Teaching the Children to Think.

One of the joys of home education is being able to adapt the curriculum (if you use one at all) to suit your children.
One lesson that surprises people when they see it on our timetable is Thinking.
As a teenager, I adored Edward De Bono. I read a lot of his books including Teach Your Child to Think. When we began home educating, I was thrilled to include Thinking as a lesson.
I have always believed that people can be taught to think and to learn. We worked through the exercises in Teach Your Child to Think, with a few added touches from Think! Before it’s Too Late and Teaching Thinking.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t everything that I had hoped it would be. The boys weren’t very excited by the activities. They participated, but it wasn’t their favourite lesson.
I added a few more touches to our Thinking lessons. I began to finish the lesson with games designed to develop particular skills. We played Mastermind together, Shape by Shape and Sherlock (a card game that helps improve short term memory).


Eventually, I finished my De Bono series, and did a few one-off lessons. We looked at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and at Myer’s-Briggs personality types.
These were much more successful. The boys were fascinated with these new ideas.
However, my latest find has been another De Bono book. I found his Mind Pack in a charity shop (it’s amazing how many of my resources are picked up in charity shops. I can’t resist science kits). I am very excited about this. It’s the perfect crossover between De Bono and card games.

I love being able to share something that interests me with my children. I think that processing skills are important, and I am hoping that this targeted practice will help the boys’ improve their problem-solving.

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Don’t call it running away.


I’m writing this at my parent’s house, because Baby and I have run away.
Of course, this is a planned break, and my husband has taken the week off to take care of the big boys. Of course, the big boys think of this as a wonderful opportunity for Daddy to try his hand at home education (which it is, Daddy is quite excited).
But, driving away from my house, leaving my big boys for a week (well, sort of a week – I left at lunchtime on Monday, they’re coming down here for the day on Wednesday and I’ll be back for tea on Friday!), I felt like I was running away.
The boys are my responsibility. Home educating them is my choice. Disappearing and leaving my husband to do my job for a week feels slightly wrong.
We’ve been home educating for a year now and I do need a bit of a break. I think Baby does too. He is very good at staying calm in the midst of chaos. But I like him to have a bit of downtime too! I think Baby needs to spend some time in a calmer environment where he’s the one throwing toddler-style tantrums.
All the rages and the destruction in our home takes its toll. I get very tired. I get a bit sad. I struggle to be any fun at all. I feel like I’m failing all my children.
There are times when it feels like I have been defeated. I cannot help the boys. I can barely get through the day.
But, I am incredibly blessed. I have a fantastic support network! When you apply to adopt, social workers encourage you to identify your support network. Most people find that it changes a lot once the children come home. But, at least the process prepares you to need a support network. I couldn’t do this without my amazing support. This week away has been made possible by:
My mum and dad who are having me and Baby to stay;
My husband who is with the Boys;
My brother who is meeting up with my husband and the boys to break up the week;
My home educating friends who are including my husband and the boys in various activities this week;
My friends who have offered to be my husband’s back-up this week so that he doesn’t need me to go home early.
Without this amazing group of people, I couldn’t get away like this. I am enormously grateful to have them all.
So, we’ve run away. My fervent hope is that we will return home at the end of the week, energised and rested, ready to have fun with the big boys again.
I want to be good at caring for the boys. I want to be calm and able to help them manage their difficult feelings. I need space to get calm again.
I want to have the energy to create fun experiences for the boys, to keep up with their racing about and to encourage them to find the fun in life. I need to rest and recover and regain that energy.
Even as we drove away, I was looking forward to Friday when – hopefully – a better version of me will come running back home.
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Great Lesson Four – the Story of Maths

According to the Montessori plan, the fourth Great Lesson ought to be the Story of Writing, but I bought an abacus for my Great Lesson on Maths and abacuses are about to come up in our Penrose Maths Lessons so I decided to switch the Great Lessons around so that I could produce the abacus and have it available for the relevant Penrose lesson.
As we are moving further from the Montessori roots, perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t even notice until after giving this Great Lesson that I haven’t even read the Montessori version. This one is all me.
I took most of my inspiration from The What on Earth Wallbook of Science and Engineering and a great Maths History Timeline that I found through a home education Facebook page.
For what it’s worth, here’s my talk, we laid the Wallbook out to give the boys something to look at between demos:
About 3000BC, Babylonian mathematicians devised a counting system based on the number 60. This has had a lasting impact on mathematics. Can you think of any examples where 60 is an important number?
[Boys came up with degrees in a circle being six sixties and there being sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour.]
[I showed them how to use a protractor to measure some angles.]
Around 1000BC, merchants in China and the Middle East developed abacuses to speed up calculations. Some people still use them today. Being able to perform calculations quickly has driven technology and mathematics has inspired all sorts of experiments and discoveries.
Pythagoras was a Greek mathematician, he lived from 569 till 475BC (can you remember what BC stands for? Higher numbers are longer ago than lower numbers.) Pythagoras is probably most famous for discovering a rule about right-angled triangles. The square of the hypotenuse (that’s the side opposite the right-angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.
[I used an illustration in The Math Book to explain this idea to the boys, but you could easily draw your own picture. See below.]

