Map of Europe

I was wanting to cement some of the kids knowledge about the map of Europe but I wanted to avoid the typical write the countries name on a label type activity just because it is something that I knew we were going to have to do a few times. Plus he always learns better when he is doing something, using his hands, even if it is as simple as pinning labels onto our cork board.

So I printed out the blank coloured map of Europe from the Activity Village site, pinned it onto cork board and wrote out the countries names onto little strips of card.

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We started by just sticking with the countries that the kids were already familiar with and focused on those and then as they grew more confident we added more.

Very simple idea. The kids select the names and then pin it onto the correct place on the map.

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And yes some sections get a bit squashed and there is overlap but that actually turned into a good thing because as soon as the labels were getting squashed he was commenting on how he had to squeeze a certain country between two others, which actually just reinforced the relationship between the countries that border each other.

map of Europe from Activity Village with hand written labels pinned to the different countries

And yes the more the kids did get more and more confident with where the countries are and who borders who.

I also noticed that even when I did not include a countries label in the mix of countries we were working on he would often point to a country and either ask me about it or tell me which country he thought it was.

asking about countries we had not yet labelled

It really was easy to set up and it has worked really well with both kids. I do think the pinning the labels on the map just makes a nice break from written worksheets and my daughter has already asked if we can do the same activity for Asia.

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The World of Vikings. Book Review

I thought we were done with Vikings. Like Done, finished, ticked the box, time to move onto other sections of History (because let’s be honest a large portion of last year was all about Vikings – Viking Fiction, Vikings in Britain, Norse Mythology – lots of Vikings). But as it often happens I was WRONG! Yip wrong. My son just really enjoys reading about the Vikings, it is one part of History that excites him and if I am really honest they just seem to keep reappearing. Whether it is in History, Geography, stories we are reading the Vikings just don’t seem to be done with us yet. My daughter was just done a very detailed study of 1066 – she looked at all the key characters in detail and one of those figures was a Viking and another was of Viking descent (William the Conqueror), so yes the Vikings are just not going anywhere. So it was a brilliant timing when a new Viking Book arrived for us.

The World of Vikings written by Robert Macleod

And I must admit this book is actually very cool (yes cool). It is packed full of stunning photographs and drawings – my daughter especially loves the drawings of the famous Viking faces. She has found these fascinating.

The world of Vikings. Leif Erikson

And even though we have a few other Viking Books already the facts that have managed to effortlessly include in this book are brilliant – my son is now walking around informing me that we need to a “Family Thing” – what the Vikings called it when they got together to have discussions.

The World of Vikings by Rober Macleod. Things

And he loved learning that the metal round knob on their shields was called a “boss”. He loved that.

So what is included in World of Vikings book.

It starts with the Viking world – which includes an excellent timeline and a map showing all the areas the Vikings explored (and yes I will totally admit that even though we have looked at the Vikings in the past we focused on Vikings in Britain and did not realize how far they went – all the way into Russia and Baghdad).

The world of Vikings book by Robert Macleod. The viking world map

Then Exploring the World – Vikings ships and their exploration of new lands. We also really liked that scattered throughout the book it mentions some of the key characters and another admission we always thought of the Vikings as raiders, which they were, but they were also traders and merchants and I liked that this is pointed out in this section.

Next is Viking Attack. We loved the fact that they explained that “beserkers” were real (if your kids are fans of How to Train Your Dragon books they talk about beserkers in there and we honestly thought that was fiction). And of course more about the weaponry they used.

Then Life in Viking Times. We really liked these few pages as it reinforced a few concepts that we already knew and also explained a number of things which the kids did not actually know. This includes family life, their homes, towns, feasting, crafts (loved that the Vikings played a board game called hneftafl – which made me think of an early chess game).

The World of Vikings Jarls and Karls

Lastly Legend and Lore – their beliefs, runes, Viking burial and Harald Hardrada (yes the one who invaded in 1066).

The world of Vikings. Harald Hardrada the last Viking King

My kids have really enjoyed our new Viking book and I must admit it is a great addition to our History books and I have really been impressed with the combination of amazing pictures and new information it has contained.

Disclosure – we were sent this book by the publishers. We were under no obligation to write about it and all opinions expressed are that of my two readers (aged 8 and 11) and myself.

I do include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same.  I only include affiliate links for products that we use and love.

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I am trying to do more plant biology with the kids but they are not naturally that interested in plants, however I have realized that whenever we look at plants from an animal angle then both kids get involved and absorb the information. So instead of looking at the parts of a flower that are needed for pollination we looked at what animals are pollinators and how the different animals are attracted to different plants (are they nocturnal, do they smell, are they close to the ground, can the insect land on the petal etc.) and it seems to really have worked. By taking the angle of what does the creature pollinating the plant require the kids have ended up learning quite a lot about the structure of the flower and how it can differ without even realizing it.

