Saturday, 15 December 2012

Finally - phonetically decodable books that children really want to read.

Just over a year ago I was reviewing a number of books from Oxford's Project X series, which I dubbed the most exciting new development in children's books since Dr Seuss. Project X was a set of levelled readers which included both non fiction and fiction titles especially designed to bridge the attainment gap between boys and girls in literacy. While the series was designed to get boys reading - I see no reason why girls would not enjoy it every bit as much. There were 2 very strong female characters, and girls can enjoy action and adventure just as much as boys can. The series featured four children who discovered special watches which allowed them to shrink to micro size. At first it was all fun and games. I think every child has dreamt of shrinking down to the size of their toys, playing in their toy castles and riding in scalectrix cars - but soon it became an adventure as the team battled the evil Dr X.

I can't speak highly enough of my opinion of the original series, beginning with level one at age 5, within a year my son made it all the way to level 16 before growing bored with the series and moving on to young adult books and then graphic novels. These books made him really want to read, and I can remember him rushing to the post, happily abandoning a video game for a new book, and gave him the ability to read far more complex text. In addition to being a wonderful tool in developing literacy, they are also just good storybooks and both boys have rediscovered the original series now. My youngest absolutely loves them and Shrinky Kids books were one of the top items on their Christmas list.

But as much as we loved them - they did get some complaints for not teaching phonics. I happen to be a staunch supporter of phonics, and in addition to the Project X books - I spent a small fortune on Hooked on Phonics, Starfall Phonics and BOB books - however I believe most children will learn best with both phonics and whole language. Not every word in the English language is phonetic - and sounding out words takes too long. In addition to this, Phonics primers have never been very exciting - they were not the type of book children really wanted to read again and again. In all honesty - I never expected to find a completely decodable series of books with a high level interest for children - but I am over the moon to be proven wrong this time.

Project X Code is every bit as revolutionary as the original series - if not more so. The programme is designed for children with special educational needs or delayed reading levels - but I see absolutely no reason not to use this as beginning reading series for all children. The series uses synthetic phonics and is leveled just as the original series was to match the expected phonetic progression as children work through the different reading levels. It is not a series of phonics instruction ( project X has another series for that) but is is a series of phonetically decodable books beginning at a very easy reading level and progressing to more and more complex material in very tiny steps. This series provides very high interest reading material, which a child only just beginning to sound words out can start to enjoy.

So how did Project X accomplish the impossible and create a truly interesting series using only decodable words? Well - it appears they cheated just a little bit. They divided each book into two halves - the first half of which is 100% decodable. The second half is only 80% decodable. The idea is that in the beginning the child will read the first half of the book while a parent or teacher reads the other half until they are able to cope with both. Just as with the original series - the first books have limited text and a very small vocabulary, adding a few new words with each book until the child is reading fluently. Even the first books do have a distinct and enjoyable storyline - so much so that both my seven year old and my 4 year old enjoy listening to these. I was very surprised to see my seven year old take such an interest - he is very selective in picture books now, but the main theme of this story has really captivated him and he can't wait to get further books in the series as well. The main drawback at his age is that he can read the whole book in a few minutes - but at least he is still enjoying them. It is very unusual to find a book so easy to read that really interests an older child so much.

This specific book is not meant to be read by the child. My oldest read it easily, but it is intended to be read aloud by a parent or teacher to get the child interested in the series. It sets the scene for the rest of the series and is much larger as well. In this book a new micro-park is about to open , using technology similar to the watches used by Team X - or the shrinky kids as my son calls them. The entire them park is controlled by a computer named C.O.D.E. and built on a miniature scale. To enter the park, visitors must pass through a shrink ray, becoming micro-sized, but something has gone terribly wrong on opening day. The parks creator, Macro Marvel is trapped inside, sending out a desperate message to stop C.O.D.E. The super computer in the meantime is powering up with the intention of shrinking the entire world. Macro's daughter Mini, has rushed into the park to save him and is now trapped inside the park as well - the only ones who can help are Team X.

To defeat C.O.D.E. the team - with the help of Mini Marvel must travel through 4 levels in each of 14 worlds, overcoming the challenges and finally defeating the boss of each of world, very much like one would when playing the levels of a video game before taking on the main boss and clearing the game - or in this case series. To do this children must learn the vocabulary to read each book and read the code words at the end of each book. These are nonsense words used only to teach children to sound the words out and there is considerable debate as to the use of these. If your child is in school, this is part of the testing process so you may as well use them. If not the choice is yours, and I still haven't made up my mind. You can use the nonsense words or tape a wee post it over them using the most difficult words from the next book, or a combination of the non phonetic words from the book you are reading and new phonetic words from the next.

This book is illustrated using state of the art computer generated imagery, and it really is impressive. The books look like a video game, and the action , adventure and overall format make reading these very much like playing a video game. They have so much appeal - I believe most children will desperately want to read them. My four year old has now started reading his alphabet books regularly in an attempt to get ready to learn to read - specifically because he is desperate to read these himself. Completing each book gives the child the sense of satisfaction of completing a level on a favourite video game. Through out the series the shrinky kids will visit: a bug world, space, a dragon realm, a vehicle based attraction with all sorts of wild races, a jungle, an undersea zone, a waterfall zone, a polar region, a castle, a valley with volcanoes and dinosaurs, a zone with famous landmarks from all over the world, ancient Egypt, and finally Marvel Towers and C.O.D.E. control. There is certainly something here to fascinate any child - and this can easily be combined with other sources to encourage all sorts of learning.

This book was the most expensive of the series. I paid £7.15. This is because it is larger and includes an interactive CD- ROM with a short cartoon, teaching information and this book as well as the first 4 in the series all in an ebook format. The next books can be purchased from £3.20 each. This is terribly expensive - but I honestly believe a series like this can do more for my children than tuition in a high quality fee paying school - and compared to that - the price is peanuts indeed. It is a considerable investment - which is why I am really starting to collect the books now as story books before my youngest really needs them - but I can think of no better way to spend to my money then investing it in my children's education. So - all I can say is Thank God for Dooyoo who make it possible for me to afford some extras like this.

I think it is fairly obvious by now that I giving this book a full 5 stars - and that only because I can not give it 10. But don't take my word for it - you can read the whole book online here: http:// oxed/ primary/ projectx/ code/ Just take out the space after each /. This will give you a chance to see the quality of the animation as well. You can read the entire text of 4 of the main books on the Oxford Owl site as well, so you can see if this series suits you before buying any books. I read the free books with my children to gauge their interest - which was incredible before my first purchase. This series would work very well with or without the original series. I do feel the phonics set would be a real benefit to those using this, but it could be used with other phonics sets.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The best British childen's magazines for home education.

Having reviewed a large number of magazines for home education, I've decided to share our results.

1st place:
This went quite easily to Aquila. As I have included my full review just below this post I will not go into much detail. This is an excellent choice for education for many reasons. It has a strong emphasis on science, but also incorporates many other subjects. The very part though - is you do not even notice it is educational as you read it. The subjects are presented in such a way that it is truly fun for children rather than feeling like another school assignment. To find out more go to:

Puffin Post: The main reason to subscribe to Puffin Post  is not the magazine at all - it is the books. A subscription to Puffin Post costs £45 and only includes 6 issues - one every other month. Each issue has articles on several books as well - but the best part is - you get to choose one book from each issue to be sent out to you as part of the subscription price. So the child reads the magazine, finds out about each book and then chooses the one they want to read the most.  I really liked these magazines, they are well written and cover a wide range of interests, but the part I like best is that they really encourage children to choose their own books.
To see my complete review please visit dooyoo@
or visit

How It Works: An excellent science and technology magazine , listed as ages 8+. This magazine appears to combine articles for children with more adult articles.
see my review @
or visit their site:

Discovery Box: An excellent magazine for those who are looking for a publication that covers a wide variety of educational interests. The majority of the magazine is non fiction, and there is a good mix of subjects covered. Each issue has a has articles on science, nature and geography.

