Thursday, 23 February 2012

Centre of the cell

Its taken me ages to get around to writing this, but in half term we went to a vicious venoms and poisonous parasites workshop at centre of the cell in London.

The day began with a train journey into London, or should I say Luton, where I got kicked off the train for having a cheap ticket. Turns out I'm not allowed to ride on virgin trains if I have an FCC ticket, much to my sisters amusement.

Anyway, we made it to centre of the cell, which was fantastic. They really do cater to all ages, with questions simple enough for a four year old to understand and knowledge deep enough to hit GCSE requirements and more.

The first section was called a 'pod show' and you get inside a pod which is shaped like an 8 day old embryo.

There are huge screens on the ceiling where they show videos at various points through the show. In the centre of the pod is a 'nucleus' which contains tons of touch screen interactive games. They're done simply enough that Will was easily able to identify a gene for deafness, raise a colony of bacteria, treat severe burns and even watch a simulation of himself from birth to now.

I was worried that the lights and sound might be too much for him, but they whole place (including lighting) has been specially designed to be an optimum learning environment and epilepsy safe. It was incredible to see Will's ability to concentrate and focus improve so dramatically being in a low stimulation environment. It's definitely made me more sympathetic to him wanting the curtains closed during the day when he is doing copywork. The light is just too bright for him to focus.

We then moved on to a lecture room where we got to see an experiment of what happens to blood when venom is added, and learn a bit about different venomous animals. Did you know that a jellyfish has 24 eyes? Me neither, but I do now!

We were also amazed to find out that slow loris's are one of the most deadly animals. They lick their elbows (where they secrete poisons) just before they bite you, which makes their saliva deadly toxic. Poison arrow frogs on the other hand are not actually poisonous at all. They eat poisonous insects, then excrete the poisons through their skin, so they are only ever as dangerous as the prey they have recently found.

There were some craft activities and interactive learning packs for older children, but the toddlers were happy just pottering about looking at everything and making bracelets out of 'DNA' beads.

Then as we headed home we stopped in a bakery at St Pancras and bought some really extravagant cupcakes.

We brought them home and had just enough time for a tea party with all the teddies before bed.

A fantastic day out which I hope to repeat again soon.

To see all of our photos, check out our 'travels' blog.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


We love Readeez in our house. If you don't know what a Readeez is, you should check out this video.

I mean, seriously how cute, yet stealthily educational, is that?

Cosmo's personal favourite is 'Geometreez' where the little girl, 'Isobel' performs various acrobatics to demonstrate rotating on various axes.

There's readeez to help with general phonics recognition and frequent sight words for smaller children with reading and english grammar for slightly older kids. The videos use music and 'syllable sync' (where the words pop up syllable by syllable as they are spoken and sung) to help children learn.

I love this. How much easier was it to learn the alphabet, months of the year or even the periodic table when you had a song that went with it?

And then there's just some really cute videos that my children love like the lullaby 'Tonight and every night'.

The great thing about Readeez is that they don't dumb it down too much. There are long words, used in context, that my children learn to recognize and use without being concerned by them.

If you want to just watch a few readeez there are a tonne on youtube, but I recommend downloading them for a couple of reasons.

i) somebody works really hard to produce this excellent and innovative resource and I like to support that. I respect that they give so much content away for free and think it's nice to give back

ii) they are excellent value, especially if you by the bundle. Three half hour movies and a CD of songs is excellent for what ends up costing about £15.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Free Copy Work Practice

Cosmo is about ready for copy work now, so we started out yesterday. The first line took nearly thirty minutes (he's quite the perfectionist) but as he got into the swing of things, he managed to complete the next three lines in seven minutes.

He's so proud of himself for being able to write a full sentence.

If you want to start copy work, you don't need to spend a lot of money on handwriting practice books. We are using a website called Handwriting Worksheets Maker (which is free) where you can choose the style of worksheet (Print, D'Nealian or Cursive), dots, dashes, hollow letter styles and whether you want them to trace the letters or just have the starting dots.

You then type in your words or sentences that you'd like, we're using his memory verses so that it's familiar, and it's done. Super easy, totally customisable and free; what more could you want?

For best results, remember to set your printer to landscape mode.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Swimming Break Through!

This is not Cosmo swimming
It's a generic picture I stole off google because we're not allowed to take pictures at the swimming pool. :0(

Anyway, we had a major swimming breakthrough today. My initial frustration at him not staying through a whole lesson subsided when I spoke to some other parents of ASD children and realised that I had under appreciated how far he'd come.

I didn't have to remove him from the pool because he was having a melt down, he calmly told his teacher he'd had enough and got out of the pool. Those were some great communication skills that he hasn't always been so great at using.

Anyway, this week was the real breakthrough, because he stayed in the pool for the entire lesson. Not only that, he swam across the pool four times without holding on to his teacher.

