Science club – Circulatory System

Week Five – Circulatory System

Arrival Craft: Paper heart from Scholastic model book.

Introduction: Today we’re looking at the circulatory system. Does anyone know what the circulatory system does?

The circulatory system moves blood around our bodies. What organ pumps all the blood around our bodies?

The heart is a big muscle that pumps blood around our bodies.

Does anyone know where their heart is?

If children are unsure, ask a volunteer to find the heart on the anatomy model.

Individual task: Children can make hearts out of plasticine and put them on paper people. body 

Gather Together: We’re going to do something a little bit different today. I have several activities that we can only really do one or two at a time. So, I’m going to put a different activity on each table. When you finish with the activity on your table move around to the next table. Everyone will get a chance to do everything and, when we’ve all visited all the tables, we’ll have snack time.

Set up microscope on one table so children can look at blood cells.

Set up heart models on another table so children can look at the hearts, take them apart and put them back together.

Set up blood pressure monitor and stethoscope on another table so children can have a go at taking their blood pressure and listening to one another’s hearts. bloodpressure

Set up CPR dummy on another table so that children can practice CPR. (These can be pretty pricey, but they make inflatable ones now, which the kids love see details here.)

Break for drink and snack.

Gather Together: What is our blood for?

There are four main components of blood and they each have their own job: red cells transport oxygen, white cells fight viruses, platelets build scabs, plasma transports nutrients and hormones.


Individual task: Make models of blood, using sweets to represent the different types of blood cells. bloodcells


Science club – Respiratory System

Week Four – Respiratory System

As children arrive, ask them to measure their lung capacity and their height, then plot both of these on a graph.

Arrival Craft: Paper respiratory system from Scholastic model book.


Introduction: As you arrived, I hope that you were able to test your ‘peak flow’ and measure your height.

I wanted to test to see if there was a correlation between height and peak flow.

Let’s look at our results (talk about strong and weak correlation).

We’re going to make two model lungs together. We’re going to put one into each of these bowls.

The first one is very easy to make and I’m going to make it all by myself, I’m going to blow up this big balloon.

The second one is a bit fiddly, so, I’m going to need your help. I need you to each inflate a small balloon – try to make it as round as you can, then work out the volume and the surface area of your balloon and write it on the big board. lungs

A=4πrsquared; V=4/3πrcubed; C=2πr

(for surface area, divide by six, square it, times by 12; for volume, divide by six, cube, times by four).

Finally, I’m going to give you a puzzle to think about, how can we blow out hot air when we want to warm our hands and cold air when we want to cool soup?

Individual Task: Blowing hot and cold experiment. blowingexpt

Break for drink and snack

Gather Together: While you were having your snack, I worked out the total volume and surface area of our two lung models.

Which model has the biggest surface area? Which one has the biggest volume?

Which one looks most like the structure of our real lungs?

Let’s have another look at the body apron. Would someone like to come and wear it so we can see where our lungs are?

Once a child is wearing the apron, ask them to identify the lungs and the trachea.

Final Activity: We have looked at blowing hot and cold air, but I would like to finish with one last experiment. If you take a straw and blow through it onto your hand, will it feel hot or cold?

Give out straws. Ask children to hold the straw just a few millimetres from their hand then blow through it.

Does it feel hot or cold?

I found that if I hold the straw very close to my hand and blow hard, it feels hot directly under the straw, but cold all around the edges.

Science club – Urinary system

Week Three – Urinary System

Arrival craft: Paper urinary system from Scholastic model book.

Introduction: Last week we looked at the digestive system. Closely connected to that is the urinary system. Does anyone know what it does?

Our urinary system gets rid of extra water and various wastes that our bodies don’t need.

Our kidneys play a very important role in the urinary system. They filter waste out of our blood.

Do you know how filtration works?

Filtration is a way of separating mixtures.

Show the mixtures we made earlier (lego and sand, sand and rice, rice and pasta, sand and water), ask the children how they would separate them and get a volunteer to try: there are colanders, sieves and filter paper to use.

