Category: Tips

Handwriting Breakthrough – Helping Your Child with their Handwriting

Handwriting Breakthrough – Helping Your Child with their Handwriting

Woo hoo! It’s finally happened, we have had a breakthrough! I have to admit, I’ve beginning to stress quite a bit about B’s handwriting skills, but today we’ve had a major improvement, so I probably shouldn’t have worried quite so much.

Handwriting has always been a tricky issue in this house. B could write sentences with magnets from 2 years old, and I assumed that he would make the transition to writing with ease, but it never happened. He would construct the simplest sentences when under pressure to do so, and after consulting with paediatricians we discovered the combination of hyper mobility in his fingers and a major crash of confidence was really affecting his ability to write.

Over the past year or so we have tried various different pencils, with varying degrees of success, using pencil grips and a leaning board to help with writing, and using an assortment of fun activities to strengthen hand grip. We’ve bought many new toys and activities from The Happy Puzzle Company which have been invaluable in building B’s confidence and hand grip strength. A great piece of advice that I received from a friend was to work with games and ideas that didn’t have a specific goal or exact and correct method behind them. Children can really lose their confidence when they can’t do something, so let them just derive pleasure from the activity without a specific end goal.

We’ve used a huge range of construction toys from the traditional Lego and Knex to the slightly more unusual teifoc bricks which I’d highly recommend. Using clay, play dough and plasticine is back on the agenda. We’ve made a big effort to get outside more, building a mud kitchen, water ways, an around the world gardening project, and  turning  the tuff tray into a desert garage type play area.

It went against every fibre of my being to improve a skill, by doing anything but the skill itself, but it actually worked! The reverse “s” is now almost entirely the right way around, the back to front “f” is now right half of the time, and letters are going on lines with ascenders and descenders in the right place. B is so much happier that he doesn’t have to decipher every sentence for his audience, and I am mightily relieved that it worked.

If your child needs a little help with fine motor skill development to assist their hand writing, these are our top tips:

  • Painting with cars – take a couple of old toy cars, dip the wheels in paint, and drive over the paper.
  • Get digging – in sand or earth, with fingers or with tools. It’s a world away from writing, but good for exercising little hands.
  • Playdough, plasticine and clay – plasticine and clay can be a little tougher than Playdough, but using tools can help. It’s also quite good for getting frustrations out on, if your child is feeling fed up.
  • Using tweezers. Games like Operation are good for this, we also found a great game called Fruitfall, which is better if your child is wary of noisy games.
  • Play games! Games like Kerplunk are good for concentration on fine motor skills and good fun too.
  • Get building – Lego and Knex are the obvious choices, but it’s also worth looking at Joinks and some of the lesser known brands if your child isn’t necessarily drawn to the more popular ones.

If you’ve tips that worked for you and your children do let us know we’d love to hear!

Creating a Clutter Free Life

Creating a Clutter Free Life

I have to confess we are a bit messy in this house. Well not even a bit. Really messy. We seem to have taken mess to a new extreme and its beginning to drive me a bit crazy. I’m fairly certain that the problem stems from us all being rather untidy. Having lived with clean freaks in the past, I think not only do I make more effort to tidy up, they probably clean up around me. But having three of you in a house, who not only make the place look like a tip, but also have no problem with everyone else’s mess, it was only a matter of time before we tipped over the edge.

So its out there. We are a messy family. I’m wondering if admitting it is part of the solution, and slowly I can retrain my brain to become a nurturer of neat?

I wonder if there is a messy gene? Is it a nature versus nurture debate? Could it be true what Einstein said?

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

  • Albert Einstein

I’ve been telling myself that we are messy because of our busy brains for years, but all of a sudden its not cutting it anymore. In fact I have a whole list of reasons that I tell myself and others:

  • We’re eclectic and creative. Tidying up would stifle this.
  • Our brains are too full of ideas to worry about tidying up.
  • All the great thinkers throughout history were probably messy.
  • Untidyness is a sign of intelligence.
  • Tidying up is for grown ups.
  • How will I ever find anything if I tidy it all away?

I have even thought about pretending that I am embracing “strewing” as part of our home education philosophy, but that’s just a bit of a lie. So where does all this mess come from? We just seem to have too much stuff. All of us. And we are all absolutely hopeless at parting with any of it. Yesterday we were discussing how we might redo our kitchen in the near future, and it left B in tears. He finds change a challenge, but even highlighting to him that a new oven would bring the return of his favourite dinner wasn’t swinging it. He is adamant things should stay as they are. In fact I’m certain we all think that we are not quite as untidy as each other. So how are we ever going to get anyway? The man and I have duplicates of DVDs, of films we will probably never watch again, but who’s copy do we give away/sell/pop on eBay? It’s a never ending cycle of toot.

