Home education review: Reading Chest

Talitha’s been trying out and thoroughly enjoying a levelled book subscription service called Reading Chest. The idea is that your child receives books in the post and when they finished reading them, they put them in supplied envelopes and pop them in a post box to receive more.

She’s actually a proficient reader now so she doesn’t need levelled readers. She’s just finished reading The Railway Children, borrowed from the library, for instance. However, she’s enjoying the Reading Chest’s “Extended Readers Book Band”. They’re fun, quick reads and I like that they often raise interesting points for conversation, especially if she’s reading aloud, as she likes to do with non-fiction books, generally.

I know a lot of home educators aren’t keen on levelled readers, feeling that they can often be quite dry and that children should practise reading on “real” books. However, when Talitha was learning to read, she really liked having books that she had a good chance of being able to read independently. We struggled to find books that suited her ability at the library so I wound up buying Oxford Reading Tree’s Biff, Chip and Kipper, the levelled reading series that people love to hate. I actually found them pretty dull but she loved them and quickly worked her way through them.

With Reading Chest, you can choose books across many different reading schemes or opt for a random mix, which we’ve been doing. You also have to option of choosing fiction, non-fiction or a mix. Talitha changes this almost every time she returns a set of books then looks forward to the next delivery, which has been consistently prompt, meaning we have a regular flow of new books coming through. I can see that being particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to get to a library or find that their local library has a limited selection. Their schemes span Collins Big Cat, Oxford Reading Tree, Treetops, Bug Club, Project X and more and they stock an up-to-date, extensive collection.

From our point of view, it’s great having lots of new, quality reading material which doesn’t then become more clutter in our home. It’s an opportunity to borrow lots of levelled readers without having to buy them, trying out varied styles and trying books that you or your kids might not normally choose. There are also no return dates or late fees and you can cancel at any time.

There are few different options in terms of how many books you borrow and it’s really easy to swap levels if you need to. For our first delivery, we had a look at the books for one of the younger reading bands online, reading excerpts on the website. When they came, Talitha found the books to easy so we moved her up to the final stage for the next delivery and we’ve stayed there. We also took the option of requesting “no scary books” – pretty important in this house!

Multiple children can be added to the subscription so I have thought that if Ophelia were reading, we might get quite a lot of use out of that option but she’s not there yet. I think we’d probably get the most use out of a subscription like this with a four or five year old who was learning to read, which might be Ophelia later this year as she’s very interested in letters and is starting to pick out the sounds in words, of her own accord.

There are some fun options thrown in like sticker reward charts which we don’t use unless decides she wants to track her reading that way for fun. The books initially came with a bag which is useful for keeping them in one place between delivery and return. She’s also been enjoying reviewing the odd book for the Reading Chest website, which is another fun feature.

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Reading Chest gave us a subscription in exchange for an honest review.


Ten Charlie and the Chocolate Factory activities for younger children

This post was originally published in November 2015. It reappears here in collaboration with million eyez.

We’ve just finished a happy romp through the wonderfully bizarre world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Having realised from page one that this chapter book was going to be a hit, I gathered a few ideas for activities we could try alongside it. For my four-year-old, it was delightful to dig deeper into the experience of the story. For my 21-month-old, it meant she didn’t keep trying to pull the book out of my hand or take me some place else.

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Make a family tree
The book opens by orderly naming the people in Charlie Bucket’s family. I’d been wanting to do a family tree for a while so we took the opportunity to print out photos, cut and stick them and draw lines to show relationships. I helped Talitha with ours but she went on later on to draw Charlie Bucket’s family tree on her own.

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Sweetie Swoop game
We’ve been having fun with the whole sweetie theme by playing a board game called Sweetie Swoop which Talitha got for her birthday this year. It nicely accompanies chapter 11 where he goes into the sweet shop. It’s such fun. In general board games and card games are a brilliantly easy way to develop maths skills while doing something together that we both enjoy.