National Geographic Kids:
We are letting our subscription to this magazine lapse. It simply had too much fluff and too many ads. But this is written at a lower reading age than most of these magazines, and with a limited amount of text makes easy light reading for younger children. Some issues are better than others, but you do learn something about science, nature and the world in each one.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

My review of Aquila Magazine

This review can be found on dooyoo, ciao, the Aquila website and in shortened form The Observer on Sunday 18, 02. 2012.

As many of you may know, I am passionate about children’s literacy. This was one of the major reasons behind my decision to home educate. I want my children to read well – but also to love reading. After all, as Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot.” I have also felt it important that children have a wide variety of reading material and enjoy reading from many different sources, so in addition to my massive collection of children’s books, I like to have at least one magazine subscription as well.
The problem is that finding really good magazines to appeal to boys of my son’s age and interests is difficult. We have subscribed to National Geographic Kids for some time, but the last issue was the final straw. My son read 9 pages of the magazine – but this amounted to very little text in bubbles alongside photos. The majority of the issue was advertising or writing about new products we could buy. It’s gotten to the point that each issue is like browsing through the Argos catalogue as the children come up with which items they want on their Christmas list. I did ask my son if he wanted to keep getting the magazine – he says he isn’t fussed with the magazine but likes some of the sweets and toys. I can buy sweets much cheaper at Tesco though, and the toys usually end up in the bin a few days later. So my quest for the perfect children’s magazine began.
After a fair amount of time researching online, I came across mention of AQUILA billed as “the magazine for children who enjoy challenges”. A bit of research shows this magazine was originally developed for “gifted and talented children”. In fact I have found one private school boasting that they use this magazine for their gifted and talented programme – and I could easily see designing a monthly curriculum around this. The company states that their current position is as follows: “we hope that AQUILA can inspire all children to reveal their brilliance”. Personally, I believe all children are gifted and talented. It is simply a matter of helping them to discover their own unique gifts and talents. After reading this magazine myself and with my son, I do believe this magazine is an excellent resource to do just that.
My only problem with this magazine was that the price was £45 and I was concerned that if we didn’t like it I’d be out a fair amount of money. I had never seen an issue and didn’t know anyone who had. They do offer a money back guarantee but I know it can take ages with some companies to get your money back. So, cheeky git that I am, I emailed and asked them to send me a sample copy which I would review, and if I found the magazine appropriate to our needs I would subscribe.
When my sample copy arrived, my first thought was “This is a bit thin”. It is in fact only 24 pages. By comparison NG Kids has 52 pages. Pulling a random copy off my shelf though, I found 21 pages of advertising, then we have 4 pages of pull out posters, none of which would be of any interest to us, and overall far too much fluff.
Once I started looking through AQUILA magazine my initial appraisal was quickly cast aside. It may be only 24 pages, but there were no advertisements (excepting a small offer in a box to refer a friend), no page after page of pull out posters of fluffy animals – in fact there were no posters at all. Of the 24 pages, my son read and enjoyed every one except the letters to the editor, and a single page in this magazine had more text than the nine pages he read of Nat Geo Kids. There are illustrations – and some very nice ones at that – but there is a good balance between illustrations and text in this magazine. There are enough pictures to keep a younger child interested, but there is still plenty of in-depth information in the text.
I received the Sept 2012 issue. The main articles in this issue were:
The Disappearance of Large Animals: This article explored possible reasons for the extinction of most of the very large mammals during the Pleistocene age. It does not give one single answer but explores many possibilities and encourages readers to think for themselves.
It All Happened in the Trees: This article is about the evolution of mankind, pointing to how scientists believe many current features of humans stem from life in the trees. I don’t agree with everything in this article, but I teach my children the prevailing scientific theories with the understanding that many people have different beliefs. But agree or disagree, I really enjoyed this article, in large part because it encourages children to think and question things. There is an interesting section on vision here, which led us off into many other subjects. We started by reading about how the position of an owl’s eyes give it the ability to judge distance better, but this led to a discussion of how different animals have different types of vision – which finally led to a fairly large project we have started on dinosaurs, by examining different features, such as placement of the eyes, and using this feature to guess if the animal is a carnivore or herbivore. We also had a very long discussion on how the opposable thumb affected the development of humans – but why other animals with an opposable thumb have not developed in the same manner. This article was only two pages, but so far we have spent hours reading, discussing, and pursuing other activities.
Puzzles: This magazine has two pages of puzzles, all of which involve some sort of mental exercise. We enjoyed doing these together and I found them fun as well. My son liked the fossil match puzzle best while I felt a maths puzzle involving cubes was the best.
Things to make: This section has a lovely craft idea which we will be doing as soon as we gather the stones. Basically you heat small round stones in the oven and colour them with wax crayons for some really lovely results.
Stone Age People: This article describes several different types of humans. It mentions early settlements, use of tools, Neolithic monuments and more. My son was especially interested in the cave art so we will be trying to reproduce some of the drawings on slabs of clay.
Wordworm: This appears to be a monthly column; the focus for this issue is an article discussing the French language. My son especially enjoyed discovering which words were the same in French as in English, so we are going to be working on a project of our own to find as many common words as possible between English and German.
Paws for Thought: Also appears to be a monthly column. This issue had an article on the Scottish Wildcat.
Just Think: This article was my favourite. It asks if we have a choice and explores the concept of scientific determinism. I think this was brilliantly written and encourages young children to think philosophically as well as scientifically. This led to another very long discussion. The result was that my son believes in a mild form of determinism but is willing to convert and believe all behaviour is controlled by pre-set chemicals and electrical impulses, because according to this idea he should not get in trouble if he watches The Big Bang Theory or plays video games when he should be studying, or does anything else he isn’t meant to. After all, it isn’t his fault – it is scientific determinism – who are we to argue with science?
Fun with Maths: Another monthly column, this issue explains the history of counting, the base ten system and why we have the numbers eleven and twelve instead of one-teen and two-teen.
Fiction: I didn’t expect much from this. My son is very picky with fiction, and for the most part finds short stories quite dull. I was pleasantly surprised though when he really enjoyed the two page story – Sharing the Good News of Mr Bones.
Overall, I really can’t think of anything bad to say about this magazine. It is expensive – but I often complain about the lack of real quality in children’s magazines. This is a small independent publication putting out a really first class product, and it does not have advertising to help defray expenses. Considering these facts, I find the price quite reasonable and hope that by subscribing I can help keep a wonderful publication in print. Needless to say, I did subscribe. I can’t wait for the next issue – the focus is on volcanoes and earthquakes.
In addition to the standard £45 for 12 issues, they also offer 4 issues at £20. There was an offer in the magazine to refer a friend and they could get 3 months for £10. They did allow me 3 months at £15 though which means I can buy the full subscription after Christmas.
This magazine is recommended for ages 8 – 12. I would say the lower age limit is fair enough. My son is age 7 and quite enjoyed this, but the text is small and this is written on an adult reading level. He could read it, but we chose to read this together, and I feel he got more out of this magazine with all of our discussions as a shared activity. I would recommend this for children of his age, but not much younger. As to the upper limit though, I am in complete disagreement. I think this magazine would suit teenagers with an interest in science very well. I also could see subscribing to this magazine purely for my own reading pleasure if my children were grown. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a magazine so much. I’m afraid I can’t stand the traditional women’s magazines. There is more to life than makeup and romance stories. It’s nice to find a magazine that encourages thought and leaves the reader feeling as if they have learned something – and I will never be too old to enjoy learning new things.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Using magazines in Home Education

Home educated children often develop very specialised knowledge. I am certain my 7 year old knows more about paleontology than many adults, and both of my sons know far more about aircraft, the military and DNA than the average child their age. My just turned four year old,  recently looking for good insult told his father - "I'll smash you so hard they won't recognise your DNA". He knows perfectly well the value of DNA in identification, and is always trying to come up with some scenario under which Parasaurolophus DNA could be found and used to resurrect his favorite dinosaur.

 I've met an other home educated child who could tell you everything about dogs, right down to veterinary care. In fact she impressed a local vet so much that he hired her at a very young age, having already memorised most of the veterinary manuals at 15. Yet another in his teens knew everything about mechanics, while others could answer any question on the history of Japan, The Middle Ages etc...

