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


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!

100 days of home ed part 1

I am taking part in a challenge on twitter to post photos of home ed in our house for 100 days. We’re halfway through! So, here are the first 50 pictures.

We have quite a structured approach to home education. All my children are working through a set of workbooks and textbooks, but I didn’t think a lot of pictures of workbooks would be very exciting! So, I posted photos of the more interesting stuff we’ve been up to.

We also do a lot of active stuff. We swim a couple of times a week. Eldest has tennis a few times a week. We go for a weekly walk with friends and play in parks three or four times a week. None of that features in the photos, not because it doesn’t look great, but because I never put pictures of the boys online.

The photos give a limited window into our home ed lives. But, it’s been a fun project nonetheless.

To stop me repeating pictures, I thought it would be worth keeping a master list. So, here it is – the most photogenic moments of #100daysofhomeed!

Day 1: Modelling earthquakes.

Day 2: Making cupcakes.

Day 3 – Learning about blood – a few of the things we played with at Science Club.

Day 4 – Using sweets in bowls to help Eldest with algebra

Day 5 – Map jigsaw. The names of various cities come out, but their positions aren’t shown on the box, so we needed to use the atlas to complete the puzzle.

Day 6 – Spontaneous writing from Youngest. He’s the closest to bring unschooled, as he comes up with lots of his own projects and doesn’t seem to need so much encouragement to create things.

Day 7 – K’nex monsters, made by Youngest and Middly.

Day 8 – Fold mountains and goats. This was a demo that Eldest did at his Geography Course. All the children enjoyed making the goats.

Day 9 – Making a ‘CD racer’ – my mum picked up a kit with a variety of craft activities in it, and Middly tried this one.

 Day 10 – Making model neurons and drawing nervous systems onto little polystyrene people. This is a selection of the stuff we did at Science Club.

Day 11 – Youngest started a weather diary

Day 12 – We made Steady Hand games. We were trialling these for Science Club, I’d bought copper wire to use but it turned out to have a wax coating and required sanding to make the sides conductive, we tried solder which kept snapping, then I thought of using unfurled paper clips. The toys were small but effective and easy to make. I have ordered more iron wire for use at the club, though. Preparing for the Science Club sessions can be really interesting for the boys, as it’s often more challenging to put an activity together than it is to do it. But, I don’t actually get them to help very often, I don’t want to destroy their enthusiasm for the sessions themselves.

Day 13 – A game of Cranium. We had a busy day, out with friends for an adopters meet up, then to soft play, none of which produced photos I could share! But, we played a board game at home.

Day 14 – Making pipe cleaner animals. Middly’s done a few of these. I think he was inspired to pick them back up after the neuron craft we did last week. The children often regain interest in our resources after they’ve seen the enthusiastic responses from their friends at Science Club. That’s yet another benefit to us!

Day 15 – Eldest had a go at making a push switch in preparation for Science Club. I was pretty pleased with this one because he figured it out by himself.

Day 16 – Middly made a cardboard castle for his rats to play in. I found it very hard to get a picture, because those rats are fast! He has three, this was my best shot:

Day 17 – At Science Club, everyone coloured in this grid colouring sheet made by Eldest. It went down well.

Day 18 – Youngest was doing bees in his Science workbook, and I happened to have a bee cushion kit in my craft box, so he had a mini bee project.

Day 19 – Youngest wanted to make a board game. He drew a board, typed the instructions on the computer, and designed the pieces using Tinkercad. Then my husband helped him print his characters using our 3d printer. I liked this project so much, I put up two photos!

Day 20 – It was a real struggle to find a photo today. My in-laws visited and played lotsof games with the boys. We had lunch out and went swimming. It was a fun day, but I didn’t take any pictures without people in! So, I took this when we got home. Youngest does love his floats.

Day 21 – Youngest played with a new playdough toy at church. 

Day 22 – Middly and I messed around with LEDs and resistors, trying to decide on what to do at this week’s Science Club.

Day 23 – Another tricky day to photograph. We swam with friends and went out with family to a soft play place. The big boys found some of their work a bit tricky, so it took up more time than usual. But, we did find a leftover sticker sheet from a previous Science Club and make an apron together. So, I used that picture.

Day 24 – Drama group. We did a read through of a script I found online here. Then we talked about emphasis and how emphasising a single word can change the meaning of a sentence. The children enjoyed writing sentences on the white board and taking it in turns to read the sentences, emphasising different words and talking about how the meaning changed. Finally, we read through the play script again, choosing to emphasise different words. 

Day 25 – We made a giant model breadboard, using velcro to hold the giant components in place. I am hoping this will help children understand the circuits we’re building at Science Club.

 Day 26 – We had a tour of a mill with a group of Home Ed friends.

Day 27 – My husband took the boys out for the day. They had a long walk, visited a museum and a library. He didn’t take pictures of any if this, though. So I took a picture of the library books that the boys took out this week.

Day 28 – Mug cakes.

Day 29 – the boys made a cheesecake.

Day 30 – Middly began a project on tinkercad: making plastic parts to use when playing with playdough.

Day 31 – Middly finished his tinkercad project, printed the parts and made some playdough to use with them.