Drink hot chocolate
When you finally make it inside the chocolate factory, meeting the chocolate river calls for a drink. Preferably one offered in a cup by Mr Willy Wonka and not risking falling in!

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Make playdough sweets
Most of the time we read, we got out the playdough. Talitha made playdough sweets and both girls generally had fun squishing and making while listening to the story.

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The Inventing Room
This was an idea I came across on The Imagination Tree when looking for birthday party ideas. I put together an “inventing room” the night before which was the source of much excitement and creativity. I wish I’d taken more pictures because she got the stapler out and put together some 3D sweets later in the day.

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Make real sweets
Of course, who can read about all these amazing sweets and not want to munch something sweet. Better yet, make some! We tied this in with learning about Diwali by making coconut barfi. They were too sweet for the girls, though, so I wonder if we should have gone for biscuits in sweetie shapes instead.

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Play with fizz
All the experimentation you observe in the Mr Willy Wonka’s factory certainly tickles the imagination. The science fiction elements of this book are the bits that shine brightest. Talitha was quite taken with the fizzy lifting drinks that make you float upwards unless you burp to come down again. Inspired by this fizzy fun experiment, we got the muffin tin out and had a messy go (should have put a tray underneath as suggested in that post, mind!).

Here are few more ideas I came across but we didn’t get around to:

Make lickable wallpaper
Pipe cleaner lollipop craft
Chocolate play dough recipe

Do follow my Learning to Love Words board on Pinterest:

Follow Adele’s board Learning to Love Words on Pinterest.

I’d love if we could share our ideas on how to help kids get into books and this million eyez Photobox offers the perfect medium. With million eyez you can start a photo box in a topic to receive authentic photos you can’t find, just as I’m hoping to do here, curating, communicating and organising to cleverly crowd source what you need. Just upload your photo of your literary kids activity, whether it’s a dress up, craft, baking, creative writing prompt or invitation to play. Let’s inspire each other!

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If you’re a blogger, you can also enter million eyez’s amazing giveaway to win your own Olypus PEN camera here!


This Homeschooling Life #3 – There’s life in lots of things

Life outdoors
We’ve chosen to home educate partly because we want our kids to spend their short childhoods outdoors. I have to say, though, that it’s easy to feel convinced about this in the middle of summer and quite another when the world starts getting colder, darker and wetter.

Yet, the children are usually happy to be outside, regardless of the weather, especially Ophelia who hasn’t yet picked up on my aversion to the colder months.

Mostly, I’ve been happy to stick them in their rain suits and chuck them out into the garden while I keep an eye from the kitchen. We found a slide by the side of the road the other day and it’s been a brilliant addition. So they’re often out there sliding, mixing up horrors in their mud kitchen, blowing bubbles and drawing on the patio with chalks.

I’m aware that I need to get out there too, for their sake as well as mine. I’ve lapsed in gardening and shied away from initiating woodland walks. It’s just so easy to become sedentary, holed up indoors at this time of year.

This homeschooling life - life in many things-5 Talitha at her monthly horseriding lesson

I’ve been reading a bit around Charlotte Mason recently (she was a respected thinker on education, in case you’ve not come across her) and the reminder that children should be spending many hours a day outdoors really challenged me. My kids would happily do that.

Would I? I’d probably find it difficult to be fully present, to slow down and really absorb the experience. In short, I think I’d get bored, which makes me think that I should commit to doing this more. I’d also be focused on feeling cold. So, two things need to happen. I need to kit myself out at the charity shop and I need to actually dedicate the time.

Hopefully by the time I write our next home education update, I’ll have more to tell about our outdoor adventures.

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I’ve been enjoying reading Learning Outdoors with the Meek Family. It brings together ideas for “Ed-ventures”, getting out of the house (and the classroom) and learning in the real world, whether that be a lake, a castle or an airport.

Some of the ideas work for Talitha’s age, like painting rocks for the garden or drawing minibeasts you find but many of them are geared toward older children, so I think we’ll get lots out of this in years to come.