I have a feeling its going to need some kind of multi step plan. We need to reduce our clutter, address the storage, and get out of some bad habits. Last night I had a count and we have 7 games of Monopoly. Yep, 7. Which would be fine if we played on a regular basis, but I couldn’t tell you the last time we played! From old X-Box and PS3 games which haven’t been played since around 2008, to wooden train track B had when he was 2 years old, our house is slowly becoming a museum.

I am going to try and lead by example and start by clearing out my own collections. From clothes that, in reality, I am never going to wear again, through to my beloved Jimmy Choo’s that live in a box under the bed, it’s time to get ruthless!

B has said that he can cope with finding 3 things a day to get rid of until we are tidier. What I didn’t realise is that he didn’t seem to mean 3 of his own things!

So at least for now we have an action plan, and we’ve made a start. We should be minimalist within a month at this rate!

Non School Uniform Shopping

Non School Uniform Shopping

It’s coming to the end of the school holidays (we are a home ed family that takes advantage of them), and although we don’t have a uniform per se, it’s got me thinking about clothing supplies that B needs. The one major thing I noticed when we first started home educating was that B didn’t actually have that many clothes any more. With the bulk of his time spent in uniform, he had comfy gear for after school, jeans for the weekend and one or two smart outfits for “best”. Within a couple of weeks his jeans had been destroyed! Back to spending hours on the floor building LegoKnex and Hex Bugs, the knees on the jeans were spent. So now I’m on a mission to find clothes that are a match for a home educated child! We are big fans of Boden in this house, for the both of us, so we shall be sourcing plenty from there. B likes to pore over the catalogue choosing himself many an outfit over breakfast so that will be our first port of call. I’ve also found that outdoor adventure type clothes work well when busy engineering in the front room, or climbing a mountain, so a trip to Mountain Warehouse is probably due.

As much as it can be tempting to stock up on cheap gear, it seems a false economy to me. We’ve been able to get a couple of years wear from some of B’s favourites, which pleases the both of us!

The other thing B goes through like there’s no tomorrow is socks! I swear he can wear a pair out in a day. I’ll be pairing them up and notice the heels are missing, it’s almost like we need some kind of reinforcement!

So we need something hard wearing, not made from animal products, child friendly and from an ethical company. Not too much to ask?

If anyone has any awesome clothing finds to share, we’d love to know!

Making a Mud Kitchen

Making a Mud Kitchen

We’ve had a couple of old wooden crates knocking around the garden for ages, and I’ve finally found a purpose for them. We are making a mud kitchen. Now if you ask anyone who knows me, DIY and me are not the best combination. I’m not so bad on the ideas front, I’ve even been known to start many a project. But finish them? Not me. This is probably the first time I’ve managed to see something the whole way through, so I’m hoping its a whole new side to me emerging. Maybe I’ve turned into a grown up!

We made our mud kitchen with a minimum of materials. This is what we collected / bought:

  • 2 wooden pallets
  • A packet of wood screws (long ones)
  • 9 coloured tiles
  • A bird bath to use as our sink
  • Hooked plant pots for storage
  • Pots, pans and utensils for mud pie making

​B wanted to make as much of it as possible so I let him do the sawing (not for the faint hearted). Here’s how we made it:

  1. Take one of your pallets and cut roughly in half. I’d choose to do it where there is a minimum amount of sawing.
  2. Take your two pieces and screw together to make an “L” shape.
  3. Screw your “L” shaped pallet to your remaining pallet, to form your kitchen.


4. It’s time to paint your mud kitchen. We chose lots of bright colours for ours as we both love a rainbow. (We used a lot of left over paint up this way too!)


5. Once the painting part is done, add your tiles (we stuck ours down with adhesive suitable for showers to cope with the British weather)

6. Add your finishing touches and you’re done!


Ta-da!

Reluctant Reader – Help!

Reluctant Reader – Help!

B and I have loved reading together since he was a few weeks old. From the wonderful That’s Not My Baby/Monster/Dinosaur books, to all the traditional fairy tales, and then the delights of Julia Donaldson. We worked through them all. When B was only 7 months old he could pick out The Gruffalo or The Smartest Giant in Town. He just seemed to have an affinity with books. He taught himself to read with the retro Peter and Jane series. He couldn’t get enough of any kind of book.

And then he stopped. Just like that. This little boy who loved stories, non-fiction, magazines, any form of literature, just stopped. I’m trying to remain relaxed about the whole thing, but it really does concern me. At first I thought it could be a reaction to leaving school. He found working through the book levels at school very repressive. Constantly having to choose from a certain colour coded book, instead of having the freedom to choose a book that sparked his interest really riled him. He’d read the books in the car home almost to prove how quickly he could do it. It stopped becoming a joy, and more of a bind, which can’t be a good thing.

