Monday, 19 March 2018

Project 26: Trains!

This week's project was all about trains - their history and their impact.

We started the week with a brief overview of the history of trains, from the Rocket to maglevs, looking through some of Solomon's reference books and watching some online videos. We visited the library, hoping to get some more books, but Peterborough's public library provision is appalling - there was a single children's book on trains available, Getting around by train, suitable for someone far younger. We did get An Illustrated History of Trains from the adult section, however, and that prompted us to watch Buster Keaton's silent film classic The General:
The General is now freely available online, and despite being black & white, silent, and over 90 years old, it kept all three children (2, 3, & 5 yrs old) engaged throughout. We also watched the theatre version of the Railway Children, recorded for Sky Arts in 2016, equally engaging, albeit with far fewer cannons on trains.

We looked more closely at how a steam engine works with a Mamod steam engine we had in the back of the cupboard, built a railway extension to our Minecraft castle, and installed the (freely available) Open Rails simulator to drive an old diesel engine from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

Steam engine - starts moving at 3:40

Minecraft railway with glass signal box and redstone switches
Open Rails simulator
Finally, we finished the week with a trip on a steam train on the Nene Valley Railway. Despite being freezing cold we had a great day out, travelling on a  steam train, visiting the workshop, and going on the Swedish Railcar (which was also running for an open day).
GWR Steam Locomotive No. 5619
Wansford Workshop
'Helga' Swedish Railcar 1212
Next week's project: Under the Sea

Monday, 12 March 2018

Project 25: Teeth!

As Solomon just got his first wobbly tooth, we decided to do a project all about teeth.

There are plenty of online resources about teeth, explaining the different types of teeth and how they differ between animals. We found the Children's University of Manchester section on Teeth and Eating and the BBC Teach videos particularly useful, although the Weird Animal Teeth video was probably most interesting:
We tried disclosure tablets, made a teeth cleaning game with laminated mouths, and soaked an egg in vinegar to demonstrate the damage acid does to your teeth.

We laminated three pictures of teeth, drew little germs and bacteria on them, and then the three children had to brush them clean as quickly as possible with very cheap toothbrushes from the supermarket.
A laminated mouth

For the egg experiment, one egg was left in a pint of vinegar over night, and another in a pint of water for comparison purposes.
Eggs in vinegar and water
As can be seen below, the egg in the vinegar turns rubbery, although the rubbery 'shell' bursts when dropped from a height.

Next week's project: Trains!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Project 24: World Book Day and the Wizard of Oz

As it was World Book Day on March 1st, the week's project was based on a book of Solomon's choosing. He chose the Wizard of Oz.

We already had the Usborne Young Reading Series version of the Wizard of Oz, which Solomon enjoys on his own, and bought the full version for us to read with him. I can't praise the Usborne reading series enough, the only problem is Solomon reads them so quickly, and it's difficult to find full versions of classic books which have sufficient pictures to keep Solomon engaged on his own.

We watched two film versions of the book, both the classic Judy Garland version and the Muppet interpretation. He liked them both, but he liked the Muppet version best, and it was a nice way to introduce him to Kermit the Frog et al.

Solomon also created his own Wizard of Oz picture:
Solomon's Yellow Brick Road
It was a bit disappointing to find that Wicked wasn't available on DVD, but with so many other spin off films (Return to Oz, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and another 13 books in the series, there is plenty more to explore if Solomon wants to return to Oz in the future.

We also took the opportunity to discuss the wider publishing industry with Solomon, explaining the history of publishing, the size of the market, and the opportunities the web provides for self-publishing and the digitisation of original manuscripts.

Next week: Teeth!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Project 23: Ancient Egypt

We started the week with a home education workshop at the Puppet Theatre in Norwich. The theme was ancient worlds and Solomon decided to make a puppet of an Egyptian king, which decided the specific ancient world for the rest of the week's project.

It's the second Puppet Theatre workshop Solomon has attended (see also Project 10: Puppets and Theatre), and he's really enjoyed it both times.
Egyptian king puppet
We watched a selection of videos about Ancient Egypt on the BBC Teach YouTube channel, and the Prince of Egypt on Netflix. The Horrible Histories Awful Egyptians sticker activity book was one of the most popular sticker books Solomon has had, and he also liked Terry Deary's The Phantom of the Nile which he sped through in one sitting (although it's only 64 pages, so it didn't last long!) and we started the classic Horrible Histories Awesome Egyptians

All three kids made their own Egyptian headdresses, and had a go with some hieroglyphic stamps (bought on a previous trip to the British Museum).
Solomon's Egyptian headdress

Hieroglyphic stamps 
Finally, we finished the week with a trip to the British Museum to look at the Rosetta Stone and some actual mummies. We're lucky that the British Museum is only an hour away on the train, but you inevitably spend too much money in the museum shop and Solomon was disappointed that the mummies' bandages weren't generally as distinct as they tend to be in book illustrations.
Some mummies at the British Museum
As can be expected for a civilisation that lasted over 3,000 years - we will have to return to the topic in the future!

