Sunday 31 December 2017

Project 16: Optical Illusions

With just a short week between Christmas and the New Year, we decided to build a project around an optical illusions set we had.
Science Factory: Optical Illusions

We started the week exploring some of the tricks our mind can play on us as it makes use of shortcuts to understand the world. Alongside the usual duck/rabbit, young/old woman, and other ambiguous images, we watched videos that demonstrate how much we can miss when we pay attention, as well as a couple of 3D videos (

The optical illusions set contained 47 different illusions, from those that were picture-based to those that required assembly. The Ames room was the most visually impressive, although the zoetrope provided the opportunityfor a wider conversation on films and animation.

Ames Room

The optical illusion set was given as a gift a couple of years ago, and we can't find it online, but if you come across it in the shops it's highly recommended.

Next week's project: World Records!

Sunday 24 December 2017

Project 15: All about Christmas!

Unsurprisingly there is plenty to do on Christmas at Christmastime.

We started the week teaching Solomon about the nativity, why we celebrate Christmas, Christmas traditions, and how the story of Father Christmas has evolved from older traditions including that of Saint Nicholas.  There's a surprising lack of children's books on Saint Nicholas, although we eventually found Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend, which provides a more historical less elf/reindeer/north-pole story of Santa Claus. 
The first of the week's trips out was to Santa's Grotto in the local shopping centre. Luckily we went the day before the local schools broke up, so we didn't have to suffer the long queues other parents told us about on their grotto visits. 
Santa's Grotto
We also went to see the great British tradition of pantomime, watching Aladdin at the local theatre, and went to Christingle at the local cathedral (Solomon is very enthusiastic when it comes to carol singing!). 

As food and feasting also plays a big part of Christmas traditions the children also made and decorated some Christmas biscuits. 
Christmas biscuits

Next week's project (a small one to squeeze in between Christmas and New Year): Optical illusions

Sunday 17 December 2017

Project 14: Programming in Scratch!

With the days getting colder it seemed a good time to stay in and learn a bit more about computers and coding, especially as Solomon hasn't done much programming since using Scratch Jr in Project 1.

We started by reminding ourselves of the computing and coding fundamentals with Usborne's lift-the-flap Computers and Coding, and Kids Get Coding: Algorithms & Bugs and Kids Get Coding: Learn to Program. We also used a computers and coding activity and sticker book. Usborne have been writing computer and coding books for kids since the 1980s, and I can't recommend them enough as an introduction to the topic. Nonetheless, combining Usborne books with books from another publisher allowed for the consolidation of certain ideas and concepts.

If you want to know what Usborne's computer coding books were like in the 1980s, they've made some of them available online as PDFs.

We used Usborne's Coding for Beginners using Scratch as the main focus of the week's project, working through the first few project's. Solomon's favourites so far have been: Dancing Sprites, and Boo!

Scratch was chosen as it's a drag-and-drop blocks programming language, and Coding for Beginners using Scratch provides a good introduction to the language with 15 increasingly complicated projects. We still have a number of projects left in the book, and some other Scratch programming project books, so we plan to incorporate coding into his regular weekly activities before introducing other languages later.

The problem these days is that with such a wide range of languages and tools available, it is difficult to choose which to introduce next. Our current thinking for next languages is:
- MakeCode For Minecraft
- AppInventor
- Python.

Next week's project: All About Christmas!

Monday 11 December 2017

Project 13: Solomon's Family Tree

To coincide with a visit from his grandparents, Solomon explored his family tree.

We started the week by discussing some of the different sources for finding out about your ancestors, from asking people, through looking at books and newspapers, to official government records. We looked at some of the pictures in his great-grandmother's autobiography (pictured below), his great-great-grandfather's entry in Who's Who, and stories in national newspapers.
'Today Not Tomorrow' by the woman with the croaky voice.
He asked his grandparents a number of questions about who their mums and dads and brothers and sisters were, and we looked at how this information could be put into the family history software Gramps.

We also visited the local library and explored census records on (available for free in the library). Luckily someone had already created an extensive family tree that included some of his ancestors, so we could see lots of additional photographs and how big and complicated a family tree can quickly become.

Finally Solomon created his own self-portrait, to reflect on how all his ancestors have contributed to the creation of him.

Solomon's self portrait
The project also coincided with the first heavy snowfall in a couple of years, so there was also a new family member!
The family's snowman
Next week's project: Programming in Scratch!

Sunday 3 December 2017

Project 12: Time and Calendars

After last week's exhausting excursion to Manchester, we picked a smaller project we could do from home this week: Time and Calendars. We did a lot of working on Solomon telling the time, learning his days of the week and months of the year, and why there are different seasons.