The pool is a really challenging place for Will, sensory perception issues mean he finds the echoey sounds stressful. He is fairly confident in the water, but the class environment is stressing him to the point that he clings to his teacher the entire time he's in the pool, until today.

One of the things that really helped was that his teacher took the time to send all the other children across the pool (at least half way) until she set him off. Seeing this made me think that some of the other parents had been right; ASD children learn to swim much more easily in a 1:1 tutor session.

But isn't that true of most children? And most subjects?
And how important is it, really, that he learns to swim quickly?

He will learn eventually, and right now in really happy to see him interacting with the other children and getting more comfortable in a class environment.

Another little boy gave him a hand on the last metre or so when he started paddling backwards by mistake, and he was so happy about it. I really love seeing him so excited and making connections with new kids.

It's totally fine if it takes years instead of months to learn to swim.

We're just going to enjoy the process.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Our Top 10 Things to do in the Snow

Okay, so yesterday I told you we took the day off to play in the snow.
We are doing pretty much the same thing today, but it's still pretty educational, so here is our list of fun, but productive, things to do on a snow day.

  1. Talk about precipitation - obvious, but I thought I'd get it out of the way first. We talked about different types of precipitation and a little on the water cycle.
  2. Talk about the structure of ice and how it behaves under pressure - this was a recap for us as we looked at it only a short time ago during our rock candy experiments. Skating on ice is a fantastic visual example of ice under pressure.
  3. Talk about freezing points/melting points - and temperature in general. Cosmo is very excited to be able to tell people it must be warmer than 0c because he can see that the ice is melting into puddles.
  4. Sledge - but use lots of different things to sledge on. Discuss which are best and what materials/properties make them good for sledging. If your kids are a little older you could do some physics experiments, timing them, measuring the distance, working out velocity etc... but mine are still a little young for that.
  5. Run around and throw snow at each other - it's good exercise and improves hand eye co-ordination as well as helping with judging distances.
  6. Build an igloo and/or snow cave - We didn't have enough snow to do it this time, but next time we definitely will. It's the perfect opportunity to talk about another culture and about the insulating properties of the snow.
  7. Make Snow Ice-Cream - there's some great recipes here. I'm pretty sure following a recipe counts as educational.
  8. Make Snow Candy - Get yourself some maple syrup (approximately one cup) add some sugar (half a cup-ish) and boil it. Pour it over some (clean) snow and you have made little snow candies. Kids love them, but be careful, super hot, super sticky, syrup and kids is not a great combo. The candies however, YUMMY! I'm not entirely sure about the educational value aside from minor measuring, but it's still fun to do.
  9. Look at snow flakes close up - preferably with a microscope. Talk about their individuality and design.
  10. Track Animals - this was by far and away Cosmo's favourite activity for the snow. We looked at animal footprints and tried to guess what animals could have made them. We found; rabbits, dogs, birds, people, deer and cats.
So what did you get up to in the snow?

This post is linked up at No Ordinary Blog Hop

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snow day


Church was cancelled, but honestly I don't believe there is a family in the world (or at least the UK) who doesn't cancel whatever they had planned for a frolick on the first day of snow.

We headed over to Stowe school and landscape gardens, where they have some perfectly landscaped gardens for sledging.

After vast amounts of experimentation, we found a tray from the dining hall to be the fastest sled.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Mr Bloom's Nursery

As we are studying plants and trees in honour of Tu Bishvat, we have started looking out for all things gardening related.

Yesterday we went to the garden centre to buy pots and compost for our new fruit trees which will arrive at some point next week. We are getting two apples (braeburn and golden delicious), a plum, a pear and a cherry, with a blackcurrant and a redcurrant bush too. Cosmo chose which pots we wanted and worked out which compost was the cheapest (not by weight, just by packet - but there wasn't much in it so I let it slide).

Then we came home and it was time for everyone to nap. Cosmo has been a little unwell recently (in large part down to the fact that he hates swimming and the stress of the lessons is wearing him out for the next few days - we are evaluating whether to continue) so we have been having more 'cuddle time' in a blanket on the sofa whilst Lychee naps. He doesn't like to admit to needing a nap, but often drifts off if I put something on iPlayer.

That's when I discovered Mr Blooms Nursery.
We've seen it before, but only ever one episode (weirdly iplayer just had one about ladybugs that was on all the time and nothing else) but when we clicked on to it yesterday, there were LOADS of episodes, and they're pretty educational too, especially for someone studying plants and trees.

Cosmo learned how to make 'nettle tea' as a treat for his plants, and that horse manure helps give them the nutrients to grow properly, as well as that they need sunlight for energy. None of these are entirely new concepts, but it helps with reinforcement of learning, and repetition at this age is key to absorbing information.

So if you want to watch a couple too, in no particular order, here are our favourites: