleep makes.  This morning we all felt significantly more jolly.  It's been a good day for reading today.  We were up early, and, much to C's disgust, had to go to church to collect A's First Communion Certificate without Daddy, or Granny, or Grandpa being there.  This was not a popular choice, although A and I quite enjoyed the adventure of being up and about on Sunday, just the three of us.  C read his way through the service.  His two books of choice this morning were Spider Man: The Amazing Story, from the wonderful Dorling Kindersley Early Reader series, which we borrowed from the library yesterday, and and extremely old school guide to each and every Pokeman, which I bought for 20p at the fayre yesterday.  Money well spent. 

When we got home I was fully in Grade 1 parenting mode.  We made  a model from Mathematical Curiosities by Gerald Jenkins.  I am not sure either child understood the mathematical theory behind the model, but we had fun with a bit of Pritt-Stick and were left with a pretty snazzy looking pyramid to show for it.  This book is very quaint and fun.  There is a rack of similarly odd books at one of the National Trust places we regularly visit, and they've always proved good value.

A then helped me to do the maths to reduce a recipe for bread sauce in Rose Prince's The New English Kitchen, a recipe book which is a pleasure to read, and really did make me think about the way we consume, and how we might get back to traditions which are important, and, indeed, tasty.

After an afternoon spent getting fresh air in an adventure playground, we came back for bedtime.  A chose Neal Layton's The Story of Things.  Both kids love looking at this book in bed, working out which things were invented when.  It's very low on text, which is an excellent thing for a non-fiction book for children, in my view.  Too many words tends to put everyone off, and the facts simply dont' get absorbed.  However, pop-ups, and the odd bit of sparse text will make this a book that children will return to again and again.  They are bound to be more interested in the information which is there, where there is a picture of a musical toilet thrown in for good measure. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spiders and Melancholy

We've had a really, really good day.  Up early, out and about early, dropped MrM at the station, had an utterly non-stressful supermarket visit, followed by bargain shopping and the library in the nearby village.  We then spent the afternoon helping out at the school fayre (mostly) in the sunshine, spending so many 25ps on things like lucky dips, that they ended up amounting to significantly more than 25p.  Then friends round for pizza and dough balls for tea.

However, bedtime was tinged with melancholy.  I checked Facebook for the first time at about 8pm and was reminded of the fact that it was my junior school's 50th anniversary garden party today.  Lots of my old teachers and friends were there.  I really wanted to go, but it clashed with our school's fayre, and also it's a very, very long way from where we live.  This sometimes leads me to one of my favourite types of feeling-sorry-for-myself meloncholia - the "where do I belong?" existential angst.  I don't really have a home town.  The nearest I come to it is the city where I was born, went to uni and most of my extended family still live.  However, I have only lived there, in total, for 4.5 years of my life.  Yes, they were formative years, but given that I am 33, they do not represent a massive proportion of my time on earth.  I have lived in current home town for nearly 10, but have also lived in two other cities for nearly the same length of time.  I have no family ties left in either of those, and friends have scattered all over the country.  I am sure this is the  modern way, and generally speaking I don't even really think about it, but tonight it made me sad. A was also upset "but I would have liked to have seen your teachers, Mummy!", which made it worse.  Added to this, the way I sobbed my way through my last visit to this particular place of residence, I think it was probably for the best that we didn't go.  I think anyone saying "so how are your parents?"  might well have finished me off.

Another reason for the general malaise was that MrM is now away until late on Wednesday night.  Although MrM going away always turns me into the most amazing housekeeper (for reasons I have not yet fathomed), it really is very lonely.  We all miss him.

We read Aaaarrgghh, Spider! by Lydia Monks.  A is not a fan of creepy-crawlies in the house - she loves them in their natural environment, but gets the definite heebie-jeebies when they stray.  We giggled along to the story, which is about a spider who just wants to be a family pet.  It is really cleverly done, and the illustrations are original and creative.  However, the final picture, where the spider invites all of his friends round, proved too much for A.  There were tears.  There was snot.  There was an increase in the general sense of unease and the world being slightly off-kilter.  I might try it again in the morning.  Things always, without fail, seem better in the morning.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

When the Moon Comes Out by Francesca Simon

This was A's comfort reading last night, after another day spent coughing and wheezing her way through the hayfever season.  I think this must have been a charity shop bargain, as I see from Amazon that it was released in 1997.  It certainly has a place in the family favourite hall of fame.

