Weekly Wrap Up – The One With The Snow

Homeschool weekly wrap up Navigating By Joy

We had our annual snow this week, so snow fun was top of the homeschool agenda. The highlight was hitting the sledging run on Monday morning when all the other kids had gone back to school (tee hee!).

We just about managed to  fit in some other types of learning around the edges, too. 🙂


We’ve been reading about the rise of Islam and the Islamic Empire in The Story of the World Vol 2: The Middle Ages. This has sparked some interesting questions and discussions about Christianity, Islam and other belief systems.

C and J are 9 and 7 so at the moment we’re learning history as an exciting story without much detailed examination of complex causes and motivations. But I love, love, love it when I notice them making spontaneous connections.

It happened this week when we learnt about how the Visigoths who had settled in Spain invited Tariq bin Ziyad over from North Africa to help them deal with internal conflict. I was so excited to see C’s eyes light up as she exclaimed, “That sounds like when the English invited over the Anglo-Saxons and ended up being conquered by them!”


This term I’m bringing maps in wherever I can. We use the WonderMaps software which lets you view and print maps showing as much or as little detail as you require.

The WonderMaps package also includes historical maps, so to complement our history study this week we’ve been looking at a map of the medieval Islamic Empire, side by side with a map of the area as it is today. As we learn about each important place in history the kids find it and mark it on the map.

I try to select maps that show Britain on the same map as the area we are studying.  If that’s not possible, I have to hand a separate, smaller scale map showing where we are in relation to the area. I think this helps the children (and me!) form a joined-up mental map of the world.

This week we all enjoyed learning how the name of the British colony at the south of Spain is derived from Jabal Tariq (“Tariq’s Mountain”) – the rock of Gibraltar!


We use Life of Fred as our main maths curriculum, but from time to time we supplement with other materials, to consolidate learning, practise techniques and fill gaps.

This week we’ve used Maths Made Easy workbooks and Mathletics as our supplements. C has been learning about factors and J has been practising arithmetic. Workbooks can be fun when you don’t use them all the time!

English/Language Arts

The People In Pineapple Place

C and I have been enjoying reading our current Arrow book The People in Pineapple Place and doing copywork and dictation from it. We also restarted Spelling Power which had fallen by the wayside about a year ago. We’re going to try doing it once a week, instead of daily,  to try and keep it fresh.

Luckily I don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel when it comes to J’s language arts programme, which is progressing nicely.

I’m pleased to see him choosing to write a bit more.  One evening this week he produced a “magna carta” for the family to sign.  “How sweet,” I though,  adding my signature to his charter declaring that “Mummy gets to do what ever she wants” – shooing away cynical thoughts about the location of the small print.

Five minutes later a triumphant J reappeared, revealing the rest of the “magna carta” which he had written in invisible ink before we signed – “Jasper gets to do games all the time”! (Honestly, you’d think we kept him in chains!) It’s so true that a child will write if the desire is strong enough!


Appreciating classical music is so easy with You Tube! C chose our current composer, Chopin.  We’ve all enjoyed listening to the pieces she’s selected this week.  Sometimes we have the music on in the background, other times (especially if it’s a funny clip or original instruments are being played) we watch the accompanying video via Apple TV.


We made an acid/base indicator with red cabbage! I’ll be writing a separate post all about the fun we had with that.

Red cabbage acid base indicato original  2

We hope you’ve had a great week too.

We’re appreciatively linking up here…

Homegrown Learners

What we’re Doing for Grade 2 and 3 Maths

arithmemouse_grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculum

Multiplication Practice with Arithmemouse

I last wrote about how we found our perfect math curriculum back in March, so I thought it might be time for an update…

Jasper (7, Yr3/Gr2)

Life of Fred

Life of Fred Farming - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumMaths is still Jasper’s favourite subject, thanks to Life of Fred.  This term we finished Life of Fred (Edgewood) and began Life of Fred (Farming).  I love the way the Fred series mixes up basic fundamentals (such as subtraction with borrowing) with more sophisticated concepts (like union of sets, median averages and simple algebraic equations) in a way that introduces young children to advanced mathematical vocabulary in a very natural way. And, of course, we all love “Fred’s” delightfully quirky story and offbeat humour.


