Tag Archives: grade 3

Creative Science with Ice, Salt and Colour

Science Play  Ice Salt and Colour

This week we played with salt, ice and liquid watercolours.  It was one of those cool activities that combines science and creativity, and has everyone happily engaged for hours.

What You Need

  • One or more plastic containers – we used several, of different shapes and sizes. Ours had lids to make them easier to stack in the freezer.
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Liquid watercolours or food colouring
  • Plastic pipettes
  • Tray or dish to stand your melting ice in

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour

What We Did

I filled the containers with water and left them in the freezer for a couple of days.

We talked about the ways ice melts. The children said heat melts ice, so our ice would eventually melt if we left it out of the freezer. Or we could speed up the melting process by pouring on warm water. I asked them how we deal with icy paths in winter and they shouted “salt!”. We recalled how we added salt to ice to quickly freeze juice into a sorbet, and how that worked because the presence of an impurity (like salt) lowers the freezing point of water.

Then I handed over the salt and the liquid watercolours and let the children experiment.

They started out by sprinkling salt on the ice and noticing how the salt melted the ice where it came into contact with it. (Actually they started out by licking the ice – they do like to engage all their senses…  I made sure this happened only the once, before any salt or paint had been introduced!)

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour
Well it was probably good for his sensory processing!

Then C(9) had the idea of colouring her salt before sprinkling it on so she could follow its path. But she found the salt difficult to sprinkle when wet, so she decided to sprinkle and then quickly add colour. Soon she realised that she didn’t have to be so quick, because the colour always followed the path of the melting ice.

Fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour

More colours were added…

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour

And great fun was had by all!

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour
Delicately does it

I loved seeing how differently each child interacted with their ice.  While C(9) enthused poetically about “glistening cataracts”, J(8) wore his best would-be world-dominating mad scientist expression as he attacked his with three purple pipettes at a time, shouting “I’m going to burn a hole RIGHT THROUGH THE HEART of it!”

Salty icy tunnel

Lots of creative expression, and some science too!

science fun with salt ice and liquid watercolour


Using food colouring instead of liquid watercolour – I think I added too much water to our liquid watercolours – they were a bit wishy washy (not that the children noticed). While they were busy making cataracts and chasms, I privately experimented with using gel food colours instead. These highlighted the paths of the melting ice much more clearly, but one drop went a long way so the children wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun if we’d used these – their ice would quickly have been saturated with colour. The vibrant colours make for quite a cool demonstration, though.

Gel food colour salt and ice
Gel food colour, salt & ice

Another scientific variation would be to experiment with different types of salt – rock salt, for example.

Science play ice salt and colour

Further Resources

Our arty science project was inspired by The Artful Parent.

Ice Tunnels: Bring on the summer fun! I found this after we played with our ice.

I hope you enjoy playing with colourful salty ice as much as we did!


Science Sunday

Collage Friday

Science Fun with salt and ice

Weekly Wrap Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

homeschoolreview at hammock tracks

 Hobbies & Handicrafts

Pythagoras and the Knotted Rope

Pythagoras fun for kids 2

Now we’ve switched to a full-time living maths approach, we’re actually making time to play with some of the wonderful resources we’ve had on our shelves for years.

What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?

Pythagoras for kidsOn Friday we read What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras, a picture book which tells the story of how the young Pythagoras learns how to make a right-angled triangle using knotted rope, and discovers how to calculate the length of its hypotenuse using square tiles.

Obviously the book is mostly fictional, and it takes some historical liberties – the boy Pythagoras visits Alexandria, for instance, several hundred years before the city was built! – but these are discussed at the back of the book in a way that made my kids laugh and was a handy review of Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great.

How to make a right-angled triangle using rope

In the book, the young Pythagoras notices what happens when buildings are constructed with less-than-accurate right-angles. On a trip to Alexandria with his father, he learns how the Egyptians use knotted rope to overcome this problem.

We tried it out for ourselves. We tied eleven knots at equal distance along our rope before joining the ends in a final knot, so that we ended up with twelve short lengths of rope between each knot.

Pythagoras knotted rope living maths

Then we used our rope to make different shaped triangles. We counted how many lengths of rope were on each side of each triangle.

To make a right-angled triangle, we found that we needed the sides to be 3 lengths, 4 lengths and 5 lengths of rope respectively.