Day 32 – Youngest made masks.

Day 33 – Eldest used various jugs and cups to practice estimating and measuring.

Day 34 – Middly drew a face, making curves out of straight lines. Using his book The Stick Man with a Big Bum – Activity Book.

Day 35 – We made another cake!

Day 36 – Middly used fuse beads to make a coaster.

Day 37 – Youngest was doing a dinosaur sticker book, so Eldest fetched his big book of dinosaurs and showed it to Youngest. At moments like these, home education is awesome!

Day 38 – We investigated LDRs at Science Club.

Day 39 – After dropping Eldest at tennis, Youngest decided to make his own tennis racket.

Day 40 – We went on a worm hunt in our garden. We used a pack from Earthworm Watch, which was really well put together. I love taking part in these citizen science projects. I’m also very keen on Zooniverse and Opal to find big science projects that children can take part in.

Day 41 – The boys played chess. We play a lot of board games together.

Day 42 – We made a jigsaw together.

Day 43 – Youngest used lacing letters to make some words.

Day 44 – Middly helped me make some more model components for our giant model breadboard.

Day 45 – We made slide switches at Science Club.

Day 46 – Eldest played Rushhour Junior. Strictly speaking this is Youngest’s toy. But, I think all children can benefit from playing with​ toys for a variety of ages.

Day 47 – Middly built a walking turtle from a kit.

Day 48 – We went for a family walk by a river.

Day 49 – We made hot cross buns.

Day 50 – The boys made bean bag frogs. 

Science Club – Plants


Arrival CraftMake leaf mobiles. leafmobile

Introduction: Plants are the beginning of all food chains, because they are able to make their own food using the energy from sunlight. This is called photosynthesis.

We can’t exactly see it happening, but we can come close. In photosynthesis, leaves take carbon dioxide and sunlight and produce glucose and oxygen.

Individual Task: Children try leaf disc experiment and observe the bubbles that show oxygen is being produced. leafdisc

Break for drink and snack.

Second half: Show cress that has grown in light and dark and ask children what plants need to grow.

Individual Task: Children plant cress on cotton wool to make little cress heads.

Science Club – Pneumatics 2


Arrival Craft: Air colouring sheet. air

Introduction: Gasses can be compressed more than liquids or solids, but there are still limits. If we try to squash air too much, it will rush away.

If I blow up a balloon and let go of the end, what will happen?

The air will rush out of the balloon. The force of the air rushing out will push the balloon away in the opposite direction. This is one of the big rules of energy: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.


If you inflate a balloon and attach it to a CD, then the air will rush out through the hole, pushing the CD into the air, like a tiny hovercraft. These are easy to make, but there’s a YouTube video on @Bristol’s site, which is very good.

Individual Task: Make CD hovercrafts.

Break for drink and snack.

Second Part: If we don’t give the air any way out, then we can use it to push things.

This is called pneumatics.

Individual Task: Make pneumatic hoists out of tech card.

Science Club – Insects


Arrival Craft: Make insect models with jointed legs. insects

Introduction: There are lots of different types of insects.

People discover new ones all the time, and new species are often discovered by amateurs. (

You could easily hunt for insects in your own gardens. We’re going to make some pooters to help you safely collect creatures to study.

Individual Task: Make pooters.

Practice picking up grains of rice.

Drinks and snack

Second Part: How many legs do insects have? (6)

But, what about a caterpillar? Is a caterpillar an insect?

Of course, a caterpillar is the pupa stage of a butterfly. Pupa do not all have six legs. It is all adult insects that have six legs.

The life cycle of an insect isn’t quite the same as the life cycle of a mammal (like us).

Does anyone know the life cycle of an insect?

Make insect life cycle plates.

Insects are a huge part of the animal kingdom and very important for keeping everything going.

We can see how insects fit into the ecosystem by making a food web.

We’ll lay out these names of animals and plants (I printed off pictures from Wildlife Watch), and then we’ll use bits of string to connect each animal with what it eats.

Science Club – Food


Arrival Craft: Make origami Protein Channels. I found this fantastic craft online here. There are videos to help you! 

Introduction: We need to eat a balanced diet, which means we need to eat different types of food.

We need: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals and Fats.

Some foods obviously belong to one group or another, but other foods can be in several groups at once.

I have iodine, which we can use to test for starch; and bieuret solution, which we can use to test for protein.

We’re going to test some foods to see if they contain starch and / or protein.

Egg white is a good source of protein, so we’re going to use egg white and water to show the difference between a positive protein test and a negative protein test.

Individual Task: Test for proteins. (The Biuret reagent contains: Hydrated Copper sulphate, Potassium hydroxide solution, Potassium sodium tartrate) foodtesting

Children then mash up different foods with water and test them for protein.

They should also test a sample of only water – as a control.

Gather Together: Which of the foods contained protein?

Is that what you expected?

Break for drink and snack.

Second part: This is a potato – obviously, it’s going to contain starch. When I add iodine to it, the iodine goes blue, indicating the presence of starch. We’re going to use iodine to see which of these foods contain starch.

Give out worksheets for children to predict whether foods will contain starch. foodtesting