Life in stories

Talitha has always gravitated towards books in any room. At times, I’ve felt frustrated that she’d choose to sit with books when we’d made the effort to go out to a group so she could play with other children. I’ve since realised that she does both, that it’s about her pace not what I think she should be doing and that I was the same as a child.

We’ve been borrowing Usborne first readers from the library and she’s been delighted that she can read them. Often she reads a line then looks for what she’s read about in the picture or she’ll ask me questions about what she’s read. It’s a real delight to both of us that she’s understanding what she’s reading.

Even better, we’re just enjoying a life in stories, with me reading more chapter books and short stories and listening to audiobooks while playing. She’s been particularly loving listening to a CD of The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr Seuss Stories. The girls have their own CD player and both of them have learned how to operate it, though Ophelia needs a hand and she’s not quite co-ordinated enough to get the CD in.

We’re also taking the stories further by drawing pictures of something in a book, crafts and foods inspired by a story or acting it out with the Sylvanian family or puppets.

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Following life’s questions
Questions that naturally come up in our day to day have lead us down interesting paths. We’ve been learning lots (reading and playing) around animal categorisation, starting with the question: “Is a whale a fish?”

Questions around numbers lead us into playing simple maths games. We play lots of board games anyway but I recently printed off some monsters from The Measured Mom and we’ve been finding different things to do with them, identifying, ordering, matching to words and connecting them with real life. Here we made play dough monsters and added eyes to work out some simple sums.

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Life’s rhythms

Looking to the season and calendar has inspired a lot of what we’ve done this month, collecting leaves and other objects, cooking and baking Autumn favourites, and drilling pumpkins for Halloween.

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For me, it’s helped to plug in to my four-year-old’s natural excitement over all of life’s little celebrations. I don’t have to make her childhood magical. It already is.

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Life through creating

A highlight of this month was a paper clothes making workshop we attended at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol run by the team at Let’s Make Art. I didn’t know quite what to expect but we walked away with so many ideas! I was surprised by how into it Talitha got. She wouldn’t let me help with most of it and attended it with such focus.

I’m looking forward to getting some scrap out (we keep a massive chest full of scrap) and playing a bit more with making clothes and costumes at home. It would be good to get her some beautiful materials too, though, so we’ll need a trip to the Children’s Scrapstore soon, I think.

I also want to do more yarn crafts together because Talitha is so intrigued by anyone doing needlework. When a friend brought her knitting to our house yesterday, Talitha ran for her own needlework. She dips in and out of working on her simple frame but it’s surprising how absorbed she is when she’s working on it.

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She’s always making, though, whether it’s drawing (our art supplies are out at child height – for better or worse when Ophelia gets at them!) or Lego, facepainting or Hama beads. It makes me wonder why I’ve only recently rediscovered my own crafting impulse when it seems to be something children naturally want to do.

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We’ve been making our way through this Chihuly Art Kit Activity Book my brother-in-law gave me. It’s full of opportunities to look at the work of artist David Chihuly then attempt activities around his ideas.

So, that’s a bit of what we’ve been up to recently. What about you?

Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess, Polly and Laura. I’m sure I’ll have lots more to share next time around. Do read more about it below and if you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing either a week, a day or just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Circus Queen
Laura who blogs at Side Street Style
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up




PS: We were sent Learning Outdoors with the Meek Family and given a free place in the Let’s Make Art workshop to review. This post also contains affiliate links which just means I get a few pence if you buy any of the books I’ve linked to, at no added cost to you.


Mother’s Milk Books review and giveaway

I first came across indie publisher Mother’s Milk Books a few years ago, both through La Leche League (the breastfeeding charity that has been a source of strength, support and community to me since becoming a mother) and through chatting about breastfeeding and parenting online.

Their tagline “Celebrating femininity and empathy through images and words” pretty much encapsulates what drew me to them and the books they publish. I say “they” but the press is run solely by at-home mother and founder Dr Teika Bellamy.