 There is nothing wrong with a child pursuing their own interests and learning the things they want to learn. In fact I am quite certain they learn more, and more importantly retain more information when the facts interest them. I  do not mind if my children spent a significant amount of their time in education learning about their favourite topics. But as great as specialised knowledge is - I don't want it to be at the expense of general knowledge. At age 7, my son is certain he wants to be a paleontologist, but 7 is far too young for career choices to be set in stone, even if he has stuck to ths one for 3 years. As my children are very young - I want them to branch out - explore everything.

 This is where a really good magazine can be invaluable in home education. A monthly magazine provides a bit variety to a child's ordinary routine. The articles in each months magazine introduce to new topics we might never have considered before. It is like have an extra teacher in the home, someone to a offer new and different point of view.

Educators have recognised the importance of non-fiction in a child's education, and schools are including non-fiction from a very early age. Most home educators do too, but a magazine is the perfect way to keep this varied. We recognise now that children build vast stores of general knowledge in early childhood, organising this information and putting to better knowledge as they grow older. But far too many older children are growing up without the general knowledge one would expect. University instructors are repeatedly complaining that students lack the most basic general knowledge - scientific literacy, a knowledge of their own history and the history and culture of other nations. A good general interest educational magazine is an excellent means of building of base of general knowledge about the world around your child.

We have recently sampled and reviewed quite a large number of children's magazines. We found Aquila to be far and away the best choice for our family, but we will still be using a few extras as well. I chose Aquila for a few reasons. The first is that being an educational publication, it fits in quite well with a home school curriculum.  I also loved the fact that this magazine is all content. There were no page fillers or fluff, nor were there any commercial ads. The very best thing about this magazine for us is the fact that in contains enough familiar and well loved topics to keep my son interested and wanting to read it combined with new topics we would never have dabbled in otherwise.

 Each month presents a new list of topics for us to explore and there is quite a lot to discuss as well  crafts to do and subjects for further research. We always choose at least one topic to find out more about. It might be volcanoes, or prehistoric mammals, or how hands shaped evolution. or the silk worm or Ancient Egypt. We even had one issue with an excellent article the concept of scientific determination. I think this was a wonderful way to encourage children to really think philosophically and scientifically.  Most of these are topics we would not have explored otherwise, so this magazine helped to give him a broader and more balanced education.

 I would recommend  choosing at least one high quality, non fiction magazine. You will of course have to consider your own child's interests and reading level. Just reading the magazine will do a lot to encourage literacy as well as to help your child learn about new places, ideas, and concepts. But I certainly would not stop there. I would plan on devoting at least one full day to each magazine. Read it, do the crafts, look up topics online, and if need be, order a few books to match as well. By becoming actively involved in the subjects your child will learn more - and it is great way to spend time together as well. Most of all, I think my child learns just by discussing the topics with me. We always try to consider other points of view, play devil's advocate and argue another position on science related topics etc... The more you put into a resource like this - the more your child will get out of it.

My next post will be a round up of educational magazines for children featuring the best and worst of genre, after which I hope to include some photos of art projects from the magazine we are using. Please check back soon for a complete run down of children's magazines in the UK.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Dinosaur arts and crafts:

Dinosaur Pictures With Textures:

 Children love different textures, so we decided to make dinosaur art with all sorts of different textures.

1. Melted crayon:
This one requires close adult supervision. We started out by tracing pages from a dinosaur colouring book. Next we held old crayons in a candle's flames and dripped the wax onto the pictures. The results were beautiful, colourful dinosaurs with a lumpy scale like texture.

2. Feathers:
The big buzz in paleontology right now is feathered dinosaurs. Although the fossil evidence is pretty limited - more and more books are depicting dinosaurs with feathers -and accurate or not - it certainly is fun. Simply take a traced or printed dinosaur colouring page, paint it with glue and then stick on very small cut up pieces of feather.

3. Sand paper dinos:
Use a very coarse grade sand paper and cut into dinosaur shaped. Paint using acrylic paint for the most remarkable and durable finishes, but ordinary child's paint will work as well. Then paste onto coloured jungle scenes.

4. Glitter Glue:
Once again we start with a template of a colouring page traced, photocopied or printed from an online source. The first step is to carefully trace the outline leaving a thick bead of glitter glue. Once this is completely dry, paint teh picture in and sprinkle with a bit more glue.

5. Paper Mache cut outs:
Cut out dinosaur shapes, plants and trees. from card or cereal boxes. Mix flour salt and water in a paste and dip tin strips of kitchen roll into these, and cover the dinosaur adding extra bits to give a 3D appearance,. Paint and dry. Paint a prehistoric scene onto a bit of card and glue the dinosaurs on.

 Lightly colour a piece of paper with  Crayola Crayons, or use markers if you wish. Use plenty of colours - preferably bright ones.  For the second layer, colour very heavily with crayon. It does need to be a good brand of crayon - and I would recommend Crayola. Next lay a dinosaur stencil over the paper and using a tooth pick, the back of a paint brush or anything small you can scrape with, scrape away the top layer of crayon to reveal a colourful dinosaur image.

Foil Art:
 Have the child draw a dinosaur on a very heavy card or a bit of cardboard. The inside of a cereal box works perfectly. If you prefer, you can cut out a printed dinosaur picture and paste it on instead. Next draw around the outline with white glue, leaving a heavy bead. Allow this to dry completely before the next step. Cover with aluminium foil  rubbing lightly until the heavy line of the glue shows through.  Wrinkle sin the rest of foil are a good thing - so don't try to smooth them all out. Tape the foil down behind the cardboard. Mix 1 part white glue, 2 parts water and a few drops of food colour for each colour or a very good quality water colour paint. Paint over the foil. wiping excess paint off the raised outline. Let dry and you have a nice shiny piece of foil art.

 Using and old shoe box lay the lid face up with the one side of the box glued to the lid leaving a larger area of ground and an enclosed space for background. Colour or paint in a prehistoric back ground scene on paper and tape to the back and inside walls of the box. Then cut out trees, a volcano and other shapes. Glue these to car to make them stiff and place them  on the lid - some closer to the back and some to the front for a 3D effect. You can either use tiny plastic dinosaurs or paper cuts outs to complete the scene. A flying Pterosaur adds a nice touch as well.

If you want to make a really fancy diorama - start with a rectangular plastic aquarium - use clay and cloth to fashion plants, volcanoes, rocks etc... and model dinosaurs. For the back use a sheet of aluminium foil over a bit of card. You can give this a wash of blue paint if you wish. Then cut out  background plants in three colours of coloured card and layer these over the foil.

Dinosaur Imprints:
 Simply press model dinosaurs into clay. Allow to dry and paint.

Dinosaur sock puppets:
 A coloured sock with the end folded inwards to make a mouth makes an easy start on a dinosaur. Add eyes, teeth and a few distinguishing features like a crest or plates and you have a quick and easy dino.

Dinosaur egg candles:
Carefully poke a small hole at the bottom of an egg and a larger one at the top. Blow the contents of the egg out - a good time to bake a cake or make eggy toast. Rinse and dry. Then thread a wick through the holes leaving plenty at both ends. Tape up the bottom. An adult will have to melt and pour the wax, but you use old candle wax and broken crayons. Let the child choose the colours add one colour, wait a few minutes and add another, layering colours. Let teh child give the shell a swirl. Let this dry for a few days and peel away the shell.

Walking with Dinosaurs footprints:
Fill a square plastic dish pan or other tray at least 3" fill with damp levelled play sand. Carefully press the shape of a dinosaur footprint into the sand, two if you have room, using only one side of the tray. Next have your child place one foot into the tray then step across leaving two footprints. If this doesn't come out just right mix it up and try again. Fill the tray with a thin layer of plaster of Paris. Let dry, paint and then paint again with clear varnish or clear drying white glue to make it less fragile.

