Us-Schooling Snippets

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You know how we homeschoolers are always looking for the best label to describe ourselves? I recently came across my favourite one yet at Ed Snap Shots: Us-Schoolers. I love her story of how she thought up the phrase.

Us-schooling perfectly describes our homeschooling style.

During November we visited Seville and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. (El Puerto is the town near Cádiz where we’ll be spending February learning Spanish.)

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November in Seville and on the beaches of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain

Two weeks later we we slid down rapids, biked through the forest, and zip-lined through tree tops at Center Parcs with my mum and nephew.

Tree top adventuring at CenterParcs

How is Us-Schooling going?

Since we got back I’ve managed to rein in any schoolish “We’ve got to get back into the swing of things!” tendencies (yay me). As a consequence we’ve had a really happy week, full of spontaneous learning. The best thing about having a routine rather than a schedule is that we have plenty of time to follow our interests.

1. Snowflake symmetry

I haven’t posted much about maths lately, mainly because our buddy maths routine is continuing to work so well.

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that we have plenty of time to do any other maths activities catch our interest. This week we were inspired by the An Ordinary Life‘s exploration of symmetry when they made snowflakes using isometric grid paper.

Instead of drawing straight onto our grid paper, I stapled clear binder covers on top. When we detached the paper, we were left with pretty Christmas decorations to put on the windows.

Mathematical snowflakes

We found that creating symmetrical designs requires a lot more concentration than we’d expected. (My spatial skills were certainly challenged!)

2. Skating at a 16th century house

On Monday we skated at Somerset House, a beautiful neoclassical building on the north bank of the River Thames. On the journey into London we learned some interesting facts about the history of the house:

– Somerset House was built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, who was the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife, and mother of Edward VI).

– After Henry VIII’s death, Edward Seymour manoeuvred himself into the position of Lord Protector, ruling England during the reign of the boy king Edward VI. During this time Seymour bestowed on himself the title “Duke of Somerset”.

– Lord Somerset’s power was not to last, however. In 1549, before he could finish his magnificent house, he was overthrown by a coup d’état.

–  Somerset met a gruesome end in 1552 when he had his head chopped off at the Tower of London. Somerset House was then seized by the Crown. Its most famous resident was the future Queen Elizabeth I, who lived at Somerset House during the reign of her half-sister Mary I.

– During the English Civil War, Parliament tried to sell the house. Fortunately for us, they couldn’t find a buyer.

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Ice skating at Somerset House

3. Hands-on history at the Imperial War Museum

After skating at Somerset House we hopped on a double decker bus to the Imperial War Museum. The bus ride turned out to be the highlight of J(9)’s day (which is saying something, because he loved skating and the museum). Both children have requested that we now travel everywhere in London by bus, instead of by underground train.

The museum’s World War I exhibition was fascinating. The kids were shocked by the weight of the rifles soldiers had to carry, and they tried their hands at running a naval campaign.

My favourite part was the propaganda posters aimed at persuading men from Commonwealth countries like India and Australia to fight for Britain. How times have changed!

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C(11) trying out a WWII Anderson Shelter at the Imperial War Museum (bottom right)

4. Watching a NASA rocket launch

We spent much of Thursday and Friday tuned to NASA, watching the launch, orbit and re-entry of deep space capsule Orion. When the launch window closed without take-off on Thursday, we hoped things would go smoothly the next day so we could catch the launch before our skating lesson.

Fortunately, both the weather and the technology co-operated, and Friday’s countdown ended in a very exciting lift-off.

NASA Orion
Watching NASA’s livestream

We were back in time to watch Orion’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and its smooth parachute descent towards splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

5. The Mystery of the Periodic Table

We learned about the inner transition elements in the last chapter of The Mystery of the Periodic Table. I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s the perfect family science read-aloud – we all learned something from it. I now understand, in a way I never did in my school chemistry classes why the periodic table is structured the way it is.

J(9) may not retain everything he heard, but for him it was a solid introduction to chemistry, told in an exciting way through the eyes of famous scientists from history.