Pythagoras for kids

(Top Tip: Take care to make the knots evenly spaced. C(9)’s rope worked perfectly for making right-angled triangles, whereas the one I helped J(8) make didn’t, oops!)

Using Lego to demonstrate the Pythagoras Theorem

While playing with floor tiles, the young Pythagoras in the story discovers that if he makes a square along each side of a right-angled triangle, the square on the longest side uses the same number of tiles as the other two sides’ squares put together.

We tried this for ourselves with 2×2 Lego bricks.

drawing a right-angled triangle
C(9) measured 3, 4 and 5 Lego bricks and drew a triangle with sides those lengths
lego proof of Pythagoras Theorem
1 side is 3 Lego bricks long …


lego proof of Pythagoras Theorem
another side is 4 Lego bricks long


lego proof of Pythagoras Theorem
Completing the squares


9 bricks + 16 bricks = 25 bricks

Pythagoras uses what he has learned to work out how long a ladder is needed to reach the top of a wall. He also helps his father calculate the sailing distance to Rhodes.   Both excellent demonstrations of the usefulness of maths!

lego proof of Pythagoras Theorem
C(9) annotated her Lego diagram to show the Pythagoras Theorem

I would never have thought to teach my kids the Pythagoras Theorem at the ages they are (8 and 9) – all we did was read a picture book. But that living book inspired us to play, and before we knew it we were formulating mathematical proofs.  Another living maths success!


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Homeschool Review at Hammock Tracks

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Math Monday Blog Hop – Math & Children’s Literature


Miniature Japanese Zen Garden For Kids

miniature japanese zen garden

As part of learning about how Zen Buddhism spread to Japan in the Middle Ages, we made miniature Japanese Zen Gardens. It seemed like a great excuse to play with sand!

What You Need

  • Sand
  • Pebbles or rocks
  • Fork or other mini-raking tool
  • Container (we used chocolate boxes supported on trays)
  • Any other decorative items you like (marbles, twigs etc)

What You Do

1. Fill your container with sand

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
Not a very Zen tablecloth – oops!

2. Look at pictures of real and miniature Zen Gardens for inspiration

3. Place your rocks

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden

4. Have fun making patterns in the sand with your “rake”

5. Finish with any other decorative features that take your fancy

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
C(9) added a pond to her Zen Garden. This took a bit of experimentation to stop the water soaking into the sand
miniature japanese zen garden
Adding a “tree”

6. Place your Zen Garden somewhere you can admire it (and the cat can’t get it)

miniature japanese zen garden
Zen Garden with pond

Zen Soundtrack

You might like to listen to some relaxing Japanese music as you tend your garden.

Japanese Religion

Miniature Zen Garden Japan project for kidsZen Buddhism was brought to Japan from China and Korea in the Middle Ages.

We read about Buddhism in One World: Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the Magic Tree House series).

Siddhartha and the Enlightenment

We learned how a young prince named Siddhartha was born in India five hundred years before Jesus was born.  One day, disturbed by some of the sights he saw outside his luxurious palace, Siddhartha set off in search of wisdom.

During meditation, Siddhartha had a sudden divine understanding that explained how to end all suffering.  Buddhists call this powerful insight the Enlightenment.

We read about the eight rules that the Buddha – as Siddhartha became known after the Enlightenment – set down to allow anyone to free themselves from their worldly desires and achieve enlightenment.

Photo credit: Tevraprapas

Zen Buddhism

As Buddhism spread from its origins in India, it split into different groups.  Zen Buddhism, a type of Mahayana Buddhism, is one of the most common types of Buddhism in Japan.

We learned how Zen Buddhists seek to cultivate a still, meditative state of mind to help them achieve enlightenment.


Before Buddhism, the indigenous religion of ancient Japan was Shinto.

“Shinto teaches that divine forces live in all things that inspire awe and wonder, such as a waterfall, a whirlpool, a mysterious cave, a beautiful stone, an exquisite insect, the wind and rain, thunder and lightening, and even a fascinating person.”

Mary Pope Osborne: One World, Many Religions

Shinto is congruent with Buddhism, and has survived alongside it. Many Japanese Buddhists worship at Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples.

What does Buddhism have to do with Gardening?