As well as the usual workbooks and encyclopaedia entries, we watched a couple of good videos about where the days of the weeks and months of the year got their names.

Solomon did a reusable sticker activity about the seasons, and picked a calendar for the coming year.
Reusable season stickers
Exploring the different calendars available in the shops Solomon established a number of criteria that he wanted his calendar to have. He decided it should be a family organiser, have big pictures, and show the phases of the moon. The calendar that fitted all the criteria was the Sooty one, so he picked that one despite having never seen the programme and there being a Minecraft one available!
2018 Sooty Calendar
Next week's project: Solomon's Family Tree

Sunday 26 November 2017

Project 11: All about Lego!

As we were going to Manchester this week, we decided to make use of the Legoland Discovery Centre, and explore Lego a bit further.

We started the week by watching The Lego Story, an animated history of the Lego company, and exploring the large number of ways Lego bricks can be put together.

A maths professor has shown that there are 915,103,765 different ways of putting together six standard 2 X 4 Lego bricks, and we set to work exploring the 24 different ways 2 bricks can be put together (which is actually surprisingly tricky!).
24 ways of putting together 2 standard Lego bricks
Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester was a great day out that kept the kids entertained for hours, with rides, soft play, a 4D cinema, Lego miniland, and build zones. Solomon's favourite bits were the Kingdom Quest lazer gun ride and the 4D cinema that was showing a Nexo Knights' film.

In many ways it was more enjoyable than Legoland Windsor (which we visited last year). Whilst Windsor was good, there was much more walking, queuing, it felt less interactive, and you needed more than a day to get to see everything.

Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

Lego City Builder  
Solomon's 'Master Model Builder' dog (£4 extra)

It's worth booking tickets to the discovery centre online for discount prices, and you can also take your own packed-lunch.  If we lived nearby we'd definitely have been tempted by the annual pass.

Finally, when we got home, Solomon and his sister designed their own mini-figures. We'll update the post when the figures arrive!
As always with our weekly projects, there was much more that we wanted to do, but at least with Lego we know we'll be returning to it time and time again for years to come!

Next week's project: Time and Calendars!

UPDATE (16/12/2017)
The Lego Doodlefigs have arrived! The figures only took 3 days to arrive after the scanned images were sent off, it just took us a while to get around to scanning the images. The figures look good but come out quite pale, so it might be better to use felt-tips rather than crayons.

Monday 20 November 2017

Project 10: Puppets and Theatre

As Norwich Puppet Theatre had a home education workshop this week, we decided to take Solomon along, and look at puppets and the theatre more widely - although in the end there was so much on puppets there wasn't really time to consider wider ideas about theatre.

Solomon really enjoyed the Curious Characters workshop at the Puppet Theatre, and created his own puppet: 'Honk Honk'. The workshop lasted two hours, and parents could either go-and-come-back or wait in the foyer area. As it was Solomon's first event without parental supervision we decided to wait, enjoy the reasonably priced coffee and snacks, and admire the puppets on display.
Puppets to admire at the Puppet Theatre
'Honk Honk'
At home we explored the different sorts of puppets that people use, and some of the different sorts of puppets we had in our house.
Some of the puppets in our house
Solomon really enjoyed watching Punch & Judy, and the great thing these days is there are so many versions of the show available online. 

Punch & Judy Online also has a host of resources and worksheets available, and Solomon used a worksheet to create his own Punch & Judy characters. 
Punch and Judy stick puppets
We also managed to create a Mr Punch shadow puppet, and learned that shadow puppets are far more difficult (& painful) than they look!
Mr Punch shadow puppet
Next week's project: All about Lego!

Sunday 12 November 2017

Project 9: Cycling and Road Safety

This week was all about cycling and road safety, with the primary aim being to get Solomon out on his bike and the stabilisers off. It was coupled with a wider discussion on road safety and road traffic signs.

The UK government's Think! Education web site has a host of resources and activities for children to learn about road safety. It's suitable from pre-school through to the end of primary education.

We also watched some of the many Green Cross Code public information films that have been shown over the years, from Tufty through to the rather bleak Tim Burton-esque modern incarnations. Solomon's favourites were the ones with the Green Cross Code man, he may have been influenced by being told that the actor also played the part of Darth Vader in Star Wars.

Going on a road sign hunt turned out to be very popular, especially with his younger sister who now wants to take out the highway code every time we go out.

His cycling has come on leaps and bounds this week, as he put in his diary "I wobbled and wobbled, but I didn't fall off". There's still work to do, but we're really glad we finally got around to it. We've also been enjoying, on the cycling theme, Solomon reading "The Boy who Biked the World", written by a man who really did cycle the world! The first book covers the boy's trip from England to South Africa, and as well as a good story it is a great introduction to geography and different cultures.