Mother’s Milk Books receives no funding and makes no profit but they are putting out such important books. I want to tell you about three of them, which Mother’s Milk Books are giving away to one of my readers.

Mother's Milk Books

Musings on Mothering

After meaning to for ages, I finally bought their Musings on Mothering – About Pregnancy, Birth, and Breastfeeding: An Anothology of Art, Poetry and Prose at an LLL event last year. The collection covers broodiness to the first feed to remembering our own mothers. It is page after page of voices speaking what is true about the human experience of being mothers, fathers and children, illustrated often with children’s artworks. Musings is a beautiful and powerful book. Describing and sharing our family experiences artistically (fathers’ voices feature too) can mysteriously connect us. This collection realises that mystery.

In strangers’ arms my mother’s touch,
My friends when all alone
In strangers’ eyes my father’s face,
In all my pathways, home.

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical

This is an entirely different sort of collection. The Forgotten and the Fantastical brings together modern fairy tales for adults, filtered through many different voices and experiences.  The writers take on Red Riding Hood to the Arthurian Legends, leaving only echoes of the familiar. Every tale is thrillingly unexpected. I found myself wanting to read some of them aloud – so strong was the sense of the oral tradition on the page. The authors’ notes at the end complete the experience. It’s definitely worth getting your hands on, especially if you’re looking for something to easily dip in and out of.

“Grief made no reply but the boy could see her clearly now. She had swelled from a voice in the wind to a grotesque face that enveloped the whole grey sky, her great mouth opening in a putrid mess of rotting teeth and stale blood.”

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Oy Yew

Oy Yew is a children’s novel, suitable from age eight, which equally targets adult readers. Gripping from the start, it is dark, tense and wickedly humorous. It follows the plight of Oy Yew, a parentless waif who adopts this name since it’s how he’s been addressed as long as he can remember. He’s enslaved in a great house, along with other waifs, all underfed to stunt their growth and they must creatively make their way to freedom. The fantasy world and characters that author Ana Salote has created in Oy Yew are rock solid. I echo another reviewer in affirming that this is a classic in the making. I’m looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

“He fed daily on the smell of bread, letting the vapours swirl around his brain and conjure themselves a high-risen floury loaf. He would sieze it with his two hands, break open the crust and inside it would be fluffy and white with a puff of steam, and he would scoop out the new bread and eat. That warm salt vapour would feed his mind for hours, but his body did not know bread.”

To win a copy of Musings on Mothering, The Forgotten and the Fantastical and Oy Yew, tell me what your favourite spot for reading is and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Five things to do before the baby comes

At thirty-three weeks pregnant, the countdown has begun. Laurence asked me yesterday if we’re in the third trimester yet. I pray he was joking. At any rate, I’m determined to make the most of these next seven (or five or nine or God alone knows how many) weeks.

This does not entail, as has been previously suggested to me, clubbing. Anyone who’s made that suggestion (and they’ve tellingly all been male) doesn’t quite understand that this thing around my middle really is as heavy as it looks.

Nope, dancing days waved goodbye a week after I peed on the sticks. Then the first trimester’s exhaustion/nausea/generally-feeling-like-I’m-dying was speedily followed by the ligaments in my pelvic girdle deciding to fall apart and do a fancy jiggle called SPD. Though that’s admittedly chilled quite a bit with exercise and listening to my body, the third trimester has brought the return of exhaustion, coupled with needing to know where the restroom is at all times.

So, in short, I’m afraid this list won’t be as active as some of my friends would probably like but it reflects how excited I am about meeting the creature. Call me 25 going on 50.

Before the baby arrives I want to:

1. Get all things “baby” ready

This might actually strike some as surprising, since I clearly have the kid on the brain rather a lot of the time, but I haven’t set up the nursery yet. Yes we’ve bought things. We even have the pram and car seat. But everything is sitting in the room, mostly in bags, unwashed and wondering if a baby is really coming. Then Braxton Hicks rudely reminds me that it’s worth getting my tush into gear, even though I do have loads of time left.