Apparently not much! Buddhist temples often house traditional dry gardens that have come to be known as Zen Gardens. Like many people, I thought that relaxing “Zen Gardens” were cultivated by Japanese Buddhists to help them achieve a meditative state of mind.

But as part of this study we discovered that  the association between Zen Buddhism and these gardens is actually a twentieth-century Western invention.  Oh well – that didn’t stop us enjoying creating our own miniature Zen Gardens!

miniature japanese zen garden

japan projects for kids
Click the picture to see more of our Japan projects


Miniature Zen Garden for Kids

Highhill Homeschool

Visit Adventures in Mommydom for more history and geography ideas.

5 Days of Maths Playtime

Living maths fun

I wrote last week about how the excellent book Let’s Play Math inspired me to establish a living maths routine in our homeschool.

So – here’s what our first week of maths playtime looked like.

Day 1 – Discovering the Fibonacci Sequence

Blockhead  the life of fibonacci

We read Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, a gorgeous picture book about the twelfth century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.

We learned how Fibonacci brought Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe, which had until then been using Roman numerals. Here we paused to talk about place value and how much harder it must have been for kids to do written arithmetic without a zero!

Next we puzzled over Fibonacci’s famous rabbit problem. (In short, if a pair of rabbits has two babies every month, how many rabbits do you have at the end of the year?)

J(8) got overwhelmed and ran off to the trampoline at this point. But I was delighted that C(9) – who also has “if I can’t do it perfectly straight away, I’m outta here” tendencies – stayed with the puzzle long enough to spot the pattern which gives us the Fibonacci Series.  (J(8) will be ready for this level of engagement and reasoning in his own time!)

Day 2 – Fibonacci Numbers in Nature

We’d read in Blockhead how the Fibonacci Series is found throughout nature, so on our walks for the rest of the week we looked for examples.

Most daisies, for example, have thirty-four petals (a Fibonacci number).

(Top tip: don’t split the petals, thinking they’re two. The first time I counted fifty-nine. Next daisy, I carefully kept each petal intact and I got thirty-four exactly.)

fibonacci daisy
34 petals

Daisies have 13 (easier to count) sepals (another Fibonacci number).

fibonacci daisy petals
13 daisy sepals, and Fibonacci spirals in the middle, too
fibonacci flowers for kids
Lesser Celandine have eight – Fibonacci number! – petals

Fibonacci numbers are found in so many places besides plants – they crop up everywhere, from fine art, to galaxies, to pineapples. What a lot we still have to explore!

Day 3 – KenKen Puzzles: Arithmetic and Logic Practice

KenKen – Japanese for “cleverness” – is an arithmetic logic puzzle invented by a Japanese maths teacher.  It’s a similar to Sudoku but the digits in each mini-grid combine together to make a given number, using prescribed operation signs.  Hard to explain but once you’ve done one or two you get it!

Kenken math playtime
A KenKen puzzle

We downloaded the free KenKen iPad/iPhone app, which allows you to start with very easy puzzles using just addition and the numbers 1-3. I can see this providing hours of maths fact practice!

Day 4 – Pattern Blocks: Exploring Symmetry and Tessellations

Let’s Play Math suggests investing in manipulatives that are, among other things, strew-able. Pattern blocks have definitely passed that test this week.

pattern blocks living math fun

Pattern blocks  give kids the chance to explore pattern building, geometric shapes, tessellation, symmetry and all that other mathematical stuff in an open-ended way. I’m looking forward to looking at these concepts in greater depth over the course of our maths playtimes.

pattern blocks living maths fun


pattern blocks living maths fun
C(9) made many small designs …


pattern blocks living maths fun
… while J(8) took time creating a few large patterns


pattern blocks living maths fun
You can make pictures, too!

Day 5 – Story Problems

This was the simplest day in terms of set-up, and perhaps the most fun, which came as a welcome surprise to me. All we needed was a portable whiteboard and our imaginations (and a bit of patience waiting for J(8) to finish each of his long complicated stories!).

We took turns, and I think the children learned at least as much from setting me problems (and watching me work through them out loud and on the whiteboard) as they did solving them.

living math fun

Here are some of the problems we came up with:

Story problem I started with

“If our puppy Harvey can skateboard at 5 metres per second, and the playground of our home ed centre is 20 metres long, how long would it take Harvey to skate from one end to the other?”