So to rekindle his interest we’ve been on a bit of a mission. From starting a reading diary (not very successful) to logging all the books we do read on Good Reads (slightly more successful). We’ve set up a reading nook in the playhouse in the garden to give us a cosy area to read together (we used it once).

So I stopped. I felt really uncomfortable just letting go, but I knew I had to take a complete step back and let him come back to it in his own way. B still loves a non-fiction book, so I had no qualms that he wouldn’t read at all, I just worried how much pleasure he used to get from books that had gone.

And then the master of story telling, the most amazing author, the one that brought so much delight to my own childhood, the splendid Roald Dahl began to get him back into books. One night the one and only BFG dropped by our house one night with a dream jar. It seemed the only way to rekindle the literary love affair was to bring the books to life. And so for the time being, bedtime is a time for story telling and adventure once more. B’s not reading himself again yet, but his love of stories is on the way back, which is a very good place to start.

We’ll be telling you all about our dream jars adventures soon. Don’t miss it!

History Lessons – The Romans

History Lessons – The Romans

We’ve been learning about the Romans recently as part of our home education. B requested that this was something that we looked at when we first started our home education journey back in February. One of my favourite things with home education, is the ability to choose a subject or topic, study it to the length that holds the child’s interest for their age, and then revisit as their desire to gather more detail increases.

We have found some great resources on Twinkl to help and B is currently enjoying reading this book Romans by Usborne books.

We have learnt about Roman numerals and had great fun code breaking with worksheets from Twinkl.

Starting with points that interested B we have looked at aqueducts, Roman cities, emporers, clothing, and food that Romans liked to eat. Who knew that Dormice and peacock brains were a delicacy…rather them than me, that’s for sure!

We’ve visited our local museum and found some great information here to aid our studies.

Its amazing how so many ideas can come from one starting point too. From Latin and looking at how many words stem from their Latin origins, one topic has included, language, history, literacy, maths and most importantly we’ve had lots of fun!

Making Maths Fun

Making Maths Fun

Maths seems to be one of those subjects that really splits people into the lovers and haters. Once that maths dread sets in, it’s really hard sometimes to stem exactly where that original loathing comes from. Personally I was a happy mather (probably not a real word) all the way through primary school. I like calculations, I loved arithmetic. I loved knowing that there was just one right answer.

Then all of a sudden secondary school changed all of that. I found myself struggling in class and it impossible to keep up. This destroyed my confidence, even though I managed a grade C and a successful career in finance for many years after leaving school. I’ve never considered myself a maths person. Living with an accountant we seem to function as house split into the maths lovers and haters. I am very aware that I don’t want to create that kind of mentality when teaching B.

So far he is proving himself perfectly adept at maths. He picks it up with very little instruction and relishes sharing his knowledge. I guess my only worry will be when we hit my weak spots. Luckily we are fortunate enough to have plenty of math heads in our circle to pick up the slack!

I think one of the things which makes so much sense to B is that he sees the purpose to our maths work. From adding and estimation when shopping, to measuring and weighing. It all has a purpose. To help us reach our targets we have pieced together some games to help us keep maths fun and we thought we’d share them here.

Dice Games

  • Take 2 dice, roll them and multiply the numbers together. You can shout out the answers, or write them down if there’s more of you.
  • Roll a pair of dice and write the numbers down on a piece of paper. Once you have rolled them 5 times, add the 10 numbers that you have together.

Card Games

  • Pontoon or 21 is good for quick fire adding.

Baking & Cooking

From weighing ingredients, to getting children to double or half recipe ingredients. This one always seems to please children, and helps with mass and capacity.

Times Tables

We use to recite them in the car to practice, but B soon tired of this. We’ve made it fun by making each sum into a fun scenario. Here’s some of ours:

  • If dogs wore socks, how many socks would 8 dogs need?
  • I’m putting 3 cherries on 6 cakes. How many do I need?
  • If we are having sausages for dinner and 3 of us want 2 sausages, how many do we need to buy?

Amusement Arcades

Start with £1 in two pence pieces and try and keep count of how much you have whilst playing on a two pence machine.

Measuring

From measuring things from around the house, to the length of the garden, to growing plants. All good fun.

Music

Learning about time signatures, crotchets, quavers and semi breves all help.

Skipping

Try counting in twos, threes, fours etc as you skip

Fractions

From cutting fruit to pizza, this is always a good place to start (and a good excuse for a pizza or cake)

Tally Charts

Get outside and find things to count and collect the data. Social media is always a great place to ask people their favourite things and record the data.