Next week's project: Puppets and Theatre.

Monday 6 November 2017

Project 8: Space and the Planets

Usborne's Children's Encyclopedia  has a nice big section on space and the planets, with plenty of links to online video content, so we used that as a starting point for learning about space and the planets. We also discussed how the planets and space appear in the arts, from the science fiction of the Alien X reading series to Holst's Planets.

As the big trip of the week was to the National Space Centre in Leicester, we decided to watch the 1980s classic film 'SpaceCamp' beforehand. SpaceCamp is a film about a group of kids at a NASA space camp who are accidentally blasted into space. It was a good film for provoking questions: How would you feel if you were blasted into space? Would you turn off the autopilot to save the injured adult? But the language was surprisingly strong for a PG and it seems likely it would be rated at least a 12 now.

The National Space Centre was really good for kids with lots to see and do. The only downside was it was really busy with school groups, but as the National Space Centre tickets last for the whole year we will be visiting again.
National Space Centre, Leicester.
As well as rockets, a planetarium, and an astronaut's toilet, there were many interactive exhibits to help you learn about space and the planets. One of the more memorably of which demonstrated how the weight of a tin of beans varied on the different planets.
Baked beans at the National Space Centre
For Solomon's space and planets 'craft' activities he did a Melissa & Doug Sticker by Number and a Micro Rockets kit we had at the back of the cupboard.
Sticker by Number
The sticker by number set went down surprisingly well, so we're trying him with a paint by stickers set next on zoo animals.

The Micro Rockets kit included some cardboard rockets with a catapult launcher and some materials for creating a mobile of the solar system.
Cardboard rockets ready for launch
Solar system mobile
We got Dad's old telescope out to look at the moon more closely, but unfortunately the sky this week was either filled with clouds or fireworks! We will try again soon.

Next week's project: Cycling and road safety.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Project 7: Sunderland and the North-East

The 'Sunderland and the North-East' project spanned two weeks as it incorporated a five day trip to Sunderland to visit Solomon's grandparents.The project involved visiting multiple local attractions, and then creating a 'Visit the North-East' tourism poster.

We visited Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books in Ouseburn, Newcastle. There are seven floors of interactive activities relating to children's books, with a special exhibition on comic books when we went. There's plenty to fill a whole day, and really engaging staff who are great with children. Solomon was particularly taken by the Attic floor at the top, generally used for storytime but with lots of dressing up boxes scattered around.
The "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear" bear cave
We visited Hylton Castle in Sunderland, the gatehouse-tower of a castle. An impressive building from the 14th century, although unfortunately the castle was fenced off as part of its ongoing refurbishment. There was, however, a really good park next to the castle.
Hylton Castle
We also visited Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, and Sunderland's illuminations which are on each October.
Cheshire Cat at Sunderland's illuminations
We also watched a number of videos about Sunderland's coal mining, ship building and glass making heritage.

Finally, Solomon brought together some of the different features of the North East into a 'Visit the North East' poster.

'Visit The North East'
The poster incorporates the Angel of the North, a car (representing the Nissan car factory), Hylton Castle, a toadstool from the Alice in Wonderland part of the Sunderland illuminations, a glass vase and a ship to represent Sunderland's shipbuilding and glass making heritage.

Next week's project: Space and the Planets!

Sunday 15 October 2017

Project 6: Nutrition

We started the week by learning about the six main food group, using the NHS Eatwell Guide categorisation: protein; dairy; fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates; oils and spreads; and high fats, salt and sugar foods.We then organised all the toy foods in the house into those categories.

Playfoods categorised
We also watched some videos about a balanced diet from the Tesco Eat Happy Project, to learn why we need the different food groups (the videos are refreshingly non-commercial):
Then we learnt about portion sizes, the traffic light food labelling system, the importance of five fruit and veg a day, and utilised a cut-and-stick food pyramid activity.
Food Pyramid
Finally Solomon searched through some recipe books and picked a healthy balanced meal which he then helped to cook. He chose to make a pizza and a fruit layered yoghurt bombe, although his mum may have defrosted the bombe for a bit too long!
Making a pizza
Overly defrosted fruit-layered yoghurt bombe
Next weeks' project: Sunderland and the North East

Sunday 8 October 2017

Project 5: English Civil War

As the Oliver Cromwell museum is just down the road, we decided to do a project on the Civil War this week.

