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