Pasta Pictures:
Start with dark coloured card. Cut out and glue a dinosaur skeleton picture on to the card. Select a variety of pasta shapes, including spaghetti, small elbow macaroni, shells - crushed and whole  + whatever else looks interesting. Glue bits of pasta ( raw) over the skeleton picture. If you want to make this really exciting - paint the pasta with glow in the dark glue first and let dry.

Making Fossils:
Get a couple of plastic replica fossils or skeletons and press into plasticine. Fill with plaster and paint.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Dinosaur Unit Study and activities - home school / home education

 A unit study is simply a theme for home education. It can be in addition to regular text book work - or almost all activities can be based around a single theme. Living in Belfast, I have been unable to find an affordable packaged curriculum - which means I make my own. We do use some text books - but I also like to let the children explore their own favourite topics - which in our house often means dinosaurs. Here are some of our ideas for Dinosaur activities:

 We were quite lucky that the Ulster Museum recently hosted a visiting dinosaur exhibit - but even without this, there are always some fossils on display and a replica skeleton. A museum visit is a great way start for a dinosaur unit study. While you are there I would strongly suggest asking staff for information on local fossil hunting.

There are several prepackaged fossil kits for children - some of which are quite reasonable - but nothing can compare to finding your own. Of course you aren't likely to dig up a T-Rex in your back garden - but if you consult local books and experts as to where to look you will be very likely to find some type of fossil with enough effort.  We've only found two a small aquatic life form and a plant, and this was after days of searching, but we do learn by our failures as well. We are beginning to learn what types of rocks to look in. And once you've found something - identifying it is loads of fun as well. But because it will take so long to build up a collection like this - we have added to it with a packaged set from Amazon, and a couple of bits from our museum gift shop.

Make your own fossils:
 After reading several books on imprint fossils, my son still couldn't quite grasp the idea. Taking some model dinosaurs and skeletons and pressing them into clay immediately showed him how it works. We could see the scaly skin patterns in the clay, or the imprint of bones, footprints etc.... We used air drying clay and painted it afterwards - making some nice decorations to hang up, but you can also press imprints into sand and fill with plaster, or even melted wax - a good way to get rid of broken crayons and left over candle wax.

Digging for dinos:
 We set up a large plastic box with a bag of play sand and buried a number of model dinosaurs. I was really surprised by the amount of time the children spent happily digging these out. To make it more exciting - buy a dinosaur skeleton model- or two  and bury the pieces. Trying to figure out which bone goes to which dinosaur can be trying - but can give some insight into a real paleontologists work.

 We cut pictures from magazines or images printed from the computer and lay them face up on clear fablon or contact paper. Then we carefully cut them out again, resulting in a very durable picture. We actually painted a solid colour border on the wall of our play room/ school room, but you can easily take a bargain strip of wall paper border and paint the back different colours for different periods and eras. Then tape or blue tack this down the length of a hall, across a large wall, or even around a room. Finally, the children tape or blue tack the various dinosaurs and other creatures onto the correct time period.

Classifying dinosaurs:
 We also make our own books using simple page protectors and 3 ring binders, or report portfolios. Children can classify animals by type of animal - such as flying reptile, Permian reptile, dinosaur etc... by era, by diet, or habitat.  We did a project where we tried to predict a dinosaurs diet using clues such as placement of eyes, teeth, claws, and brain size. We also used modern grocery store fliers to cut out pictures of foods for carnivores, herbivores and  omnivores, and added pictures of dinosaurs according to their diets.

Dinosaur Maths:
 Get out the tape measure and chalk and mark off the length of various species of dinosaurs out on the street or footpath. This gives children a much better concept of size than a book. Try to find out the height of power poles or local buildings so you can compare the taller dinosaurs in height to those as well.

 Take the estimated sizes of many dinosaurs and make charts and maths problems - how much larger was Spinosaurus compared to T Rex? Which was longer Apatosaurus or Brachiosaurus?

Fact or Fiction?
 Choose some dinosaur movies - Jurassic Park being the most obvious. How many mistakes can you find? For instance Velociraptor is much larger in the films - perhaps to make it more frightening. Can you think of a dinosaur that would have been better in Velociraptors place? ( A Troodon is closer to the size of the film's most frightening creatures - and also the smartest dinosaur). How many of the dinosaurs actually lived in the Jurassic Period? We also noted that Pterosaurs would certainly not be confined to an island - they were meant to have migrated for incredible distances. There are many other mistakes in the film - such as the idea of Tyrannosaurus Rex not being able to see you if held still. This is a creature that hunts by smell.  You'll likely find many errors we missed, but it doesn't matter if you find more or less, the idea is to think critically and approach the question using scientific information.

What do you think of cloning ? Wouldn't they need an egg? the right size for each species? Any other major mistakes in the cloning idea? These films may not me good science, but they are a wonderful way to encourage scientific discussion and thought.

Reading and Writing:
 I will not list any books here as I have listed so many in the two preceding blogs, but of course a good dinosaur unit study would involve reading as many books on the subject as possible. Children can then write their own articles about their favourite dinosaurs for their own home made books, or even fictional stories involving dinosaurs. It cold be a about a species previously thought extinct being rediscovered - or a the use of cloning like Jurassic Park. Perhaps time travel could provide the basis for a good dinosaur story - or imagine what if the dinosaurs had never become extinct. Could Troodon have evolved into a species like humans - would humans have evolved at all. Or if you don't believe in evolution at all - your child could write about a scenario expressing your own beliefs. Did humans and dinosaurs live at the same time - it could make a great story. The ideas for creative writing are endless.

Grow your own prehistoric pet:
Triops date back from before the time of the dinosaurs. Amazon sells several kits to hatch one out - but they fail to mention this creature can not survive cold. Either raise these in the warmer months or buy a small tank and heater. Keep in mind the life span is only 3 months - so no matter how well your child cares for this pet - it will die. The good side is, if you keep a few and dry out the sand - you may be able to hatch new ones the next year.

Prehistoric plants:
Many plants from prehistoric times have survived, including ferns and buttercups. Grow a small prehistoric garden.

Arts and Crafts:
This will have to wait for my next blog as I have too many craft ideas to fit into this one.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Dinosaur books for children and toddlers.

 Please see my previous post Paleaontology and dinosaur books for older children as many books will appeal to more than one age group as well. These are my recommendations for younger dinosaur mad children, including both fiction and no fiction. The links in blue are to my reviews on dooyoo which will be longer and more in depth.

Bumpus Jumpus Dinosaurumpus
This is a rhyming story with a brilliant rhythm that even the youngest child will pick up on. It starts of with "a quake and a quiver and a rumbling around" and builds up to a proper dinosaur bash. There is a bit of a fright as a fearsome Tyrannosaurus crashes is, but thankfully he only wants to join in the fun and the wild romp continues until finally the exhausted dinosaurs tumble in heap and fall asleep.

When my children were babies I acted out the dance with them - waving their arms stamping their feet etc... Now that they are older they do themselves and our whole house shakes with the dinosaur romp.

 In my opinion, this is one of the best books ever for babies and still very popular with older children. It is bright, colourful and teaches children a number of dinosaur names, but more importantly, it teaches young children to love books. I read this book to both of my sons froma  very early age ( 8 months and 6 months) and both fell in love with the story. It is still popular today and theya re now ages 4 and 7.  If you could buy only one book for a young a child - I would recommend this one.

The Three Little Dinosaurs
Second only to Bumpus Jumpsus Dinosaurumpus, this is another wonderful story book for children from infancy up to perhaps age 8.

I bought this book for my 4 year old as my 7 year has long since outgrown picture books. As it turned it though, both boys loved this and laughed until they had tears in their eyes. I had no sooner finished reading the book when they both asked to hear it again. This book is a twist on the classic story of the three little pigs but told with so much humour it is certain to be a favourite with any child who loves dinosaurs - and most likely a number who do not. The banter between the dinosaurs is brilliantly scripted. The T -Rex insists on calling the little Brachiosaurs pigs and it develops into a first class slagging match in which the bully always comes off the worst.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex is determined to eat the three tiny Brachiosaurs. But they finally find safety in a house of stone. T-Rex won't give up though - he spends years plotting and planning. But while Brachiosaurs are born small, like all sauropods - they grow very rapidly. When Tyrannosaurus returns he gets quite a surprise. This means this book could also be a good a choice for a child dealing with bullies, but the main reason to buy this book is just for the fun of it. This is the type of book that will encourage children to grow up loving books. This is the type of book that children can enjoy listening to for years to come.