Next week's project: World Book Day and the Wizard of Oz

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Project 22: More programming in Scratch!

Half-term meant an extremely busy social calendar this week, so we took the opportunity to do some more programming in Scratch rather than a big standalone project.

We continued where we'd left off with in December (Programming in Scratch!) using Usborne's Coding for Beginners using Scratch, and Solomon was soon back up to speed. Particularly nice this week was the fact that Solomon started to create his own sprites (both bitmaps and vector images).
Solomon's Sprites
We plan to use Solomon's interest in computer programming and designing sprites to get him to draw more in the future.

Next week's project: An Ancient World!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Project 21: Writing a short story

Project 21 was all about writing a short story, for BBC Radio 2's annual 500 words competition.

We started the week by exploring the elements of the story, creating our own stories using Rory's Story Cubes (the actions set and the Moomins set), and watched the BBC Live Lesson 500 Words whilst doing the accompanying worksheets.
Rory's Story Cubes

Solomon then wrote, and worked on, his own story for the rest of the week: Solomon, the Desert, and the Librarian.

Version 1 was short and to the point:
Solomon was exploring a desert and found loads of books. He tries to eat them all. But it takes a long time. And there’s a rock librarian chasing after him. So he runs away. 
Although by Version 4 it had filled out a lot more:
Solomon was exploring a desert and found loads of books. He was hungry so he tried to eat them all. He ate the first one, and it tasted good because it was a recipe book with recipes for sweets. He ate a second book, but it tasted of poo, because it was a book about different types of poo, so he didn’t like it. He ate a third book, and that was another recipe book for cakes. He ate it, but it made him poorly because two recipe books in one day are too much.
But it takes a long time to eat books, and just then Solomon heard a noise. A rolling noise. It turns out it is a rock librarian chasing after him. He knows it’s a librarian because the rock has got headphones on made out of books.
So Solomon runs away and the librarian throws books at him whilst rolling towards him. One of the books is a blank book, but that’s no use so Solomon throws it at the rock librarian and it makes him bash into the sand. One of the books was about feathers, but that was no use because it just tickled Solomon’s nose. So he threw that back at the librarian. One of the books was about how to use glue and Solomon caught it. Solomon runs off around the corner and the librarian keeps rolling forwards the wrong way.
Around the corner there is a little wooden hut. Solomon munches the glue book to get the information and so makes some glue in the little wooden hut. Solomon runs back out and pours the glue onto the sand, the rock librarian rolls into it and gets stuck! The rock librarian can’t roll anymore and so Solomon grabs more books to eat and runs away.
Books can be very useful, and very tasty, but some taste of poo.
It was an enjoyable project, and Solomon was enthusiastic about returning to the story again and again. We did have to work hard to dissuade him from setting everything in the world of Mario Odyssey and populating it with a host of other computer game characters, but I guess most five year olds have a limited understanding of the intellectual property rights associated with fan fiction!

Next week's project: More programming in Scratch!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Project 20: Local Wildlife and Birds

The local wildlife and birds project was spread over two weeks in the end (22nd Jan - 4th Feb) as we had a few days away in York half way through.

We started with some videos (, and worksheets about food webs, and went into the local museum to see their exhibit on urban, woodland, and wetland wildlife.
Urban exhibit at Peterborough Museum
We followed the Wildlife Trust's instructions on how to make your own birdfeeder, and hung them in the garden to entice the birds in for the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. We watched the garden for an hour and saw a total of one measly pigeon!
Birdfeeder Fat Balls

The second week coincided with BBC's Winterwatch, which was a great way to introduce the children to the variety of wildlife that can be found around the country. We also went on a couple of nature walks in the local area, firstly around Woodston Ponds and then around Ferry Meadows using some of the Nene Park Trust's worksheets. The bird hide was a particularly big hit, especially after the measly returns from the big garden birdwatch.
Woodston Ponds

View from the bird hide at Ferry Meadows

Finally, we finished the project by making the RSPB's food chain mobile of an owl, a mouse, and a nut.

Food chain mobile

Next Week: Writing a short story.