We started with our Plants, Pollen and Pollinators: Band 13/Topaz (Collins Big Cat) book which showed lots of different pollinators and explains how different creatures are attracted to different plants. I must say the photos included in this reader have been excellent.

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After reading this book the kids had some definite guides that they had figured out 

  • Insects need to land on petals whereas bird or bat pollinators just hover.
  • Insect pollinators tend to transport the pollen via their bodies whereas birds and other small animals tend to transport the pollen on their face.
  • Smell is very important for nocturnal pollinators.

And a few more.  But the fact was after reading the book the kids starting picking up the patterns.

In fact it inspired the kids to try and create their own summaries of the different pollinators that they had read about.

summarizing the pollinators book onto a page

We also expanded it a bit and started talking about animal pollination verses wind pollination and how the flowers are different.  We found some great flower picture cards on the Teachit Science website which clearly showed the difference in the flowers that are animal pollinated and those that are wind pollinated. There is also a worksheet they have on wind pollination (Teachit Science wind verses insect pollination).  Just to mention the blue line in the photo is me needing to change the ink in my printer, it is not the download

wind verses insect pollinated flowers

And we even went onto a bit more detail about the flowers (because as my son pointed out to me you need to understand the parts of a flower to understand how they are adapted for different pollinators).  The pages we used were also from the Teachit Science website (Teachit Science Plant Reproduction)

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The pages I have used are Free to download from the Teachit Science website. (You need to set up a free account).  The resources are created for secondary school and I think I will be using the site a lot more for my daughter as I found a number of interesting pages on their website.

I do include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same. I only include affiliate links for products that we use and love

Collins BIG CAT readers Plants. Pollen and Pollinators book


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Writing for Fun

I remember about 3 years ago I was constantly worried that my daughter was not interested in writing.  AT ALL.  Yes she would write as part of an activity that we did but if I suggested just writing a paragraph, or putting one of her story ideas down onto paper she was just not interested.  I really worried about this and then I made a decision to stop always pointing out every error that I spotted.  It did not need to be perfect but I wanted her to start enjoying writing.

I eased up a lot and it seemed to work, she started writing more and more and I did not point out the errors but I listened to the stories and we spoke about what she had written.  And the pages started turning into whole exercise books filled with her writing.  I was thrilled.

So I applied the same logic with my younger son.  But still he did not seem to want to write, partly because he struggles more with writing (the joints is his hand overextend so pencil grip is an issue for him) and partly because he battled to find things to write about.  He is a very factual kid – he likes learning facts about animals or planets but then finds them a bit dry to write about.

So to get him started we turned to two of his favourite stories.  The first one being The Day The Crayons Quit.  He always loved this story so I dug it out again and we re-read it and without me even suggesting anything he started writing his own little notes from the crayons (The book is basically about some letters that the box of crayons write to the little boy complaining about how he uses them).  And yes there were lots of mistakes in the letters but I did not correct him, we laughed about the crayons and he continued writing more notes, this time from the angle of the little boy answering the crayons original letters.  He thought it was brilliant and he kept racing over to read them out to me.

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So we tried the same thing but this time using the animal diaries that he loves as inspiration.  He started with really a book of pictures that he drew of the animals and then just a few sentences about the animals.  But he filled an entire exercise book.  Again he made mistake and we did not make a big deal about them (a few of the mistakes he actually realized later and came and pointed them out to me).

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But the exciting thing was that he was enjoying it, he really was enjoying the writing and I did not have to ask him to write he did it himself without prompts.

And the writing got longer and yes his spelling and grammar improved.

Now I must point out that for us this idea of not obsessing about the errors in their writing works well for a few reasons.  My kids are both home educated so we don’t have the pressure of school tests, we can learn slower in certain areas we deem necessary and in other areas we can go ahead of the school curriculum.  For me, I personally wanted the kids to enjoy reading and writing.  That was important, something I wanted to focus on.  Taking the pressure off by not having their writing corrected made a huge difference in their own enjoyment level which meant they now write a LOT (and bonus for me I never have to nag about writing).  But we still work on spelling and grammar.  It’s just we do that separate from their fun writing.

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Plural words

Someone spotted part of a plural spelling rules page that I had handwritten and stuck up in our kitchen for my son. He has been learning the plural spelling rules and needed a visual reminder to help him. It really was something super quick that I made for him.

home-made adding s spelling rules

But that person asked to see the full page because she was busy doing plural spellings with her kid. So I quickly typed up my handwritten notes to make it look a bit better for her. And since I typed up the page for her I thought I would share the document here as well (really nothing fancy but if it helps one of you).

Free plural spelling rule summary

download – Plural spelling rules created by ofamily learning together

While we were practicing the plural spelling rules I made some word cards for my son to use.  The idea was he would group the cards into piles of words that applied to each rule.  And after that we also used them as spelling cards.  I would give him a few cards and he would have to write out the correct plural spelling.  Again it is really a straight forward print out, just word cards but since someone else might find them useful so I am attaching the document here.

word cards to use when the kids practice using the plural spelling rules

download – plural spelling word cards created by ofamily learning together


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Everest Book Review

Last month I was searching for some new interesting books for my son, I wanted something with a bit of an adventure, an expedition of sorts but a real-life story for him (He likes books written about fascinating real-life expeditions). While I was searching for options I came across – Everest. The Remarkable story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and I was immediately interested so I requested a review copy and we have not been disappointed.