I have collected children's books for many years, and in all honesty have a larger collection than most children's libraries. We only keep the best books and even so have book cases in every room of the house. Even with a collection this large - this stands out as one of the very best picture books I have ever found.

Dinosaur (DK Touch and Feel)
 Another book for infants, but still enjoyed by older children, this book allows children to feel the scaly skin of a dinosaur and the sticky tongue of T Rex. Most young children very much enjoy tactile books and this adds a whole new dimension to story time.

Danny and the Dinosaur
 An I Can Read book this cute story of a museum dinosaur who comes to life for the day also makes an excellent resource for emergent readers to practice their skills.

Ankylosaurus Fights Back (Smithsonian's Prehistoric Pals)
The illustrations are lovely and the story is well written. In this story Anklysaurus uses his tail to fend off a carnivore - but spends most of his time eating --- and farting much to the delight of my 4 year old son. It seems the plants Anklyosaurus ate produce a lot of wind.

In addition to the story, brief facts on this type of dinosaur are included. I would be point out that this series has been printed in more than one format. There is a hardback version, as well as a large paperback book with a beautiful pull out poster - or a very small miniature paper back book - perhaps 4" tall. We ended up with the small version but it is still well loved. Some even include soft toys and cd-roms. Read carefully to be sure you get the edition you want.

Parasaurolophus Escapes [With Tear-Out Poster]
 This book is also from Smithsonian's prehistoric Pals series, and I would note that there are several other books available including ones about Velocoraptor, Spinosaurus, Mosasurus, Iguanadon and Pteranodon. We bought the larger paperback edition of this book - which included a lovely pull out poster. The story is simple, but fun and the illustrations are lovely. I would recommend for ages 2 -5.

Mungo and the Dinosaur Island - Timothy Knapman

'Mungo and the Dinosaur Island' combines dinosaurs, hunters which reminded us of pirates, and plenty of adventure, but it all begins in a library. I liked this. I liked the fact that books could be seen as a doorway to adventure. Mungo chooses a book called the Lost Island, and settles down to read it later that night in bed. The story begins with some terrible pirates who plan to capture a rare butterfly to sell. But soon they find more unusual animals to exploit - Dinosaurs. A few are very large, but most are tiny ( my son didn't think any of this because we've already used the idea that animals could become smaller with each generation in a small environment like an island). Thankfully Stegosaurus may be tiny, but he is brave. He is all set to save the day when disaster strikes. Mungo turns the page too soon, and Stegosaurus hasn't had a chance to chase the hunters away. There is only one chance left for the poor captured dinosaurs. Mungo must go into the book with Stegosaurus and help him defeat the evil villains.

The first thing to strike me with this book was the illustrations. They are absolutely brilliant. The cover art is nice, but it doesn't do justice to the rest of the book. Everything is so bright and colourful, the expressions on the dinosaurs are perfect, and the illustrator has brought the story to life perfectly. The story itself is excellent as well. It is wonderful adventure, but never really frightening.

 My son says this book must get 5 stars as it is "the very best". He says the best part of all is the Stegosaurus biting the bad guys butt - something I imagine most young children would enjoy. He also loves the look on the Stegosauruses face when he screams "NOOOOOO!" and the look of surprise on the hunters face when he finds out what looks like a rock is something very different. I'd have given this five stars on illustrations alone, but combined with a wonderful story, this book really is a must have for any child who enjoys Dinosaurs.

Non Fiction:
Dinosaur's Day (DK Readers Level 1)

Dinosaur Dinners (DK Readers Level 2)
 This is listed as level 2 book for reading, but it is quite easy still with large text. I would recommend this for independent reading from age 6, but it is even better as fun story book for very children. I would recommend this as story book from age 1 with it's delightfully scary hungry dinosaurs looking at you. My four year old loves this one as well. This also explains the difference between herbivore and carnivore.

Project X: Dinosaur Safari
Project X is an exceptional series of leveled readers designed to get boys reading. This book is an easy to read informative book. It is not the most in depth, but for only 24 pages with a limited amount of easy to read text it packs in quite a lot of material. If this book sounds interesting - why not try my link below for  Oxford Owl under Home Education freebies. It contains the entire book online so you can try it for yourself. This book is meant to be for ages 7-8, but my son read this at age 6 and my youngest has used it as a storybook since age 2.

Dinosaur Encyclopedia (First Reference)
DK's usual high quality text and illustration for younger readers. This is a favourite with my four year old.

Also recommended:
Dinosaur (Eye Wonder)
National Geographic Little Kids: First Big Book of Dinosaurs
Meet the Dinosaurs (DK Readers Pre-Level 1)
My Best Book of Dinosaurs

Ten Little Dinosaurs (Wiggle Eyes)
This is one of the best counting books we have, and easily doubles as bedtime story. What makes this book unique is the addition of two large googley eyes. These are weighted so that they will face up. When the book is closed the eyeballs face outwards as shown. As you open the over you can see the eyeballs turn around - and a bit of movement can make it appear as if the dinosaur is actually watching you. All of the subsequent pages have two holes for the eyeballs to peer through - or you can have a bit of fun and hold the book up to your face and make all sorts of dinosaur noises. Of course no one knows what dinosaurs sounded like - which leaves us free to make up our own sounds - everything from roars and growls to long drawn out conversations from the Saurolophus.

This book begins like the 10 little monkeys rhyme, but instead of monkeys we have dinosaurs, in this case, 10 little Pachycephalosaurus jumping on the bed. Pachycephalosaurus are the ones with a very thick dome shaped skull with wee spikes around it. When the inevitable accident occurs - the doctors says "No more boneheads bouncing on the bed.

As we count down from 10, each number has a different species. Rather than each page showing them jumping on the bed, the author has introduced some variety to the story with a number of different activities including 9 dinosaurs on one bike, playing in traffic and arguing with an umpire. Each set of pages has 4 rhyming lines and a nick name for the species pictured - often insulting like "big mouths" and "nut brains". The verses fit into the rhythm of the original 10 Little monkeys rhyme, giving this an immediate familiarity, and making it a very pleasant book to read or listen to. The dinosaurs featured in this book are as follows: Pachycephalosaurus, Stegosaurus, T Rex, Spinosaurus, Archaeopteryx , Ankylosaurus, Supersaurus, Chasmosaurus, Saurolophus and Triceratops. Of course Archaeopteryx is not really a dinosaur, but is a pterosaur, but this book isn't really meant to be a serious science book so I can almost overlook that one.

Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and An Alphabet of Dinosaurs by Peter Dodson
are both quite similar. Both books feature beautiful painted illustrations with a different dinosaur for each letter and both also contain detailed information for each dinosaur featured, meaning they can be enjoyed long after a child has learned their ABC's.. The Jerry Pallotta book hide a slight edge as far as information in my opinion, but teh Peter Dodson book came up trumps on illustration.  The book by Pallotta featured  a large bold upper and lower case letter for each page though an the Dodson book did not. In fact, as much as it goes against my nature to deface a book - I ended up writing in the letters myself in the Dodson book as I felt the purpose of an alphabet book was defeated by leaving them out.

Dinosaur ABC Colouring Book (Dover Coloring Books)
 I bought this when my 4 year old requested a dinosaur colouring book, thinking he could work on his ABC's while colouring in. When it arrived he insisted the pictures were to nice for him to colour as he might make mistakes - but we have just copied off pages for him to colour, paint or do other projects with.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Paleontology books for children . Dinosaur books for older children.