The story is about what animals get up to when the moon comes out, and people aren't expecting them to behave in their usual ways.  There are some lovely, whimsical pictures of penguins painting, and dogs on safari.  When the sun comes back up again, the animals resume their usual activities.

It's similar in tone to Sandra Boynton, and is similarly bonkers, which appeals greatly to small children.  It's also got a certain retro charm.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Modern Art Doodle Book and other books about art.

I would love to know more about art, but am, tragically, a total philistine.  A has quite an interest in art.  Two of my favourite days out with her have been to art galleries.  On one occasion we sent the boys to the Transport Museum to sit in various vehicles, and we went round The National Gallery, armed with Usborne's Art Sticker Book.  When we found one of the paintings, we stuck the sticker in.  It appealed to our Makka Pakka-esque need to gather and categorise.

On another fabulous day we visited the Tate Modern with a very lovely friend who actually knows about art and stuff.  The children's activity pack was excellent, and encouraged A to think about what art actually was, with some really interesting and thought-provoking activities.

I recently bought The Modern Art Doodlebook to give our Sunday evening colouring-in sessions some variety.  I was pleasantly surprised by what a brilliant book it is - it has the Look Inside feature on Amazon if you want a sneak preview.  There's a section with biographical information about the artist, and then an activity based on one of their most famous pictures.  I can't quite work out whether it's meant for children or adults - it's definitely not one for small kids.  I think I would certainly be helpful for homework tasks bought home by secondary age students.

Finally a mention for one of my faves: A Year In Art: The Activity Book by Christiane Weidemann, Anne-Kathrin Funck and Doris Kutschbach.  This book takes pride of place in our dining room, and is moved every day to show the new picture and activity.  The kids are not actually allowed to draw in the book, and have to use paper to do the activities, but they are varied, well thought out and interesting.  

I have realised, in writing this, that I have far too many books about art.  The others will have to wait for another day when I am not quite so weary from running, taking children to various evening activities, and spending two very long, very hot hours on Swim Patrol in the school swimming pool/greenhouse boiling alive with several groups of excitable Year 3 children.  And on my day off too.  Someone should probably make me a saint and paint my portrait.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Bedtimes without reading

Since last month, I had not travelled on a plane for many years.  So many years, that I had no idea that nowadays it's necessary to pay for such luxuries as water, food and putting more than about 3lbs of luggage onto the plane.  I won't bore you with the tedium of the protracted discussion I had with the lady at East Midlands Airport regarding my contact lens solution, during which I offered to drip some of it into my eye, to prove to her that it was not explosive in any way.  The shock of not getting a quite horrible, but extremely exciting tray of unidentifiable, plasticky-tasting foodstuffs was bad enough.  The "hand-luggage" only thing was the real shocker.

Consequently, on our family holiday that we've just returned from, we had space for four changes of clothes each (luckily there were washing facilities), toileteries (but only in tiny bottles, obv), and two books each for the children (plus a pad of plain paper and pens).  I chose, it has to be said, badly.  I wouldn't let A take Lola Rose by her fave Jacqueline Wilson, because I thought she would read it too quickly, and then have nothing to read.  I packed Diary of a Parent Trainer by Jenny Smith instead, which I thought looked her cup of tea, but she thought was boring, and therefore she had nothing to read.  For C I picked How to Build an Abonimable Snowman by Dominic Barker, which he promptly decided was "too long", and he wouldn't read his either!  I also packed their current bedtime stories (Beast Quest 14 for C and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for A), but due to the late nights we had in Spain, we ended up just putting them to bed when they dropped, without a bedtime story.

We had a wonderful time, and I would not have wanted to change the lovely, sun-drenched evenings, but I have to say, when C and I snuggled up for a couple of chapters of Tom and Ellena's latest exploits, I truly felt at home again.  Bed time just isn't quite bed time without a story.