Story Problem by C(9) 

(Who has recently been caring for her first flowering pot plant.) “If you water a plant every day, it grows one new flower every three hours. But you only water it every other day, so it grows half the number of flowers. How many flowers does it grow in a fortnight?”

Story Problem by J(8)

[Brace yourself.] “A man digs a hole 5 metres deep in 24 hours. If he sleeps 12 hours a night and has two 11 minute tea-breaks a day, how deep is the hole after 10 years?”

[I gave you the condensed version. The digging man (an escaping convict?!) ended up doing so many other things, we lost track. Once we’d negotiated relevant facts,  I gamely worked out how far into the Earth’s core the man had burrowed.]

living maths fun
Space hopper maths – perfect for a child with Sensory Processing issues! (Though not so good for photos)

Verdict on Week One

We enjoyed each of our maths playtime sessions SO MUCH.

In addition to our living maths, J(8) also asked me to read Life of Fred: Goldfish to him every day. We worked buddy style through the questions at the end of each chapter.

There was also a lot of spontaneous maths play – and not just by the children!

living math fun

So where are we going with this?

My goals for this term are for C(9) and J(8) to play with maths concepts, have fun with numbers and discover a bit of maths history.

My role will be to strew interesting materials, make suggestions, read aloud and – most importantly – observe. I love quietly playing detective, noticing what each child is drawn to, what comes naturally, and what might benefit from more practice playtime.

By the end of term in July I’ll have a lot more information about how the maths playtime approach is going.  Then we’ll talk over our experiences and take it from there.

I’ll post more about our maths playtimes soon.

Want to find out more?

Fabulous Fibonacci

My Let’s Play Math Pinterest Board


Homegrown Learners


5 Days of Maths Playtime

Japan – History & Geography

Japanese Ink Wash Painting - Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540
Japanese Ink Wash Painting – Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540

This post is about some “spin-off fun” we’ve been having as we’ve been learning about medieval Japan.

We’re using The Story of the World vol 2 as our “guidebook” for the Middle Ages, but this year we’re not using an accompanying activity guide or curriculum.

Instead, we’re enjoying coming up with our own ideas for spin-off activities. When I say “we” come up with ideas, of course I initiate most of them – but I’m guided by the children’s level of engagement and interest when it comes to how fully we explore each idea, and I’m always open to being led down new paths of their choosing. Sometimes we go off on tangents that take us far away from history, and that’s ok.

Japanese Writing

Japanese writing is made up of three alphabets, one of which is a collection of Chinese characters. We had recently looked at Chinese characters when we learned about Chinese New Year, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Japanese writing with Chinese. The article I found also compared Korean, so we looked at that too.

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids
Comparing Japanese, Chinese and Korean writing

I found two examples each of Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing (using Google Images). We examined one set of examples and talked about similarities and differences. Then we used this article to help us distinguish them further. (In a nutshell, Korean has lots of ovals and circles, Chinese characters are the most complex, and Japanese contains some Chinese characters plus other characters, many of which are curvy.)

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids

Finally, the children looked at “blind” copies of each type of writing (I had cut off anything that identified what they were). They found it fairly easy (and enjoyable) to identify where each type of writing came from.

japanese name translator
Writing our names in Japanese

We then looked up our names in Japanese. This name translator translates into various writing styles, including traditional Japanese and Manga. We wrote out our names in both styles using paintbrushes dipped in black ink, and C also wanted to write hers out using her calligraphy pen.

japanese name translator
Using black ink and a paintbrush to write Japanese letters

Ink Wash Painting

While we had the black ink and paintbrushes out, I showed the children some examples of Japanese ink wash painting and they decided to have a go. We didn’t have Japanese rice paper so we used diluted black ink on wet watercolour paper. (I have to ‘fess up – I did buy some A4 edible rice paper before I realised this is not the stuff the Japanese paint on! Oh well, I’m sure we will find a fun way to use it!)