With my oldest son - age 7 dreaming of becoming a paleontologist, and my youngest - age 4 absolutely crazy about dinosaurs we have collected a vast array of dinosaur and palaeontology related resources. I have written a more detailed review for many of these and have included links where possible.  These are some of our favourites:

Prehistoric - DK
This is technically an adult's book but written in such a way as to have value for all ages. This is an absolute must have item for any child or adult with a serious interest in prehistoric life beyond dinosaurs - although it has plenty on dinosaurs as well. We bought this specifically for information on plants and insects and have started our own prehistoric garden as a result of reading this. It is, without a doubt, the most extensive and beautifully illustrated book available to laymen on the prehistory.
Please see my complete review @

Dinosaurs: A Visual Encyclopedia /Dinosaurs a children's Encyclopedia- DK publishing

This book was printed in 2011 and represents the absolute state of the art in both the science of paleontology and in the creation and photography of realistic dinosaur models. The name however, is a bit of a misnomer. This would be better named the Prehistoric Encyclopedia - but DK also has another, even larger book with this title. If by chance you  will find some repetition, but this is much more child friendly format.. This tome has a total of 304 pages. Of these pages the combined section for birds and dinosaurs is only 98 pages. This book begins The early earth void of life and continues with bacteria, invertebrates, all manner of aquatic life, insects, amphibians and the first reptiles. Then we will move onto the dinosaur section and finally the mammals including early man. The amount of information in this book is staggering. It is written for the older child or adult - but even my 4 year old enjoys this book. One of the very best, most extensive books on prehistoric history in print. All ages but written at an adult reading level.

Paleontology: The Study of Prehistoric Life - Susan Heinrichs Gray

There are thousands and thousands of dinosaur books for children, but there are honestly are not very many specifically on paleontology. This book is not really about dinosaurs. it is about the science and history of the study of dinosaurs. This book tells us what fossils are, what a paleontologist does and how they do it. This is small inexpensive and easy to read book. At age 7 my son can read this easily, but there is enough information to interest even an adult. ages 6 - 14

Bones Rock!: Everything You Need to Know to be a Paleontologist - Peter L. Larson

This is the book for budding paleontologists. no other book comes close to this in terms of the amount of information - not so much on dinosaurs but on the science of Paleontology  and yet remains easily accessible by children. This tells us what a paleontologist does, what methods they use, how theories are formed - and disputed. The book begins, not with dinosaurs, but with science. The book explains how science works. It presents science, not as a set of facts, but of theories and ideas that are subject to change. Science becomes a living and fluid thing rather than a stuffy set facts to memorise. Reading this book, I can almost forget how much I hated science as a child with some teachers. This is not an adult text, like 'Walking With Dinosaurs', nor a child's text, like 'Eyewonder Dinosaur'. different sites have listed this as ages 9-12 and 10 -14. I would say it would be very suitable for ages 8 -14.

Scientists At Work - Dinosaur Hunters Paleontologists
 This book is published by Heinemann books -  a company known for educational materials. I believe their primary market is schools and libraries, but they do sell to individual customers - and offer home educators schools rates. Like most of my books though, this was purchased from Amazon. This is another specialist book. It doesn't really tell you anything about living dinosaurs. This focuses only on fossil remains and the discovery, excavation, preservation, identification, restoration and study of these remains. This gives a child an honest look at what is like to be a palaeontologist, as well as what type of studies will be required to enter the field. It as an excellent resource for the child very serious about palaeontology, but not as useful for the younger child just wanted to learn a little a bit about dinosaurs. I would place the reading level at ages 7 -8, bearing in mind there will be a number of long and difficult words related to this field. I would expect this book to have been written for ages  8 -12, but would still recommend this for teenagers considering a career in palaeontology.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards
Graphic novel style book detailing the bone wars between Cope and Marsh. Reading level - ages 7+ .  A brilliant idea but can be difficult to follow. Recommended to older readers and those with a serious interest in Paleontology.

Dinosaur Detectives - DK Readers Level 4
Well written easy to read book on paleontology for ages 7 - 14.

Dinosaur Hunters - Step Into Reading Level 4
All about how fossils are formed and collected. A lot of material about Jim Jensen aka "Dinosaur Jim" a modern palaeontologist - some info on Cope and Marsh and Gideon Mantell. Ages 7 -14.

I-Spy Minerals, Rocks and Fossils
Very inexpensive handbook for British fossil hunters - should apply to Ireland as well - or at least so I have been told by the local museum. Reading level  - 8+

DK Rock and Fossil Hunter
Some information on collecting and identifying rocks and fossils, but this is primarily a book of experiments and hands on activities which teach about geology and paleontology. Ideal for home educators or families who really enjoy experiments and projects. Ages 6 - 12 but will require some parental assistance.

Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones -  Christopher McGowan
We are just starting on this one - and saving up the required bones- so I can not say how well it works. However it is very well written book with plenty of information about how real dinosaur skeletons. Ages 8+

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs - Robert Clarke Sabuda

These pop ups are among the best I have ever seen, the book is also extremely well written and would be an excellent book, even without the pop ups. The information is detailed, yet easy to understand. It mentions the fact that sometimes paleontologists get it wrong. It includes the famous blunder in which iguanodons spiked thumb was originally thought to go on it's nose. After reading this book, a child will have a pretty good basic knowledge of paleontology as well as knowing the three periods within the Mesozoic Era (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous), about fossils and the main types of dinosaurs as well as a few of the best known species. They will have an idea of size and scale of many of these beasts, as well as how they lived and the prevalent theories on how they died. That is a lot of information for 12 pages!

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Sharks and Other Sea Monsters - Robert Clarke Sabuda
Prehisoric sea life.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Mega-Beasts - Matthew Reinhart
Prehistoric mammals

Planet Dinosaur: The next Generation of Giant Killers (Natural History)
Excellent book with stunning photos and the very latest discoveries. Written an adult age level, but both of my sons - ages 4 and 7 enjoy this with an adult reading most of it - or just to browse the beautiful photographs.

The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs - Joanna Cole

This book is recommended for ages 4-8, but I feel this still has a lot to offer the older child, especially in the home education setting. This makes science very easy to understand and has excellent ideas for projects to do at home.

"Walking with Dinosaurs": A Natural History - Tim Haines
Adult reading level but can be used for younger children with an adult to help.

"Walking with Dinosaurs": The Evidence - How Did They Know That
The facts behind the series and book. Well written plenty of photographs, would best suits ages 8+ as this is written at an adult reading level.

Ultimate Book of Dinosaurs - John Malam

Rise of the Reptiles (Prehistoric animals)
Life before the dinosaurs - Permian reptiles age 8 -10 +

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs
Fun easy to understand cartoon style history of life from the dawn of life through the Devonian period.

T Rex - Uncover it - Dennis Schatz and Davide Bonadonna
 This one is fun for all ages. It has a large plastic model inside detailing the skeleton, internal organs, nervous system etc.... Of course much of this is speculation, but this is clearly stated, as well as how they used living animals to guess at what T- Rex's internal structure may have been like. Perfect for children who love to touch and feel as they explore books, plenty of good information as well.

DK I Can Draw Dinosaurs
Ages 6+ . Simple easy to follow instructions to draw your own dinosaurs.

Super Crocs & Monster Wings: Modern Animals' Ancient Past
 This one wasn't as exciting as we had hoped. There is almost nothing with dinosaurs, but if you like dragonflies - this is your book. There is quite a bit of material on Meganeura, as well as information on modern dragonflies. There is also a good section on crocodilian, a section on how a fossil is formed and a much larger section on prehistoric and modern reptiles. This book also lists 7 mass extinction events. This is something that concerned my children  - if life on earth has been almost totally eradicated 7 times - what's to say it won't happen again? Recommended for ages 8+.

Dinosaur (DK Revealed)
Like most DK books, this is well written, well illustrated and packed with useful information. What makes this book different from the rest is the addition of transparent overlays. These allow you to look inside an egg - or a dinosaur and were a great hit with my children. I believe exploring and playing with books is a key component to developing literacy and this is just the type of book to encourage children to touch, feel, look at and explore.

Dinosaur Atlas Book - Malam, John
Who says geography is boring? Learn about the continents, other countries and more while learning about dinosaurs. This book provides wonderful maps with locations of fossil finds, but it also has detailed information on dinosaurs, transparent overlays and top notch illustrations. Recommended for all ages.