Because we’re not doing a traditional curriculum, I make sure Jasper gets plenty of extra opportunities to learn his maths facts. Luckily he loves games, which are a great way of getting the job done.  Recently we’ve played Yahtzee  and War . (My favourite maths website, Let’s Play Math has lots of ideas for maths games. I’ve just noticed Contig, which looks great – we’ll be playing Contig Jr next week!)  We also play games like Tug Team Addition  at Math Playground, and Jasper practises multiplication using Arithmemouse and Timez Attack.

One benefit of working with a child one-to-one is that you get instant feedback on how easy or challenging he finds each concept.  So in Life of Fred (Edgewood) I noticed Jasper was a bit confused about the differences between rhombuses, trapeziums and parallelograms, so I set him some exercises on Study Ladder.  He loves working online, especially on specific exercises (rather than working his way through an online curriculum in a linear way – for example, Maths Whizz didn’t work so well for us for any length of time) so this is win/win.

Cordie (8, Yr4/Gr3)

math mammoth division 1 - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumCordie recently decided to take a break from Life of Fred (she was on “Farming”) to explore some other resources.  She did a few exercises from a Schofield & Sims KS2 workbook we had on the shelves and asked me to set her some “surprise” Study Ladder exercises.  One day she asked me to make her a page of clocks so she could brush up on telling the time, and another day she wanted a page of multi-digit subtraction sums.  She played around on Khan Academy for a while, watching videos on decimal place values and then setting herself some problems to solve. And she dipped into Math Mammoth’s Division 1 (filling in the answers on the iPad using the Notability app).

Following her explorations, Cordie says she’s ready to go back to more of a maths routine with Life of Fred.  Before that, though, we’re doing some times tables practice using Maria Miller’s structured drill system from Math Mammoth Multiplication 1.

I’ve looked ahead at all the Life of Fred elementary level books (up to “Jellybeans”) and they seem to cover everything on the English KS2 curriculum. As with Jasper, if Cordie needs or wants extra practice on a particular topic as we go along, there are plenty of other resources we can dip into.

Writing this post has also reminded me how much we all like Primary Grade Challenge Math which teaches mathematical thinking and problem-solving in a fun way.  We haven’t used Challenge Math in a while but I’d like to get back to using it regularly, perhaps once a week.

Isn’t it great how many fabulous homeschool maths resources are out there? There really is something to suit everyone, at every age and in every mood!

The Perfect Math Curriculum – the End of Our Search

the perfect Homeschool math currriculum - end of the search

We’ve had a maths breakthrough! How do I know?

  • The children have been asking to do maths first.
  • C (8) sceptically asked me in the middle of a recent  lesson we were both enjoying, “is this really maths, mummy?”
  • My confidence in my children’s ability to reach their maths potential (and my ability to get them there) has skyrocketed!

Where we were before

When they were at school, both C (8) and J (nearly 7) enjoyed maths and were top of their respective classes. This was a good starting point, but as a new homeschooler it only increased the pressure I put on myself to nurture their talents at home! I never doubted their mathematical ability; what I did question was my ability to sustain and develop their passion for the subject.

I think my biggest enemy was that spectre that looms over most homeschoolers in our weak moments: fear of leaving gaps in our children’s education. This fear seems to strike frequently when it comes to maths, so perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us devote huge amounts of energy to finding the “perfect” maths curriculum.

But here’s what I’ve found: for my children, most maths curricula probably work just fine for a while.  And then … well, they just get bored of doing the same thing day in day out (or at least the same sort of thing in the same sort of way).  And boredom is definitely not a good learning state!

The book that was the key

Favourite Homeschool Math ResourceThen, thanks to the lovely folks over at the Secular Homeschool  forum, I discovered Primary Grade Math Challenge.  This is a book of word problems aimed at gifted maths students (grades 1st – 4th).  Each chapter introduces a theme (such as completing a number series, or counting change) and then has four sets of questions ranging from “level 1” to “genius”.

It may not sound very exciting so far, but sitting with each of my children in turn as they work through the questions has given me is an incredible insight into how their minds work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, in ways no math curriculum has ever done. Meanwhile my puzzle-loving children love figuring out the answers and seeing how many levels they can complete in each unit.