Hasegawa Tohaku Pine Trees Japanese Ink Wash Painting
“Pine Trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)

I based my painting on Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610). The children’s designs were, of course, were much more original!

japanese ink wash painting for kids
Our ink wash paintings

Origami Kimonos

We were amused to learn that the exotic-sounding word “kimono” actually translates as “thing to wear”! It is composed of two Chinese symbols. “Ki” comes from “kuru” and means “to wear”, and “mono” means thing.

japan lapbook - origami kimono
From C(9)’s Lapbook

C(9) thought this origami kimono girl would look good in her lap book. The directions are simple, and no special paper is required – you just print out the page and then cut out, fold and assemble the pretty patterned kimono pieces. C(9) did comment that it was a bit of a cheat as real origami wouldn’t call for glue!

Japanese Kites

Kites were first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist missionaries, for use in sacred ceremonies. The Japanese developed their own distinctive style of kites, and began to use them for practical purposes, such as lifting building materials and sending messages. They were also used to raise soldiers into the air to act as spies or snipers!

Find out more about the origin of kites here and Japanese kite history here.

Japanese kites lapbook  minibook
C(9)’s minibook on Japanese kites

C(9) loved researching Japanese kites and enjoyed making a mini-book about them.


We learned that Japan is an archipelago – a large group of islands – and we compared the islands’ size with the island we live on, Britain. (See this image for a comparison of Japan’s size with the USA). When we saw that the distance from the north to the south of Japan is the same as the distance from Scotland to the south of Spain, we understood why Japan has such a varied climate.

salt dough map of japan
Salt dough map of Japan

Japan is located on the “Ring of Fire” – the zone of volcanic activity surrounding the Pacific Ocean. We contrasted Japan’s position on the boundary of several tectonic plates with Britain’s location inside the Eurasian Plate, and reflected on what this means for our respective societies. This has also launched a spin-off project on volcanoes and earthquakes!

We’re away next week, but when we get back I’ll be sharing more Japan spin-off fun, involving Samurai and Zen gardening.

To see what other homeschoolers have been doing this week, visit It’s A Wrap at Hammock Tracks and Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners.

For more geography and history ideas, visit Adventures in Mommydom.


Homegrown Learners

Fun With Magnets

Magnet  project fun homeschool science

This week we spent one whole morning (plus a bit of the afternoon) exploring magnets.

We started out by reading a chapter of The Magic School Bus: Amazing Magnetism.

I was delighted to find that the story is structured around a competition, the prize for which is a pizza party – this was a book that was going to appeal to at least two of J(7)’s passions! We read chapters in between doing our own experiments, which kept J nicely engaged.

Magnet  project fun homeschool science - making a magnet .JPG
Making a magnet

Making a Magnet

We stroked a magnet along a needle in the same direction about twelve times to create a temporary magnet.

making a magnet - homeschool magnet science project
Using our home-made magnet to pick up pins

A magnet is made up of many tiny mini-magnets, or “domains”, which all line up and point the same way. Any metal that sticks to a magnet also has domains.  These are jumbled up – but a magnet can make them line up, and the metal temporarily becomes a magnet.

When we dropped our needle magnet on the table a few times, the domains became jumbled again and the needle was no longer magnetic.  Heat also jumbles the domains.

Magnetic fields homeschool science project
Observing magnetic fields

Magnetic Fields

One of the books we used, Magnet Science, comes with a sealed transparent box of iron filings. We observed the patterns the iron filings made when we applied different shaped magnets.  The patterns showed us each magnet’s invisible magnetic field lines.

Magnet  project fun homeschool science - glass .JPG
Paperclip challenge

Paperclip Challenge

I gave each child a glass of water with a paperclip at the bottom and challenged them to remove the paperclip without putting their hand in the water. Straight away they dipped the magnet into the water, so I had to add “… and without getting the magnet wet”, at which point they figured it out!

floating magnet - homeschool science project
Floating magnet

“Floating” Magnet

We used the fact that magnets with the same poles repel each other to create a cool illusion. We forced two repelling magnets together with a couple of pencils in between, and taped the magnets together. On removing the pencils, magnetic force keeps the top magnet hovering in mid-air!

Measuring Magnetic Force

We placed a paperclip at the zero end of a ruler and a magnet at the other end.  Then we slowly moved the magnet towards the clip and recorded the distance in centimetres between the two at the point when the clip jumped onto the magnet. We tried this with different magnets to compare their strengths.

Measuring magnets homeschool science project collage
Measuring magnetic force

Magnetic Force and Gravity

This time we taped the zero end of the ruler perpendicular to the table and repeated the measuring process. We noted that this time the magnet had to be closer to make the clip jump, because its force is competing with another force – gravity.