Dead Dinosaurs : (The Knowledge)
This is a paperback book - something like the Horrible Science series. It takes a light hearted and entertaining but highly informative look a dinosaurs and palaeontology. Illustrations are limited, cartoon style and black and white only but the text is far more in depth than most books. Recommended for ages 8+, but my 7 year old has really enjoyed this, so I would recommend this for slightly younger  children if they are proficient readers and they have a significant interest in this field.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The best freebies for home education/ homeschooling. Free books, ebooks and games.

Home Education on a budget:
I'd like to say when deciding where, or in fact whether to send my child to school, that his well being was the only consideration. I'd like to say that, but , like most families, finances did play a role in our decision. I had ruled the local schools out, but if money had not been an issue, I might very well have tried a private school such as Steiner education. I do  spend far too much on books and science toys, but I also take advantage of as many free resources as possible. This is my list of free online resources - some of which are really phenomenal. The first two have collections of complete online ebooks  which your child can read absolutely free of charge. I have rated these on a 5 star rating basis, but I have not listed any sites which I would give less than 3 stars. If the site has no stars it simply means I haven't used it enough to give a fair rating. In addition, at the very bottom I have posted an online review site for adults. By writing reviews I have been able to earn free Amazon vouchers - which have translated into quite a few free books for our home education programme.

Oxford Owl - reading and maths:
* * * * *
This site now contains both reading and maths, but the maths section is new and still very limited. It is  recommended for ages 3-8, but we did use it with my youngest from age two. Of course a parent's help will be required with a very young child. This site is an absolute treasure trove for home educators. It has some excellent articles for parents on helping your child learn, fun games, but best of all it has  massive online library with 105 free full length ebooks you can listen to the computer read the story, or turn the sound off and let your child read themselves. These are top quality, fully illustrated books by well known authors, exactly like the books you would buy in a books store except online instead of in print. These books are all graded, or levelled for developing readers, so not only can you find just the right level for your child to enjoy these, you can also use this site to determine the correct level if ordering graded readers. If I had to choose just one free online web site for home education - this would be it.

Starfall Phonics - reading
* * * * *
Toddlers - to about age 8.
The main areas are:
"ABC's - Let's get ready to read" which teaches the alphabet and sounds with fun games and animations.
"Learn to Read - Zac the Rat and other tales" . This section is truly amazing with 15 complete phonetic story books, animations and several games to teach children to read.
"It's Fun to Read" a collection of poetry, games and music for the newly emergent reader.
"I'm Reading" a collection of 14 complete online fiction and non fiction books for early readers, plus world folktales, Greek Myths, Chinese Legends, plays and comics.
This site is completely free, you do not even need to register to use any of these activities, but they have developed another section for paid memberships.  But the free section alone is one of the  very best sites I have found, and includes a wealth of online reading material and games. This site really helped so much with teaching my oldest to read at age 5. The animations showing phonics rules like when "two vowels go  walking, the first one does the talking" and a brilliant song / animation showing how the silent e makes the long vowel song. My youngest at age 3, has been enjoying the alphabet games lately. He especially loves the games where he separates upper case and lower cases letters.
I  still use this with my 7 year old for the more advanced books and myths and legends.

Jump Start World, Math Blaster and Knowledge Adventure - all subjects
* * * * *
Ages 2 -12
All three of these sites are owned by the same company, Knowledge Adventure but only the last site is completely free of charges. I have decided to include Jumpstart Virtual world and it's sister site Math Blaster because both sites do offer a limited amount of play for free. I have to admit I have been a member of this site for 3 years now and joined the day after discovering it, so my knowledge of the free portion of the sites is limited, but it is certainly worth a try. Membership does cover both sites, and after paying for a month I bought a lifetime membership, which I consider one of the best investments I have ever made for my children's education.

Oxford Project X  free worksheets  - reading.
* * * *
This site is limited as it designed primarily to promotes Oxford's Project x books. It does however offer a wealth of advise for parents on helping children read, and in particular, encouraging boys to read. It also offer a number of free worksheets to print up in teacher resources, as well as fascinating look at how CGI illustrations are created for the children. While the website will be most useful to families using the Project X books, most of the worksheets could be used without the books with very minor adaptations.

The series itself is, in my opinion the most exciting development in children's reading since Dr. Seuss started his "I can read it all by myself " series. These books are truly innovative and original and in our experience, have worked miracles with my sons reading development as he has eagerly poured through these books, from level 1 to level 9 in a matter of months. He was just desperate to get to "the good books", a continuing series of adventures stories featuring four children who can shrink down to pocket sized and must save the world from the evil Dr X. Within a year he had made it to level 16, which is as high as Oxford readers go. He did start outgrowing these stories by the time he reached level 14, but this is only because Oxford's Project X had developed his reading to such a degree that he was able to move on to paperbacks, and soon thereafter, young adult  and graphic novels.

Other free educational sites:

Multiple Subjects:
BBC Bitesize * * * * *
Brilliant selection of maths, english and science activities.
Shephard Software's Kids Corner * * * *
Ages 3-10Wide variety of children's education games including maths, science, animals, health, vocabulary, the world, and the USA.
Kids Know It
Homework Help *****
Very good general education site, but especially useful for history.
National Geographic KIds
Arcade style educational games.
Brain Pop
A bit of everything from history, maths and English to weird science .
Top Marks
Games for all subjects and all ages - very large collection - all free.
The Khan Academy ****: Educational videos on almost everything, I believe this is intended for adults, but there is still plenty for an older child or teenager.
Thinkfinity - everything from lesson plans to free games:

Cool Math 4 Kids
Penguin Math**** - very simple animations but fun way to practise math facts - feed the penguin the fish with the correct answer.
Timez attack ***** Exceptional 3-d graphics - fun and very educational - plays like a real video game - but we can't figure out how to open doors :( Still worth a try. Free and Paid versions.

Marvel Comics and Marvel Kids ***** Never underestimate the value of comics to make children want to read. You can read a good number of comics here, completely free of charge:
DC Comics *****
(Please note - I have never found anything on either site not suitable for young children, but comics have become an adults medium rather than children's. I have some printed comics with material that is questionable for young children - so please preview the adult Marvel and the DC sites before letting your  very child read - the kids sites will have nothing to worry about. If you should find anything out of order, please let me know. I have listed these as we do get quite a lot of good reading material here - but I do preview  comics first now. If your child is 12+ I would not be concerned, but it's always best to have an idea what younger children are reading).
Phonics Play ***** This site has paid section, but a large number of good quality games are available free of charge
Read Write Think ***** A number of free resources and games - including Fractured Fairy Tales - Takes some to to explore the site and find the best materials but well worth it.

Planet Oz Kids - Ace Detectives
Free online mystery game, ages 8+
Oxford Reading Tree - Traditional Tales * * * * *
Three complete story books to read online, "Rabbit on the Run", "The Frog Prince" and Finn MacCool".
Free children's ebooks , small collection, but proper storybook format, pages that turn, illustrations etc..
All family Resources
The Complete Brothers Grimm - read online for Free

Spelling & Grammar
Grammar Games Online
 Kids Spelling, Grammar and Writing Games ( quite a bit of reading too)

Kid's First For Health from Great Ormond St Hospital * * * *
Ages 4 -18. Wide variety of health related topics including an interactive body tour.
Ed Heads - Activate Your Mind * * * * *
Ages 8 - 18. Hands on interactive projects + lesson guides. Explore the weather, design your own cel phone and create a stem cell line are just three of the activities children can choose.
Nasa for Kids
Genetics / genome - wealth of information plus online games such as pass the genes.
Cells alive
How to Make Science Toys ****
These are all common - and well known science tricks, but they are still fun. If you have a couple of good science project books you've likely done most of these, but if not do check this out (a nd it could save you buying a book)
Horrible Science *** This site has a fairly limied amount of content other than advertising for their books, but what there is, is good.