When we look at real kidneys, do you think they will have big holes like the colander in them?

Why not?

The substances – like salts – which kidneys filter out of blood are much smaller than pasta, rice, or even sand. So the holes need to be small too.

Individual task: Make paper kidneys.

Break for drink and snack.

Gather Together: Does anyone know whereabouts on the body our kidneys are?

If nobody knows, encourage the children to look at the paper anatomy models we’re building.

I have an anatomy model that we can look at, can we name the digestive organs, and find the kidneys.

Ask volunteers to come up, name the digestive organs and remove them from the model, until we find the kidneys.

Before you cut into your kidney, try to find the tubes coming out of it. There should be three, what do you think they are for?

The renal artery (thicker than vein) carries blood to the kidneys; the renal vein carries blood back to the heart;  the ureter carries urine to the bladder.

Kidneys are a distinctive shape, they look like kidney beans.

They have a very distinctive shape inside too, the middle is made of triangle shaped tissues – these are called ‘renal pyramids’.

After you cut your kidney in half.

Demonstrate with one of the kidneys.

You can try to find the renal pyramids.

How many pyramids does your kidney have? Can you see the stripes on your pyramids? Are they vertical – going towards the centre of the kidney – or horizontal? You could add these features to your paper kidneys,

Individual task: Dissect Kidneys. kidneydissection


Science club – Digestive system

Week Two – Digestive System

Arrival Craft: Paper digestive system from Scholastic model book

Introduction: What does our digestive system do?

It reduces food to simpler parts, then distributes it around our body as required.

Does anyone know how we get food from our intestines into the parts of our bodies that need it? We use something very clever called osmosis.

Osmosis is basically about fairness. Substances move from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. Just like, if I gave this table a big bowl of sweets and no sweets to the other tables, this table would share the sweets out until everyone had the same amount.

Our bodies don’t need to work for osmosis to happen, it doesn’t take any energy. Things just move from where there’s lots of them to where there isn’t much.

If I put a drop of very sugary water into this bowl of plain water, what will happen? The sugar will spread out until all the water is equally sugary.

That happens in our bodies, and it’s a very important part of how we get food from our mouths to the rest of our cells.

We’re going to do an experiment to show how osmosis happens in our digestive system.

I’ve got three liquids here. I have plain water, sugary water and starchy water.

They all look pretty much the same.

Does anyone know how we can tell if water has glucose in it?

Does anyone know how we can tell if water has starch in it? (We covered this a while ago in our food week, so some of the children remembered.)

I also have some sausage skins. They’re made of something very like your small intestines.

You can see that water cannot get through the sausage skins. It doesn’t drip out.

But, there are tiny holes in the skins and some molecules – which are smaller than water molecules – can get out.

You’re going to do an experiment to discover whether glucose or starch can get through the sausage skins.

Individual Task – Set up sausage skins filled with glucose and starch mixture. Immerse them in water. Test to see if starch and/or glucose can get through the sausage skin. sausageskinexpt


Second Half: Show anatomy model.

Our digestive system is divided into several parts. It moves from our mouths all the way down to our bottoms. Get a child to wear the digestive system apron (I found this online, it’s brilliant fun) and see if the other children can name all the organs of the digestive system.

Individual task: Give out plastic aprons and sticky-backed organ pictures so that the children can make their own digestive system aprons. digestivestickers

Science club – Skeletal system

I got a book for my birthday this is it, which provided photocopiable resources to make a paper anatomy model, so I thought it would be fun to spend some time working through that with our science group.

The first week was all about bones.

Week One – Skeletal System

Arrival Craft: Paper skeleton from Scholastic model book


Introduction: We’re going to be looking at human bodies for the next six weeks. We’re starting this week with the skeletal system. Does anyone know why our skeletons are important?

They give structure to our bodies.

Hopefully, you’ve all made a good start on making your paper skeletons. But, in real life our skeletons aren’t made of paper.