Magnet  project fun homeschool science - magnet compass .JPG
Magnet compass

Making a Compass

We taped a bar magnet to the base of a small plastic pot and floated the pot in a large bowl of water. After leaving the water and magnet to settle for a minute, we used a dry wipe marker to mark (on the large bowl) where the north and south poles of the magnet pointed. When we turned the magnet pot around, it returned to the same spot, its poles aligned with the Earth’s magnetic north and south.

(Happily, this confirmed our recent discovery, when we were learning about the beginning of Islam, that Mecca is in the direction of our pear tree!)

Magnet slide homeschool science project collage
Magnet marble races

Marble Races

We taped magnets to the underside of a piece of cardboard, propped it up to make a ramp, and raced metal and glass marbles down it. We used our strongest magnets and an old iPad box, but it was difficult to see whether the magnetic marble or the glass marble won the race – I think we would have seen better results with a longer ramp.

Magnet  project fun homeschool science
Magnet art

Magnetic Art

We put a piece of paper on top of a magnet and made our own executive toy – paperclip sculpture. 🙂

Magnetic Rock

We looked at pictures of magnetite, a naturally magnetic rock first found at a place called Magnesia in Ancient Greece.




The Magic School Bus: Amazing Magnetism gave us a story to structure our experiments around.  The best experiments came from The Usborne Book of Science Activities Volume One. We also used Magnet Science (Hands-on Science), which comes with iron filings and a set of magnets.

Amazing Magnetism Magic School Bus - Magnet Project

magnet science homeschool project - magnet science book


This Squidoo lens has stacks of magnet ideas and links to resources.

Steve Spangler explains what magnets are and talks about their history.  More experiments here too.

What Next?

The children’s interest in magnetite and in the causes of the Earth’s magnetic forces (not to mention Minecraft) got me thinking that this could be a good time to find out more about rocks. Watch this space!

Magnetism also relates to electricity, which C explored in a recent project. (We loved The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, which taught me a few things about electromagnetism.)  We’ll come back to this topic next time we look at magnetism.

Magnet art - homeschool magnet science project
More magnet art

Do you know of any fun magnet experiments?

To see what other homeschoolers have been up to this week, check out Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners and It’s a Wrap at Hammock Tracks.

For more science posts, visit Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom.
Homegrown Learners



Science Sunday

Popsicle Stick Fractions

Popsicle Stick Fractions Made EasyWe got out the popsicle sticks this week to help C(9) understand the meaning of fractions like 5/8 of 24.

Memorising Algorithms v. Understanding

C had no trouble calculating one eighth of twenty-four. There’s an easy-to-understand algorithm:

1/8  of  24  =  24  ÷ 8  =  3

But algorithms don’t facilitate real understanding.

This became apparent when we changed the numerator of the fraction. C is a bright girl and it wouldn’t have taken her long to memorise the extra step in the algorithm:

3/8  of  24  =  (24  ÷ 8)  x  3  =  9

But I wanted her to understand what was actually happening here.

Bring on the popsicle sticks!

The equation C was working on at this point was 3/10 of 70 (because of the numbers involved, the answer “30” kept jumping in to her head). This was going to take a lot of popsicle sticks!

A Maths Story

We gathered 70 plain popsicle sticks.  These, we decided, were 70 new children starting out in kindergarten. (Don’t ask me how this metaphor got into our homeschooling house.)

Then we found 10 coloured popsicle sticks. These were helpful grade 5 children who were looking after the kindergarteners for the day.

fractions made easy with a popsicle stick story

One by one, we distributed the seventy plain sticks equally between the ten coloured sticks, until each “older child” had seven “kindergarteners” to look after:

1/10  of  70  =  7

This step, naturally, involved many imaginary conversations between the children, some of whom were rather wilful!

Next step – different numbers of groups of “children” were taken “to see different parts of the school”. Of course it was important to count the number of children at each point, to make sure we didn’t lose any!


  • Two of the groups went to see the science room. “Now then, how many children do we have here? Are you all going to fit in the science room? Let’s count. One, two, three … fourteen. Yes, you should be all right. Off you go.”