I’ve been searching for a similar living book about physics. We loved the Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest series, but I wanted something that covers concepts like optics and fluid mechanics.  Secrets of the Universe: Waves: Principles of Light, Electricity and Magnetism looks like a good start. If the children like it, I’m pleased to see there are several others by the same author.

I’ve also bought Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone, which has lots of pictures and ideas for hands-on experiments. Leafing through just now, I noticed this, in the section on gravity and tides:

“If the moon were too near the earth, the moon would be pulled apart. This has been the fate of moons too close to other planets – Saturn’s rings being the best example.”

I hadn’t know that Saturn’s rings were what remained of some of its moons!

6. Christmas stories

In the car this week we listened to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. J(9) was pleased to be listening to the original, on which so many other stories he likes have been based.

C(11) loved Dickens’ language, which reminded her of her favourite book series, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy.

Christmas books collage

We also listened to a lovely telling of The Nutcracker by Jenny Agutter.

Next week we’ll listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by its author Dylan Thomas, and then Lost Christmas. C(11) and I are also going to listen to The Christmas Doll.

At home we’re looking forward to re-reading some of our favourite Christmas stories, including The Sneezing Christmas Tree and The Legend of the Poinsettia, not forgetting of course The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and J(9)’s favourite Christmas book last year, Christmas According to Humphrey.

7. Chess

On Wednesday J(9) asked me to play chess with him. He hasn’t played for over 18 months, and before that only a handful of times.

He easily checkmated me, confirming my belief that computer games teach excellent strategy skills. (Not that I’m a great chess player, but I’ve played a few more times than him!)

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When we haven’t been busy following rocket launches or skating in historic houses, the kids have been making speed art videos, writing stories over afternoon tea and translating the next exciting instalment of Minimus Secundus: Moving on in Latin.

It’s been a great  us-schooling week.

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners


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36 thoughts on “Us-Schooling Snippets

  1. I’ve been wondering where you guys have been! It appears that you’ve been exceptionally busy and having great fun at the same time! To give our children individualised learning that suits their interests and abilities is the best thing that can happen in homeschooling. You’re really in your element these days in this respect. 🙂

    I like what your idea of using a clear plastic over the grid paper for snowflake symmetry and that you have the snowflakes up on glass. It’s both educational and very creative. Love it!

    Can you believe we haven’t been to IWM London yet?! It looks fab, and I’ll be sure to make a trip there very soon!

    1. Thank you so much, Hwee. You are always so supportive, I appreciate it very much.

      Do you know, I wonder if Tiger may be a little disappointed in the IWM! It’s fabulous for people like us with a usual level of interest (IYKWIM) but an expert like Tiger may find it a little thin after the places he’s been. I highly recommend the cakes in the tea room, though – should you find yourself there for an extended period!

      1. Oh no, you shouldn’t have mentioned how good the cakes are in the tea room! I have such a weakness for cakes that now we *must* make a point of going there. I’m sure Tiger can find something interesting in the IWM galleries while I ogle at the cakes… 🙂

  2. I always love your updates even though I fail to comment most of the time. It makes me miss living in Europe and how convenient it was to travel to such amazing historic places. And I always love your living book recommendations, they are usually ones I have never heard of but are exactly what I’m looking for. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much, Cari. We are very lucky having so much on our doorstep. I was really pleased to find the Paul Fleisher books. The cover of the one we have looks very uninviting, but I googled “physics living books like the mystery of the periodic table” and found them mentioned on a home ed blog. And at first glance it’s as good as I’d hoped!

    1. Thank you, Lucy! I’m so glad I got round to writing this post – sometimes it’s only when you write it all down that you realise quite how much learning’s been happening – not to mention fun! I loved your week in the life posts, by the way. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this post. I especially appreciate your science book recommendations. We love the Mystery of the Periodic Table, so I’m excited to look up the others. We also have one of the Uncle Albert books. I liked it, but I think it was a challenge for my kids. I think we needed to talk about some of the concepts a little more before reading the story. Maybe they were just too young. Anyway, we’ll try it again, maybe next year.