A joint is the point where two or more bones meet. There are three main types of joints; Fibrous (immoveable), Cartilaginous (partially moveable) and the Synovial (freely moveable) joint.

If our bones were all joined with sellotape, we would have flappy joints. Actually, our bodies have several types of joints. We’re going to make some models of them now.


Individual task:Make ball and socket, pivot and hinge joints, using materials from the Scholastic book.

Experiment to find where these different types of joints are on our bodies.



Break for drink and snack


Re-gather: Lay out the big skeleton picture.

Ask the children if they know the names of any of the bones. Lay the bone labels on the skeleton together.

Our bones can’t move by themselves. Does anyone know what we use to move our bones?

Skeletal Muscles move bones (smooth muscles are found in involuntary movements such as your stomach and your bladder; cardiac muscles are in your heart).

These fibrous tissue masses contract to pull bones in one direction, so they are found in pairs – so that you can move back again!


Individual task: Experiment to measure arm width when muscle is relaxed and contracted. MuscleExperiment


Reflections on Teaching my boys to Read

All three of my boys are independent readers now, so I thought it might be interesting to reflect on my experience of teaching them to read (before I forget it all completely!).
When – and how – we began.

Our Eldest son came to us at five, Middly at three, and Youngest (our birth child) at zero. So, we began teaching our children to read at very different ages.

We began with the older two by reading to them. We did this a lot. We read at bedtime and at several points during the day, every day.

Middly had a couple of favourite books; he loved We’re going on a Bear Hunt, and The Monkey with a Bright Blue Bottom, so much that I can still receit them by heart. However, I have never been keen on re-reading the same books endlessly. So, as well as buying lots of books, we visited the library each week and took piles of books home.

When Eldest began to read with us, it was clear that he was unfamiliar with not common fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Many modern children’s books take a sideways angle on these common themes, which can be bemusing to a child who has never heard the originals. We made an effort to read fairy tales to all our boys, but Eldest still forgets the stories, and occasionally misses references to them. When his class spent a term looking at fairy tales, he really struggled to keep up.

When Eldest began to read for himself, the lack of nursery rhymes became more frustrating. He didn’t know what would come after “Twinkle twinkle little”, so he couldn’t enjoy easily reading books of nursery rhymes. Many workbooks for young children presume a knowledge of nursery rhymes, which made extra work for Eldest.

More importantly, his lack of exposure to rhymes meant that he had to learn which words rhymed. Being able to recognise rhyming words really helps with learning to read. Eldest couldn’t read ‘cat’ and then see that ‘mat’ would end the same. Again, he had more work to do.

Middly was younger and when he began to read, we noticed that he understood rhyming easily. If we sounded out “sun”, for example, he could easily work out that “fun” and “run” would end the same.

I also noticed that Middly would sometimes presume the ending of sentences (and do so correctly frequently enough to make the guesses worthwhile). At the close of speech marks, he expected to see ‘said’. This gave Middly much quicker successes, which made him very confident.

Youngest, however, found reading the easiest. We read to him from the very beginning. He sat in on his older brothers’ bedtime stories. As a result, Youngest was familiar with books long before he began to read. He could predict sentences, rhyme schemes, and even plots. If he saw a goat heading for a bridge, he would guess that it would meet a troll. He was often able to guess correctly, which made his reading fluent far earlier than the others.

I think hearing nursery rhymes, songs, and simple stories from day one definitely helped give Youngest the best foundation for learning to read.

Jolly Phonics

When we first started to teach our Eldest to read we expected to send him to primary school in year one. So, I checked the school’s website, intending to use the same scheme as them. I hoped that would make it as easy as possible for Eldest to slot into class.

The school used Jolly Phonics, so I had a look. I was pretty impressed. I bought their photocopiable resources, CD, and activity books. I followed their scheme of introducing a phoneme every day. It was pretty spectacular. Eldest picked up reading within a couple of months.