2. Learn origami

I mentioned this to a crafty friend the other day and she seemed excited that we were going to make a mobile or something (not a bad idea though, not at all). Really, I meant that we need to work this nappy situation out.

We’ve opted to do the cloth nappy thing. My brother and I wore reusable nappies and I’m keen to continue the family tradition mainly because we don’t have much money and I saw an exhibition in Bristol Zoo last year that freaked me out about what disposables do the environment.

I now have a collection of pocket nappies, all-in-ones and terry toweling but little idea of how to use them so I’ll be having some fun with Videojug and online diagrams these next few weeks. I say “I” but I do mean “we”.
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Will the baby like libraries?

Today I’m over at WAHM-BAM with a guest post I’ve written for Tasha Goddard’s Book Week. It’s called “Will the baby like libraries?” Please mozy on over there and share your thoughts.

Hopefully I’ll be sufficiently sniffle-free soon to write something equally substantial over here. In the meantime, I’m catching up on my reading and prepping for the big BabyBash on Saturday. In fact, I’ll probably tell you all about that tomorrow.


There are no books I must read before I die

We’ve been massively sorting out the house (and the garden, thanks to my in-laws) this weekend. It’s about time, I suppose, considering that we moved in a month and a half ago and once the baby’s here (nine weeks to the due date now), it will probably be a while before we care about where those picture frames should hang.

Also, we’re hoping for a mass invasion this Saturday with friends coming over for the event we have dubbed The JK BabyBash. No doubt, I’ll tell you more about that later as much excitement surrounds it and I’ll be getting well into it once this stupid cold is gone.

So, um, yes. My mind is wandering. Fever does that. I was saying that we were tidying the house. Well, that’s meant I’ve found all the bags of stuff we’ve been planning to take to the charity shop or the library for…literally years. Including these:

I recently wrote in a guest post that will appear on Tasha Goddard’s blog WAHM-BAM later this week for her Book Week that Laurence has a penchant for hoarding books while I’m very much a read ’em and donate ’em kinda gal. If it’s good, it’s worth sharing, I say. These, however, are his books.

I have an ongoing battle in my mind over what I should read and what I do. It’s probably a hang up from my days as an English Literature undergrad.

By the time I was on to my Masters, I was rather comfortable with my new philosophy that although “experts” will expound on what you must read before you die, life really is too short to be reading things that you downright don’t enjoy.

It’s like my in-laws insisting on watching every one of the Coen Brothers’ films, knowing full-well that they probably won’t enjoy them because they never do (except True Grit. This is the one Coen Brothers’ film they like).

I’m a hedonist when it comes to reading. Irvine Welsh is a genius, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean I feel compelled to read his work and certainly not to re-read it. I forced my way through Ecstasy past rape, bestiality, necrophilia and beyond and felt more than a little sick, which is likely what you’re meant to experience. I also gave Porno a go but soon trailed off, wondering why I was bothering to do this to myself. It’s sadistic.

Laurence agrees he likely won’t read them again so off they go to the library today to some other reader who’ll get more out of it than I.

That said, I have begun reading Crime and Punishment again, having used to describe it as a punishment in itself for those who struggled through it. Yes, this Lit graduate is a smidge Philistine.

One of my housemates in my second year at university forced her way through it so I gave it a quick go. But I had too much on my mind at the time and a reading list that was already daunting so after a few chapters, I put it aside with: “Ah well.”

But since Mama – and more suggested that I should make the most of reading in response to my post about things I should do before the baby comes, I looked through our shelves and thought, I’ll give you another go.

So far, I don’t understand what was blocking me with this book. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know whether there’s anything you wouldn’t read. Or whether you think that we should at least attempt to read everything touted as “valuable” that’s out there?