    1. Thanks, Julie I think a lot of the science in the Uncle Albert books went over my son’s head but he’s always happy to listen to a good story, and I reason that at least some of it will go in by osmosis!

      I’ve been bookmarking all your recent geometry posts to do with J(9) – thanks for those.

  4. Love it Lucinda! Great job! 🙂

    Last week when we were soaking up time with my Father in Law (more on why when you have time to catch up on our blog), my Mother in Law (who has never verbalized disapproval of us homeschooling, but definitely has a skeptical attitude … And thinks I nap every afternoon!) … Ok, she asked my children if we had school that day (we were at their home around 2:00) and Grace shrugged and said “I don’t know” … My husband reminded her of the hour we read aloud “Old Fashioned Thanksgiving” and the 550 PC. Puzzle we were working on and the knitting she was doing … I laughed and told my Father in Law that we have so much fun together and are relaxed in our days that my kids don’t often realize it is “school”. Then he gave me the best compliment …”well whatever you are doing, it is sure working” … Then he went on to compliment our children up and down. I just sat there and smiled!

    I hopped over and read about “us schooling” and that perfectly describes us … Doing a little from here, a little from there. … What works best for US!

    1. That really is a nice compliment, Angie! My children are similar when it comes to talking about what they’ve been doing. They don’t make a distinction between learning and the rest of life, and get confused when anyone tries to get them to do so. My husband’s parents have actually said very similar words, which meant so much because they too had initially been quite anxious about our choice to home educate.

      I visited your blog today briefly, and was so sorry to hear the news about your father-in-law. This must be a difficult time for you all. I’m thinking of you. I will be back very soon to leave a comment on a few of your lovely posts.

      Thank you, Angie, as always, for your lovely comment!

      1. Others don’t understand it, but I am so happy that learning and life are not two different things for our family! We all love to explore, investigate, try new things, read, appreciate God’s creation and more … We love to learn! We do “educational” things for fun! In fact, we have been called nerds. 🙂 Next to loving God and serving others, I feel the most important thing we are helping our children do is … Learn to learn. That’s not a typo … Learning to learn and loving it! I see that very evidently in your US schooling too. Keep up the good work!

        1. I wear the geek/nerd label with pride, too! I am totally with you, Angie. On our best days – the ones I look back on with a blissed-out sigh at the end of the day – learning is just as you describe. I still have occasional days where I feel like I’m carrying my canoe up a dry riverbed – instead of happily paddling downstream – but the longer we enjoy this lifestyle, the fewer those are. 🙂

          Thank you for always leaving such uplifting comments, Angie!

  5. I love it! Us-schooling! What a perfect way not to box yourself in!! Your ‘Us-schooling’ is becoming more effortless and seamless each time you post a new post. I think your Us – schooling is just perfect for you!

  6. It does seem like a lovely week. I’m jealous of the museums you have access to there. We have a few here, but non of them are about the topics we’re studying right now.

    1. We are very lucky being quite close to London. Sometimes I feel guilty that we don’t get up there more, but the warmth of home is so tempting especially at this time of year!

    1. Thank you, Dawne. The kids really did love that aerial adventure. In the past I’ve joined them. I didn’t this time but it turned out to be a really fun course, different from ones we’ve done before. Next time I’ll be up there too!

  7. Having only been homeschooling for 2 years I’m still trying to understand the buzz words for different types of teaching and learning styles. Thanks for giving us an ‘Unschooling’ view of learning. I’m visiting from the Weekly Wrap Up.

    1. Nita – it’s so ironic that in my link up to the Weekly Wrap Up I accidentally typed “unschooling snippets” instead of the correct title of this post – “us-schooling snippets”! Goes to show labels don’t count for that much. 😀

  8. I like that term! Us-schooling…sounds wonderful. I also like your list of Christmas audio books. There’s nothing better than a really good story playing in the background while baking, crafting, and cleaning up are going on.

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