2/10  of  70  =  14

  • Seven of the groups went to see the gym. “How many children is that? Goodness – forty-nine!”
7/10  of  70  =  49
  • Three of the groups visited the art studio. “How many paintbrushes do we need for you all? One, two, three … twenty-one.”
3/10  of  70  =  21

And so on. So much fun!

From Concrete to Abstract

C went on to complete a page of abstract problems with no trouble. As she practised, she came to recognise the algorithm as a convenient shortcut.

3/8  of  24  =  (24  ÷ 8)  x  3  =  9

But thanks to ten minutes of popsicle stick fun, she now understood what the numbers represented.

Do you use stories in your maths lessons?

For more maths ideas, visit the Math Monday Blog Hop at love2learn2day, and the Math Teachers at Play monthly carnival at Learners in Bloom.


homeschool langage arts grade 3 at navigatingbyjoy

Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum – Grade 3

Homeschool language arts grade 3 at navigatingbyjoy

Our Grade 3 (UK Year 4) language arts programme is centred around Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

We love how The Arrow exposes us to new literature and inspires us to use language in new and exciting ways.  I say “us” because part of the Brave Writer philosophy is that parents learn alongside their kids – I probably get as much out of The Arrow as Cordie does!


Our language arts goals are for Cordie (9):

  • to enjoy using language to express herself
  • to improve her written communication skills so as to enhance her self-expression
  • to appreciate great literature, and
  • to learn in a fun way how to spell accurately and use good grammar


The Arrow


This term we looked at the “hero’s journey” plot structure as we read the fantasy story Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  We also enjoyed Frindle, a funny and thought-provoking story about a ten year old boy who makes up a word.

Each issue of The Arrow highlights a literary element. We especially enjoyed looking at “the hero’s journey” plot structure as we read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Copywork and Dictation

Each Arrow contains four passages from the month’s book to be used for copywork and dictation. These simple practices help teach punctuation, grammar and spelling and  and introduce concepts like paragraph indentation and how to write dialogue.


In my heart I know that The Arrow probably provides all the grammar practice Cordie needs. But sometimes I get to wondering why, then, do schools and most homeschool curricula spend so long teaching the mechanics of grammar? My compromise with my inner worrier was to look for a grammar book that Cordie would enjoy using independently.

Nelson Grammar is an old school book that was donated by emigrating friends. Cordie loves it.  Each unit is nicely set out over a double page spread.

Cordie’s using Pupil Book 4 which is apparently for Year 6 (Grade 5) students. You can preview the inside of each book at Google Books if you’re not sure which level would best suit your child.

Nelson Grammar


Our shelves also contain a number of spelling books collected over the years. We selected CGP  KS2 Spelling (Book 3) because Cordie can work through it independently and the wordlists were pitched at about the right level.

Each list of 23 words is designed to be read, copied, then covered and written again, and finally clues are given for each word so that the student can test herself.

In theory Cordie learns one wordlist a week; in practice she doesn’t do it that often. I don’t insist – I’m not convinced spelling programmes are the best way to learn to spell.  But I like knowing that one is available to Cordie should the mood take her!

Language Arts Websites

There’s lots of practice available on subscription websites like Grid Club, Education City and Study Ladder, and free websites like BBC Bitesize. These sites make learning good English so much fun – incomparable with the mind-numbing reading comprehensions I endured at primary school!

Poetry Teatime

Last term we celebrated poetry tea every Monday afternoon with local homeschooling friends. Sadly our friends have now moved to the other end of the country, but the poetry tea habit is firmly in place and we have several other friends keen to join us.  We even held poetry tea with Daddy over the Christmas break!

poetry tea

Other Writing

I never set Cordie writing assignments other than those we work on together using The Arrow, but she writes spontaneously and often – comic strips, a diary, recipes, stories, songs, letters and poems and posters (usually aimed at her brother).

She also from time to time writes “mini essays” (her description) about aspects of her project work, like this one about electrons.

electrons mini essay

When we have time, Cordie creates history notebook pages. I like the way notebooking helps organise thoughts on a topic.  It also develops planning and organisational skills which will be increasingly used later on.

Writing Mentor

Finally, Cordie is going to be having a few creative writing sessions with a home-educating mum friend who is also a homeschool tutor, an arrangement which came out of a casual conversation between us. Cordie loves the idea.