Middly followed along with Eldest – though I gave him only the photocopied sheets, with minimal writing, and kept the activity books exclusively for Eldest – and was pretty much on a level with him. We sang along to the songs in the car.

When Youngest turned three and a half, we picked up the Jolly Phonics set again. It was quite fun to listen to the songs  again. This time around, I was also home educating two bigger boys, and I spent far less time with Youngest. It took us about twice as long to get through the course! But, it was equally effective. I bought a new set of activity books, and they were much brighter than the ones Eldest used. I was really impressed and Youngest enjoyed them.

Other stuff we’ve enjoyed.

Bath letters are awesome! We bought a set for the big boys, and another set for Youngest. We used them to practice blending, reading and spelling. The boys love putting messages up for us during bath  time. For all three boys, cheeky words on the side of the bath have been some of their very first attempts at independent spelling. 

Bath letters are wonderful and definitely my favourite resource for teaching reading. They’re also very cheap and available from loads of places.

Lacing letters have proven less popular. The children can find it confusing to work out how to thread the letters, and accidentally spell words backwards. It’s also fiddly to change a letter in the middle of a word. 

We did buy Cookie Letters Toy for Youngest. He played with it a few times, but none of the games really engaged his interest much.

Making letters out of playdough and biscuit dough, drawing letters in sand and rice, were also briefly entertaining, but not big hits. There are lots of other things that the boys would rather make out of playdough.

When Middly was learning to read, I had a letter tracing app on my iPhone, which he played a few times. When Youngest was learning to read there were thousands of electronic games available! Many of Youngest’s friends are keen on Reading Eggs, but it didn’t appeal to Youngest at all.

Reading Schemes

We were very lucky with the big boys, as we lived near a fantastic library which had numerous entire sets of reading schemes. That made it easy to find lots of books at the right level.

I do think that having books at the right level available helps. If books are too easy, the boys are quickly bored. If the books are too hard, they lose confidence and baulk at reading at all.

We moved, however, and our new library was no use for Youngest. It had a very limited selection of books and didn’t keep them in order. So, I ended up having to buy reading schemes for him. I bought a few sets so that he had plenty to read at each reading level.

Our favorites have been Oxford Reading Tree. We loved the Songbirds set, and got a set of activity books and a card game to match. Youngest quite liked Biff, Chip and Kipper, and the Fairy tales set, and the poetry books were surprisingly good fun.

But, our absolute favourite has been Project X. Youngest loves these exciting stories and is eager to keep reading! There are some cliffhangers at the end of books, though. And there’s even a big cliff hanger at the end of the first set of books. I was very glad that I had the next set ready to go. Youngest was very worried about Seven!

We tried Big Cat Readers, which Youngest didn’t enjoy much. I also bought a Marvel reading set and a Paw Patrol reading set. Youngest loves superheroes and Paw Patrol. But, the books themselves weren’t very exciting. They spent a lot of time describing Youngest’s favourite characters, not giving him new information. It’s hard to convince anyone that it’s worth making the effort to read something you already know.
Tricky bits.

All of the boys went through a patch of not really wanting to read. I went with a little and often approach. Sometimes breaking a page down into little bits. But, I stuck to a basic rule of reading every day, regardless of how busy we were, or anything else. Sometimes we alternated pages (I read one, the child read one, and so on); sometimes we even alternated words. We always read. I find it easier to have clear rules; once I have made one exception, it’s much harder to refuse to make another.

Eldest also struggled with blending for a while. I read Handbook of Reading Interventions. They described a game called Talking like a Robot. Instead of trying to teach Eldest to push sounds together to make words, we played a game where he split words up into individual sounds. For example, I showed him the word boat and explained that a robot would say “b-oa-t”. I said lots of words in robot language, and Eldest had a go at saying words in robot language too. Once he was able to break words down into sounds, he was also able to push sounds together to make words.

Final thoughts

Teaching the boys to read has a lot of fun. I have lived watching them go from recognising a few letters​ to fluently reading books. It’s given them, and me, an enormous sense of achievement. I am a little sorry to be leaving this stage behind. But, I am sure that there are plenty more wonderful things for us to learn together!