Another bonus is as they work through the questions, C and J become increasingly motivated to learn more sophisticated problem-solving strategies.  Instead of “Why do we have to learn this [abstract concept]?”, it’s “Please teach me a way of doing this!” *

*Ok, I exaggerate a teensy bit – we may not be quite there yet – but I can see the day coming. 😀

An example

Last Thursday I had to quell my inner frustration when we opened a chapter of Primary Grade Math Challenge dealing with fractions, and C groaned “I hate fractions!”  Where in the world had my mathematically gifted daughter picked up this absurd notion? Fifteen minutes later, Primary Grade Math Challenge had worked its magic on us both. C was happily adding together sixteenths, quarters and eighths, and converting improper fractions to mixed numbers.  Meanwhile I had figured out that she hadn’t “hated” fractions because they were difficult, but because she was bored of colouring in segments of polygons and pie in her previous (grade level) maths curricula! (It makes me wonder what other misunderstandings lurk at the foundation of our homeschool!)

What next?

Up until now I’ve continued to pick out a few sections of Math Mammoth (grade 2) for C to do once or twice a week, but writing this post has helped me let go of that, unless there’s something specific she needs to work on.  She doesn’t need to practise place value or rounding to the nearest hundred, and I don’t want to bore her into “hating” any other mathematical concept.  Yes, C and J need to master their number facts, know their multiplication tables and learn about different types of triangles, but they can acquire all those skills in day-to-day life (eg by baking and budgeting), by playing games, and from living maths books.  One of the things I like about Math Mammoth is that you can buy material on a specific topic if you don’t need the complete curriculum.  I’ve got my eye on the multiplication and division worksheets collection  to help C and J master those operations when they reach that point (which given the way Primary Grade Math Challenge is going, probably isn’t far off).

Life Of Fred

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our beloved Life Of Fred. These books are not cheap but – oh – they are good! Once I had found a UK supplier (thank you Conquest Books) I splashed out on the first four elementary level books, which C whizzed through, and I’ve since bought the complete set. (I figure they’re good quality non-consumables so should I should be able to get some of my investment back by re-selling at some point – if we can ever bear to part with them!)  My reluctant reader J, meanwhile, is happy to alternate reading aloud paragraphs with me for chapter after chapter – I don’t think he notices he’s even reading, let alone learning maths! Seriously, I can’t recommend these books enough if you want to your kids to associate maths with laughter and generally feeling good.


I’m so happy to have found what works for us (for now!). I know this exact approach won’t work for every family or every child, but if you’re on the verge of jumping off-curriculum with your mathematically-able child – come on in, the water’s just fine!

End Of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – Math

What an exciting time of year this is.  Looking ahead to a new year, a new term, and spring! (Yes I know winter has officially only just started, but there’s something about the days beginning to get longer and the promise of imminent snowdrops that fills me with hope!) Last term, which marked the start of our first full academic year as a 100% homeschooling family, we’ve been more structured than before.  In this series of posts I’m going to look at what we’ve been using for curriculum and talk about any tweaks and changes I’m planning for the coming term, starting with maths. For maths, we’ve been using living books and the Math Mammothcurriculum.

What’s been working

  • I love Math Mammoth. The level is just right for my children, and as there isn’t a separate teacher’s book, it’s very easy to use. It is inexpensive and comes in electronic form to print at home – useful when you live outside the US.  There is also a separate UK money section, and I like that the sections on measuring cover both imperial and metric units.  UK schools have taught only metric since I was in school, but in the real world we use pounds, inches, miles, etc, so the children may as well know about them!
  • We’ve read a few living books, like Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland.  I love how these books introduce mathematical concepts and vocabulary in the context of fun stories.

Tweaks I’m planning

  • We do maths four days a week, but I’ve found that in order to cover all the material in Math Mammoth, we haven’t been spending as much time on living maths as we’d like.  To address this, I’m going to go through the Math Mammoth material ahead of time and pick out the essential bits, so that we can spend slightly less time on workbooks and more time really enjoying real maths.  Here’s a list of some of our living maths books  from my Library Thing catalogue.
  • I’m excited to have just found a UK supplier of Life of Fred,  which I’ve been considering investing in since they brought out their new elementary series recently.  (See Conquest Books.)   I’ve read great reviews of Life of Fred, and I have a feeling my children will love them.