We got some books out of the library on the subject, and watched the Horrible History sketches about the Civil War on Netflix:

  • Series 2 Episode 7 (16 mins 30 secs – Charles I)
  • Series 1 Episode 11 (20 mins 30 secs - The start of the civil war)
(Unfortunately the Horrible Histories Civil War song is in series 3 - which isn't available on the UK's Netflix)

The Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon is a small museum, just one room, but holds a significant number of artefacts about Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War. The staff were very helpful and there was plenty for the kids to do: worksheets, dressing up, and games from the period. We spent about an hour there in total.

The children's favourite exhibit was undoubtedly the Lego reconstruction of a Civil War battle, although there were many other items of more historical interest.
Lego Civil War Battle

Roundhead Uniforms
Oliver Cromwell's Hat

Following the BBC's Are you a Roundhead or a Cavalier? Solomon decided he was a Cavalier, and created a Cavalier recruitment poster.

Solomon's Cavalier Recruitment Poster
Next week's project: Nutrition!

Sunday 1 October 2017

Project 4: Flags

This week we learnt all about flags, and then Solomon designed his own flag for the family.

We started by watching some videos about flags, including a good overall introduction from the Well...Actually channel on YouTube:
We also talked about how countries can change their flags, and what the British flag might look like if Scotland had left the UK.

Following the advice of a TED talk on the design of flags*, Solomon made his own flags on 1 by 1.5 inch pieces of paper. The theory is, if it looks good on a piece of paper that size, it looks good on a flag pole in the distance. The designs also took into account flag advice from the UK's Flag Institute.
Solomon's Flag Thumbnails

Finally, Solomon painted the family flag. We cut up and hemmed a pillow case, as we couldn't find any suitable plain white tea-towels, and bought some Dylon fabric paints. The paints are quite expensive, and not necessarily the best choice for small children as you have to put a lot on your brush. If you have young children you may just want to paint your flags on paper with poster paints.

Solomon's Flag
Solomon's younger sister also made a flag.
Monica's Flag (aged 3)
We had also planned to have a flag hunt - trying to find as many flags as possible around town - but time got away from us this week.

Next week's project: The English Civil War.

* a bit long for young children and some very mild swearing.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Project 3: Medieval Castles

This week we learned all about medieval castles. As well as getting a lot of books on castles from the library, we visited Lincoln Castle and built a castle in Minecraft.
Lincoln Castle Gate

Lincoln Castle was a great place to visit, although it rained a lot in the afternoon. The children enjoyed the walk around the castle walls, and exploring the Victorian Prison. Lincoln Castle holds one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, although this was quite an underwhelming display. Undoubtedly the low point of day was the cafe, which had a rather paltry (and over-priced) selection.
Lincoln Castle Wall

Lincoln Castle Prison
We used Minecraft: Exploded Builds: Medieval Fortress to build our castle. It provides lots of detail, and lots of potential for customisation, but an extensive castle will take a long time to build even when building in two-player mode. So far we have a turret and a couple of walls, but we plan to continue adding to the castle over the next few weeks.

Minecraft Castle
Next week: Flags!

Sunday 17 September 2017

Project 2: All about Maps

We started the week by exploring some of the hundreds of maps in our house. There were framed maps on walls, maps in storybooks, atlases, street maps, online maps, and board games based on maps. Solomon's favourite map was a framed picture one of Bloomsbury.
Board games based on maps

We went to the library to look at some old maps in the local history and archives section, and bought two Ordnance Survey maps of the Peterborough area.

We made a compass with a needle and magnet, and used the c:geo mobile app to go geocaching. We found a cache under a rock and swapped some crayons for a dinosaur pencil top.
Geocaching find

Finally Solomon created his own map, with elements of both fantasy and reality.
Solomon's map

Next week's project: Medieval Castles.

Sunday 10 September 2017

Project 1: History of Computer Games

Solomon picked 'History of Computer Games' for his first project (from a selection of options that we've created as a family). The project was designed to demonstrate technological progress.

We played a selection of games on the Atari Flashback 6, dug out Mum's old Sega Megadrive, and of course played Minecraft on the Nintendo Switch.

Asteroids on the Atari Flashback
We visited the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, and played on lots of different computers and arcade machines from the last 40 years.

The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham
Solomon playing Superfrog on the Amiga

Finally, we finished the week by programming our own game on Scratch Jr on a tablet, from the (highly recommended) Official ScratchJr Book. ScratchJr is a drag-n-drop blocks programming language for 5-7 yr olds, and in the 'Cats Versus Birds' game the idea is to safely get the bird to the mushroom without hitting any of the cats that are moving up and down the screen.
'Cats Versus Birds' on ScratchJr
Next week's project: All about Maps.