My Family Recipe for Macaroni Cheese

From time to time, I foolishly click on a link or (even more foolishly) buy a book promising ‘quick and easy family meals’, only to find lots of fresh herbs, dozens of pans, and a requirement to focus on cooking and nothing but cooking for anything up to an hour. That is not what I call a family recipe. 
However, I do actually cook meals for my family, usually twice a day, and it rarely turns into a complete fiasco. So, I thought that I would share a real family recipe with you. I’ve chosen macaroni cheese because it is almost always a popular meal in our house.

Maybe this will encourage other parents struggling to prepare meals with children around. Please consider sharing one of your recipes with me in return 😉

  1. Turn on the TV and leave the children in front of it. Be sure to seat them as far from one another as your lounge allows.
  2. Put the kettle on – make sure it’s completely full.
  3. Find some pasta and put it in a saucepan, on the back hob. Do not turn it on yet! You will burn the pasta.
  4. Put butter in the big pan, on the front hob. Turn that hob on.
  5. Check you turned on the correct hob.
  6. Put a tea bag in a mug.
  7. Creep into the lounge as quietly as you can to check on the children. Put them back on seats far away from one another and take the remote away.
  8. When the kettle boils, make your tea first, then pour all the leftover water on top of the pasta. Now you can turn the hob on.
  9. Put frozen hot dogs on top of the pasta. Put the lid half on. Do not put the lid on properly, or the pasta will boil over.
  10. Shake some plain flour (bread flour is fine, if  you ran out of plain, but be careful with self-raising because it tastes funny) into the melted butter and mix it to make a paste.
  11. Add milk slowly to the sauce and stir. (If there is a noise in the lounge, make sure you take the lid off the pasta and the sauce off the hob before going to check, otherwise you will come back to burnt, lumpy sauce and a pasta-water swamp. Do not fool yourself that it will only take a second to sort out that worrying noise.)
  12. Season the sauce with pepper, salt and something else (paprika’s fine, nutmeg’s fine, rosemary’s fine, but don’t mix them all together). 
  13. Add peas and sweet corn to the sauce.
  14. Now is a very good moment to check back in on the children. You might even be able to drink some tea. 😊
  15. Grate some cheese and put a handful in the sauce. If you have to return to the lounge, do not leave the cheese out – someone will creep in and eat it – hide it under a tea towel.
  16. Make sure there’s nothing in the  oven. If there’s something weird in the oven, put it to one side to deal with later. If you get into that now, tea will be late and everyone will be grouchy, especially you.
  17. Turn oven on.
  18. Take the hot dogs out of the pasta and cut them up (it is worth the extra washing-up created by using a knife and a fork, since otherwise you will drop the hotdogs on the floor and the children will complain that there are fewer hotdogs than usual).
  19. Drain the pasta.
  20. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir.
  21. Add the hotdogs to the pasta and stir.
  22. Pour the pasta into the big blue dish, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top (make sure it’s roughly even, it is worth taking the time now to avoid having that ridiculous argument about who has most cheese on their pasta again).
  23. Put the blue dish in the oven and check that you really did turn the oven on earlier. 
  24. Go back into the lounge – try to remember to take your cup of tea with you. Now is a good time to follow up on that weird thing you found in the oven.
  25. Return to the kitchen and get your cup of tea.
  26. Every ten minutes or so, check the pasta to see if the cheese is crispy yet.
  27. When the cheese is crisp (not before, unless you want the children to ask how long tea will be repeatedly), ask a child to lay the table – try to remember which child you ask.
  28. Take the pasta out of the oven.
  29. Dish out Youngest’s first so it has time to cool down a bit.
  30. Check the table and ask the child to go back and lay it properly. If ask the wrong child to fix the table, that is because you are encouraging a sense of teamwork.
  31. Dish out the rest of the plates and take the plates through.
  32. The meal is cooked. Huzzah!