Geography / World Cultures
Kids Web Japan * * * * *
One of the very best sites I have seen to teach children about another country. This site has everything: folklore, geography, technology, culture education and much much more.
Folklore and Myths
Short unillustrated stories from around the world
Planet Oz Kids Myth's and Legends
More stories from around the world, as well as some brief animal facts and information on animals and indigenous peoples. School activity downloads also available. Unillustrated or one single illustration for most.
International Children's Digital Library
Online story books, fully illustrated from around the world.
Online story books, fully illustrated from around the world.
Kids Homes Around The World
DLTK's Countries & Cultures Activities

BBC Schools Primary History * * * * *
Learn about ancient Greeks, the Romans, anglo Saxons, Vikings, Children in Victorian Britain, or Children in WW2.
Channel 4 Learning History Essentials
Brief facts, activities for home and quiz for various periods in history from ancient Egypt to Victorian Britain.
Kidiedia *****
Listed as a history site, this virtual encyclopedia for children also includes a fair amount on the sciences.
Horrible Histories *****

Creativity - Animation:
Go Animate

Art Attack *****
Crafts for Kids - simple layout massive variety of projects grouped by subject
Planet Pals

Free Books:
Write reviews on books - or just about anything else on dooyoo and get free Amazon vouchers to buy all those books we so desperately need in home education. You don't have to be an experienced writer - just make a genuine effort to tell people about the products you won and use. To get the most from this site:

Do write about products you really feel strongly about - write about your favourite things.
Do read and rate other peoples reviews - not only will this help you learn how much detail you need on this site - but most people will return the favour and your miles which re cashed in for £ will grow.
Do give opinion not just stats.
Do use the site to explore and find curriculum. There are quite a large number of reviews on this site for children's books, science toys and educational material.
Do ask if you have any questions about products here - almost all of the members are very happy to tell you a bit more about whatever they review. Speaking for myself - I love sharing my favourite books and science kits - I just don't know when to shut up if you ask for more info :)

Don't ever copy anyone else's work. Copied reviews are the quickest way off this site.
Don't write about products you don't own.
Don't get upset if a takes a few weeks to get top rates, or take offence if members ask for more details.
Don't tell how a book or movie ends or any major spoiler without warning readers first. Really spoilers should only be used in children's books, where there is a valid reason for doing so - such as an ending that may upset a child, and with clear warning before giving any spoilers.
Don't expect to make a living or get rich quick. You can make £20 + a month in a reasonable period of time, which cold go a long way to buying children's books. But you can not make a living from home on this site.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Top Ten Home education, or homeschool essentials.

What items do you really need to successfully home educate? this may vary from one family to the next but here are the items we could not live without.

1. Books - not just text books, in fact we have very few text books, but books about anything and everything. I spend 1 - 2 hours per day reading to my children. At times I have read out loud until I've lost my voice. In addition to me reading to my sons, my seven year old reads quite a bit himself. But in order for a child to choose books over the vast myriad of entertainment choices they have today- we really need to maintain a good selection of books with topics that catch the boys' interest. One of my most important goals in deciding to home educate was to encourage my children to read for pleasure. I could sit and read with him for hours a day - ask to read out loud or on his own - but reading for pleasure can not be forced. I choose books for specific subjects, but my sons chooses  the books that are kept for pleasure reading. At the moment, this means comics books. Wait - you may be thinking - are comic books really educational? In my opinion they are. At least my son is reading, and enjoying it. when a child reads anything for the sheer pleasure of it, they are going to build their reading skills.

 But we do have a lot more than comic books. We have everything from simple board books to classics like Grimm's Fairy Tales, the bible, science and history books, young adult novels,  children's fiction and non fiction, as well as the odd book intended for adults. Books have been our biggest expense in home education - but they are also the most treasured. while some families get by on far less, especially if they have access to a good library ( which we don't), a reasonable amount of books is an absolute necessity to teach at home.

2. The Internet - I just don't know what we would do without the Internet. From the time my youngest was  under 2, he would say " why don't you google it" if I didn't know the answer to something. I can't believe how much comes up that I didn't know when reading various books with my son - whenever we get a question I don't know how to answer we have two solutions : and Google.

3. Hooked on Phonics - this may fall under books, but I can't imagine going teaching my son to read without a good phonics programme. We used several, and I am glad to have had all of them, but if I had to choose just one, this would be it.

4. Jumpstart and Mathblaster - As well as owning several pieces of software from this company, we bought a lifetime online membership to Jumpstart which includes Mathblaster as well. Both of my sons ( ages 3 and 7) use this site regularly, learning core subjects while they play.

5. Workbooks - I don't class these as books, books are much more fun. I don't ever want to go overboard on workbooks, but a few good workbooks are essential for Maths, and quite helpful for other subjects. We used Kumon, Maths Made Easy, Science Made Easy, Brain Quest and a few others.

6. Homemade books. Some of our most useful books are home made. An alphabet book with familiar pictures is an excellent way to teach letters and letter sounds. Another home made book taught simple words. Our very favourite own book is a story my son made up based on We're Going on a Bear Hunt,   . My son chose his own scary subject ( ghosts) and ended up with a wonderful story about a ghost hunt in Luigi's Mansion ( stolen directly from the Nintendo game). Another fun book is "It Wasn't me" about a dog who gets the blame for everything in the house - featuring our dog and family. We also have a book of dinosaurs, a book of space, and are currently working on my son's own history of the world. We just pick any event or invention and place it in the correct order. You can use a photo album, scrap book, or binders to build your own books. It's cheap, it's fun and includes so many areas of learning all in one go. Plus it leaves lovely keepsakes to remember.

7. Trips - you can learn so much from a day out. Of course places like museums and zoos are obvious, but there is quite a lot to discover in the local park as well. Even a shopping trip can be educational. Nothing teaches maths skills so fast as telling a child they can spend  x amount of money - they'll have their purchases tallied up in no time.

8. Science toys - we absolutely love our science toys. We have everything from a very high powered usb capable microscope , to chemistry sets, science kits, magnifying glasses, magnets and so much more. Hands on science teaches so much and it is fun at the same time.

9. Board games: This may not sound very educational, but I remember some years ago reading a study of three factors most likely to influence educational attainment outside of socioeconomic status. The three factors most likely to increase educational attainment were, in order:
  •    Reading  - this includes parents reading to children and setting an example by reading themselves, and access to a good selection of books. In fact another study very accurately predicted educational attainment just by counting the number of books in the house. the higher the number of books - the higher the child was apt to go in education - I always take comfort in this when spending too much on books ;)
  • Family Outings - the more often a family spends time together doing things like visiting museums, seasides, parks, or other attractions, the better a child did in school.
  •  And finally - board games. A family habit of playing board game son a regular basis was an excellent predictor of academic success. Of course other issues play a part. A family that spends a lot of time on board game is obviously spending time together . This isn't possible if both parents are away from home for most of the child's waking hours - or if neither parent likes to spend time with the child.
Board games are great way to spend time together, but there are many very educational games out there. For instance Magic Cauldron Game directly teaches maths, as does Sum Swamps. Silly sentences teaches reading and sentence structure. But other ordinary entertainment games have wonderful educational value. We love Hangman which is a wonderful way to have fun with spelling, as is Scrabble. Many games teaching adding and subtraction as you count out the money. Battleship has taught my son to use grids and Run for Your Life helped him learn fractions. Top Trumps teaches greater than and less than. Make it doubles Top Trumps, using two cards for each play and you have a great addition game. Bakugan was the best thing we ever found to teach maths though as you have to add and subtract points according to various ability cards to determine who wins each battle.  But you can make your own board games as well pasting pictures over an old board, making up game cards and rules to suit any subject.

10. Art supplies: I think this is basic requirement of having small children anyway, but a good stock of paper, crayons, paints, clays, and other are supplies are a  real necessity for home education.

For older children:
As they grow there is only so much we can teach them at home. I think volunteer work, or just learning a skill from a mentor are among the best resources we can have with older children. My sons are a bit young for this now, but my 7 year old does benefit greatly from being able to take a class outside of home (karate) as well as participate in the Boys Brigade.