You know about times tables. Some numbers are answers to lots of times tables and others aren’t answers to any times table sums.
[We have a wooden toy called a Times Table Abacus I used this to help the boys find which numbers came up a lot and which ones didn’t come up at all.]
Numbers that can’t be fairly shared into any number of groups are called Prime Numbers. A man called Eratosthenes (276-194BC) made something called a ‘sieve’ to find prime numbers.
The ‘sieve’ is a series of steps.
1) Let ‘p’ equal 2.
2) On your number chart [I used a 100 number square], cross off all the multiples of p.
3) Find the smallest uncrossed number that is bigger than p. This is a prime number.
4) Let this new prime number equal p.
5) Repeat steps 2-4 until you reach the end of your chart.
[We used these steps to find all the prime numbers under a hundred.]
Diophantas is often called the Father of Algebra – though, as with most big titles, some people demur. Algebra is, at it’s simplest, replacing numbers with letters. You’ve actually done algebra before.
[I used our whiteboard – as a side note, whiteboards are great and everyone should have one, all puzzles are more inviting when drawn on s whiteboard and it saves going through endless sheets of A3 paper – to write this puzzle:
2 + ? = 5
The boys solved this. Then I replaced the ? with x.
I drew a couple more very simple equations and asked the boys to solve them.]
Algebra can be used with more than one unknown and to solve very complex problems.
Around 200AD, Mayan people developed a number system with a symbol for zero. [I showed the boys a fun page about zero from Maths – a book you can count on]
As you know, the Romans used Roman Numerals, which don’t have a symbol for zero. Around 1203 a book by Fibonacci popularised Arabic Numerals in Europe. [I showed an illustration of various number systems from Train Your Brain to be a Maths Genius.]
Arabic Numerals are the ones that we use now.
In 1654, Pascal published a book about probability. This is all about predicting how likely it is that certain things will happen.
[I used the whiteboard to draw a probability tree for flipping a coin three times.]
In 1822, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace designed and built a mechanical computer. It was designed to help work out sums and they called it ‘The Difference Engine’.
In 1880, Greenwich Mean Time was established. Before this, different parts of England had their own timezones.
In the same year, John Venn developed Venn Diagrams. [We drew a simple Venn Diagram of our family together.]
Hewlett Packard made the first scientific calculator in 1972.
In 1975, Benoit Mandelbrot developed Fractal Geometry using (then very new) computers to generate self-replicating patterns. [I used another picture from The Math Book.]
Maths and technology have always gone together, our desire to improve one feeds the development of the other. Who knows where Maths will go next?
As we learn more about the world, we are able to answer questions that used to be unanswerable.
In 1995, Andrew Wiles was able to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, which people had tried to do for more than three hundred years. Who knows what great discovery will be next?

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What my children taught me about germs and microscopes.

Based on Great Lesson Three, Eldest did a project on Germs and Middly did a project on microscopes.
Daddy bravely pricked his thumb so that Middly could make some slides (using a little with human blood, and Eldest could observe Daddy’s thumb as it healed.
Here’s Eldest’s description of Daddy’s the healing:

And here’s what Middly saw through a microscope when he looked at his blood slide:

I’m very grateful for Daddy sustaining an injury for the sake of science. I tried to stab myself in the thumb with a pin, but wimped out.
I did manage to provide Middly with some hair, though. So he made a slide with that. Once again, he drew what he could see at various levels of magnification:

I also got out a Microscope Kit and Middly built a microscope.
I meant to take a photo, but I forgot. So, here’s Middly’s drawing instead:
Middly talked about the effects of convex mirrors and how to put a slide together. I was rather pleased with his pictures.
They both drew a lot for this project.
Eldest drew a picture of germs in a body.
He talked about the invention of penicillin and of vaccinations.
He showed us a picture of bacteria being engulfed by macrophage, which he’d copied from a book.

Eldest particularly enjoyed using The Human Body Sticker Book by Usbourne for this project, and I was impressed by the level of detail.