Back when I was training to be a lawyer, we were taught to use precedents (pro forma legal documents) “as a tool, not a master”.  I need to keep reminding myself of the same when it comes to curricula.  Curricula are incredibly useful to the extent they serve your intentions and meet the needs of your family, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of using them as an excuse to beat yourself up for being “behind” or not covering every single thing. For example, last term’s Math Mammoth included a subtraction game with Euclid’s Square.  I played it with J for several days running, but then – looking at the amount of curriculum left to cover – I insisted we move on, despite J’s requests for more.  Going forward, I intend to be guided more by my child than by a one-size-fits-all curriculum. One of the reasons I home educate is to personalise the children’s education and to give them a chance to follow their own interests.  Even with a subject like maths, as long as we’re covering the basics, my priority is to foster my children’s love of learning.  If that means regularly jumping off-curriculum, or lingering longer on some things than others, then that’s ok.  I’m thinking perhaps a large mummy-reminder sign in our school area might be useful … 🙂

Math Mammoth

This is what we’re using for maths at the moment (dare I say, this year?!)

Last year we tried an online curriculum (Maths Whizzi), a few National Curriculum workbooks and Singapore Math but nothing really felt right. With the online curriculum, our experience was similar to other bloggers in that the children started out really keen but over a few weeks enthusiasm took a nosedive and maths became “hard” and/or “boring”.  Maybe because online programmes reward children for completing lessons with points (which can be saved to buy eg “toys” in a virtual bedroom), which erodes natural, intrinsic motivation to solve the fun puzzles that are maths.

Then I stumbled upon Math Mammoth which I could immediately see has several big advantages:

(1)    It’s available as an eBook which saves me any issues of having to track down a UK supplier and/or pay huge postage costs.  I love eBooks!

(2)    Although it’s American, it comes with a separate British section on money to replace the dollar section.

(3)    There’s no separate teacher’s book to juggle while teaching.  Everything is in one main worktext.

(4)    The material is clearly laid out so I don’t have to lesson plan.  All I need do is have a quick glance at what’s coming up so I have an idea of what I’ll go through on the whiteboard together before C and J practise.

The notes even guide you through a process to let you know how many pages you need to cover each week if you want to finish the course within your homeschool year – one of those obvious planning points that hadn’t occurred to me before!   Not that we’ll necessarily do every single sum, but I find it useful to have a rough idea of where we are, to make sure we cover the important bits.

Both C and J are pretty quick at maths, but J is exceptionally quick, so I’m using Math Mammoth (light blue series) Grade 2 (British Year 3) with them both.   They seem to be enjoying working together, and having C alongside helps me cope better with J’s (utterly foreign to me!) whole-to-parts visual-spatial learning style.  J gets to see that there can be advantages to working through the steps before shouting out the answer, and C loves helping explain the steps – I remember she once told me that helping the other children was one of her favourite things about school!

Playing Shop

One of the things I love about home educating is being able to work at each of my children’s individual pace, skipping laborious drills on things they grasp quickly while allowing them a little more time on topics they’re having trouble with.  J gets most maths concepts pretty quickly but a few random answers yesterday gave us a great opportunity for some hands-on maths fun today.

J first gathered up some things to sell in our “shop” and then set about making price tags with an enthusiasm I’ve never seen in him for any other kind of writing (“no, I want to do them all!”).  His money box, heavy with dozens of copper and silver coins, also came in handy.

Setting Up Shop

C, of course, wanted to join in the fun, and we took turns playing shopkeeper, customer and shop assistant, counting out the customer’s change as we filled our baskets.

Counting the pennies

Much as I admire parents who enjoy spending hours playing  “let’s pretend”  games, I’m really not one of them.  If someone had tried to tell me a few years ago how much fun I’d have playing shop with my children, I’d have been sceptical to say the least! But the buzz of putting into practice ideas I’ve been immersing myself in since I began this wonderful home educating  journey, combined with the thrill of seeing first hand how effective they are, make for a pretty magical experience!

As an almost unschooling mom says, “it’s great to be a homeschooler”.

My Library Thing

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