I think it will be a great opportunity for her to have the benefit of someone else’s perspective and will add some positive accountability to inspire her to write.


Of course, no language arts curriculum would be complete without a mention of reading.  Luckily, this requires very little planning in Cordie’s case as she reads (or listens to) everything book can find. (I have to warn her off certain books in our shared Audible account.  I’m not sure she’s quite ready for Stephen Fry’s autobiography!)

Recent family car-listens have been The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and Gerald Durrell’s wonderful My Family and Other Animals (part of his Corfu trilogy). We’re just starting on the Narnia series which Jasper (7) hasn’t read – Cordie made me read them to her back-to-back a few years ago, but we’re both more than happy to re-experience C.S. Lewis’s magical fantasies.

Other Posts You Might Like

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

Our Homeschool Curriculum: English (Language Arts) – Grade 2

Grammar Land: A Living Book about the Parts of Speech

Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

End of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – English (Language Arts) Grade 1

Poetry Tea

Homeschool Language Arts for the Dyslexic and Dysgraphic Child

arithmemouse_grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculum

What we’re Doing for Grade 2 and 3 Maths

arithmemouse_grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculum
Multiplication Practice with Arithmemouse

I last wrote about how we found our perfect math curriculum back in March, so I thought it might be time for an update…

Jasper (7, Yr3/Gr2)

Life of Fred

Life of Fred Farming - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumMaths is still Jasper’s favourite subject, thanks to Life of Fred.  This term we finished Life of Fred (Edgewood) and began Life of Fred (Farming).  I love the way the Fred series mixes up basic fundamentals (such as subtraction with borrowing) with more sophisticated concepts (like union of sets, median averages and simple algebraic equations) in a way that introduces young children to advanced mathematical vocabulary in a very natural way. And, of course, we all love “Fred’s” delightfully quirky story and offbeat humour.


Because we’re not doing a traditional curriculum, I make sure Jasper gets plenty of extra opportunities to learn his maths facts. Luckily he loves games, which are a great way of getting the job done.  Recently we’ve played Yahtzee  and War . (My favourite maths website, Let’s Play Math has lots of ideas for maths games. I’ve just noticed Contig, which looks great – we’ll be playing Contig Jr next week!)  We also play games like Tug Team Addition  at Math Playground, and Jasper practises multiplication using Arithmemouse and Timez Attack.

One benefit of working with a child one-to-one is that you get instant feedback on how easy or challenging he finds each concept.  So in Life of Fred (Edgewood) I noticed Jasper was a bit confused about the differences between rhombuses, trapeziums and parallelograms, so I set him some exercises on Study Ladder.  He loves working online, especially on specific exercises (rather than working his way through an online curriculum in a linear way – for example, Maths Whizz didn’t work so well for us for any length of time) so this is win/win.

Cordie (8, Yr4/Gr3)

math mammoth division 1 - grade 2 and 3 homeschool math curriculumCordie recently decided to take a break from Life of Fred (she was on “Farming”) to explore some other resources.  She did a few exercises from a Schofield & Sims KS2 workbook we had on the shelves and asked me to set her some “surprise” Study Ladder exercises.  One day she asked me to make her a page of clocks so she could brush up on telling the time, and another day she wanted a page of multi-digit subtraction sums.  She played around on Khan Academy for a while, watching videos on decimal place values and then setting herself some problems to solve. And she dipped into Math Mammoth’s Division 1 (filling in the answers on the iPad using the Notability app).

Following her explorations, Cordie says she’s ready to go back to more of a maths routine with Life of Fred.  Before that, though, we’re doing some times tables practice using Maria Miller’s structured drill system from Math Mammoth Multiplication 1.

I’ve looked ahead at all the Life of Fred elementary level books (up to “Jellybeans”) and they seem to cover everything on the English KS2 curriculum. As with Jasper, if Cordie needs or wants extra practice on a particular topic as we go along, there are plenty of other resources we can dip into.

Writing this post has also reminded me how much we all like Primary Grade Challenge Math which teaches mathematical thinking and problem-solving in a fun way.  We haven’t used Challenge Math in a while but I’d like to get back to using it regularly, perhaps once a week.

Isn’t it great how many fabulous homeschool maths resources are out there? There really is something to suit everyone, at every age and in every mood!

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