Division

We have a great book called Divide and Ride which makes division a lot more fun! Working out how a group of friends can fit on a ride at a funfair serves a purpose!

Are you a maths lover or a hater? We’d love to know your top maths tips!

Sum Fun Games

Sum Fun Games

When you talk about making maths fun, you see eyes roll and hear the usual groans. Can maths really be fun? Well thanks to Sum Fun Games it really can be.

This innovative game is incredibly well thought out because you can really play well together as a family, each playing at your own level. You are playing alongside each other but at your own skill level. A great idea if you are catering for players of all ages. It’s great in this house when one of the players is an accountant too!

The game consists of tiles similar to scrabble but with numbers and maths symbols. Younger players can work out more basic equations whereas older children can test themselves to their ability. I found it refreshing to be able to play together and still challenge myself. In fact, as with so many aspects of home education, your eyes open to abilities you’d forgotten you had!

With the game fitting in a handy zip up case, this is a great companion to take on trips out or on holiday.  We will definitely be using it within both our structured learning sessions and for fun. It’s certainly a hit in this house!

Disclaimer

We were kindly sent the game to review, but all opinions are our own.

The Great Outdoors – Encouraging Your Child Outside

The Great Outdoors – Encouraging Your Child Outside

You can’t help but notice how children don’t play outside as much as they used to. As a child I was always outside. I have so many memories from making algae fritters in my nan’s garden (don’t ask!) to building dens and climbing trees. Our freedom came with bikes and dare I say it, stay at home mums and no way of monitoring us 24/7. Im not convinced it’s all about the computer games kids have access to; we had a fab Atari console, but spent hours outside too.

B hasn’t always been too keen on being outside. He would nearly always choose to be inside drawing or making train networks or playing with Lego. In some ways I probably felt quite relieved a lot of the time. It meant I wasn’t continually getting mud out of the house and his fine motor skills were always very adept.

However, when B was at school in reception they flagged up that they thought he may be dyspraxic. After a thorough diagnostic appointment, it was noted that his gross motor skills sit on the 9th percentile. I often wonder if I should have encouraged him outside to climb more, dig, get dirty and build up his balance and other skill sets. I also missed so many signs as I just dismissed the signs as an inherited clumsiness. (I’m still reeling from discovering I’m the only grown up I know who falls off their bike a lot!)

When faced with a long list of exercises from the hospital to work on his hyper mobility (another gift from me), I knew we might struggle to maintain the routine. In its place we’ve tried to build our own program to incorporate them in a fun way. From weekly ice skating, trampolining, and ballet lessons. We are slowly transforming our garden. With a new mud kitchen, a water wall built from guttering, and a basketball net we are getting B to enjoy being outdoors more and more. We’ve built a willow dome, and a reading area into the playhouse, put together a beach on a tuff tray, and tried as much planting and growing as we can.

We’ll be updating our progress on what’s working for us here, any ideas on what works for your family are most welcome!

Walking the Dog – a real one, not a yo-yo trick

Walking the Dog – a real one, not a yo-yo trick

As part of our de-schooling one of the hardest things I’ve found is trying to convince the boy that he could learn anywhere and everywhere. It doesn’t just happen in a classroom. It’s everywhere. He’s accepted this with aplomb when it comes to Lego funnily enough. As he announces to me most mornings, he’s off to do Lego maths. However, it’s been slightly tougher showing him beyond that bucket of brightly coloured bricks, that there’s a whole world he can learn from.

What we have found works for us whilst we are in this transitional phase is a question and answer exercise. Here is a typical example from a recent jaunt.

Q. Can you remember the names of two different birds that we saw on our walk?

A. Kingfisher and a seagull

Q. How do boats move from one part of the river to another?

A. The lock opens

Q. Can you explain how the answer to the previous question works?

A. They close the first lock and open the second lock so the water flows down, and the open the first lock and the boat gets across and both of the locks close.

Q. Do you know why the meads are important?

A. Because the floods can go on the meads.

Q. Why do you think the river is sometimes higher than others?

A. The rain fills it.

Q. What was your favourite part of the dog walk and why?

A. The kingfisher because I learnt how fast it flies.

What I love about these type of questions is that they work in a number of ways. There are some that have an exact answer, which always boosts the boys confidence by knowing the answer. He is at a stage where he loves to know that he has got something right, and doesn’t rely on hefty interpretation. Then we have started to introduce questions where he needs to reference another source. For example we watched a short clip about how locks work to back up what we knew about locks. We are learning to use books and technology as research tools,  how to build our referencing skills, and getting out in the great outdoors. What better way to learn?

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