Both my son and myself find Everest fascinating but to be honest we don’t know much about the first ever successful climb, the people involved, what needed to happen for the climb to occur or what happened afterwards. And this book covers all of that. Really it covers A LOT more than I expected.

reading Everest the remarkable story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

It starts by introducing the two climbers and talks about their childhood, which blew my son away. He could not get over the fact that these were two very ordinary people who had normal childhoods (“nothing fancy happened to them to make them climbers” – his words). I really liked that this is included because it shows the kids that your background, your childhood does not define what you have to become. Just one of a few powerful messages wrapped up in this story.

It goes onto how they both started to climb and how there were many failed attempts to climb the mountain before them. Again. Really appreciate that this in included, it shows it was not a quick event, it took years and many attempts to get up Everest for the first time.

Scattered through the book they also include lots of facts about the mountain and climbing. We really liked the Everest Survival Guide which highlighted some of the dangers and the double page which showed the journey up the mountain, broken down into where the camps where situated and where Khumbu Icefall is (there is also a separate page just about Khumbu Icefall).

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Of course the actual expedition and the climb itself is covered really well. Two things my son found fascinating was the realization of how many people and how much equipment was involved in the climb – that made a huge impact on him and that once they got to the top of the mountain Tenzing did not take a photo of Hillary because he did not know how to use a camera – something which really stuck in his mind, someone who did not know about things like cameras could still achieve so much.

Everest The remarkable story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The pyramid of Human effort needed to achieve the climb

After the climb the book goes onto cover the events that unfolded – how they both became famous and the lives the lead afterwards. My son loved the story about how Hillary even though he was famous always had his telephone number listed and how one day a child phoned him up and just spoke to him about his adventures. He thought that was cool, that Hillary took time to speak to that child and did not think he was “too high and mighty”.

Everest The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. A brilliant childnre's book all about the first people to climb mount Everest

Both my son and I think this is a great story for kids, fill of fun facts but also lots of messages about not giving up, not being defined by your childhood and not letting your success get to you.

You can buy this book from Amazon here – Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

As I mentioned above this book was given to us after I asked for a review copy.

I do include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same. I only include affiliate links for products that we use and love.


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Yes we watch Documentaries

Yes we do use documentaries as a form of learning.  And please before I go further it is ONE of many forms of learning.  If you read the blog you will know we LOVE our books and I think have quite a BOOK RICH learning style with the kids.  But documentaries can also be a powerful tool.

I have never banned TV or screens, I always had a motto of everything in moderation (well most things).  And we realized quite early on that screens actually ended up overwhelming our sensory kids so we have always monitored it and these days my oldest actually limits her screen time herself because she can tell when she has had enough.

When my daughter was younger I read an article (sorry can’t remember who wrote it) that basically urged parents to treat screen time like you would reading time – in other words, sit with the kids on the couch, watch together, talk about what you are watching, have a cuddle.  And this really made sense to me.  Of course there have been times when I have been so sleep deprived or sick that I put something on for the kids to watch so I could have a break – it happens and I have done that.  But I tried not to make that the norm and now when we watch documentaries for learning topics we do the same.  We sit together, watch together, chat about it, often pause part way through to check everyone understands or look-up something that was mentioned.  It works for our family because if I join in with the kid we all end up talking about whatever we have watched and it normally ends up extending into extra reading or even a new topic.

Animal Documentaries have always been popular with our family and lately we are moving onto more specific animal ones – like hunting patterns of sharks – but for the most part we find animal documentaries safe.  Although my kids are highly sensitive about a lot of issues, animals hunting each other and animals eating other animals have never been an issue.

watching a Shark documentary

We have moved onto Historical documentaries lately but these can be tricky so either my husband or I always watch them first (I have taped a few which I thought were going to be brilliant and ended up being very gruesome to the point of nightmare potential so they were deleted).  But we are finding with our daughter adding appropriate documentaries to go along with all the history books she has been reading is working really well and if anything actually ends up encouraging her to read even more.

And the big surprise for me was how my son has reacted to the History documentaries, he often complains about “more history” – because his sister is so history obsessed he can find it a bit much.  But he got so involve in our latest history documentary – 1066 A Year to Conquer England – that he actually asked to watch it again and has been talking about the mistakes made during the different battles, something which really took me by surprise. But I am realizing with my son if we are watching documentaries which include re-enacting scenes, or discussion about battle plans he really enjoys them and gets really involved in the events.

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So Yes, we do watch documentaries as part of our home education and Yes, I do think they can be a powerful learning tool but No, they aren’t our only learning tool.


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