Monday, 30 June 2014

Magic things


 The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
W.B. Yeats

The latest theme we've been covering in Galore Park's 'Junior English' is magical worlds. Every week, I look ahead at the reading list for the next chapter and buy or borrow copies of the books I think Charlie will like. Early one morning, when I was still struggling to wake up and drink my first cup of tea, I handed him one of my secondhand purchases, 'Fairy Tales', and was rewarded with silence for the next hour. He kept picking up the book at odd intervals throughout the day and had finished it by the afternoon.

The book is written by Monty Python's Terry Jones and illustrated by Michael Foreman. It features short magical tales with a moral, such as "Katy-Make-Sure", in which a little girl is offered the chance to travel to Goblin City and get a reward from the King of the Goblins, but spends so long deliberating about the trip that eventually the goblin takes back his offer. 

Michael Rosen, former Children's Laureate, chose this collection of fairy tales as one of his five best children's stories of all time

Using the 'Junior English' textbook, Charlie and I have read "A Witch's Song" from Roald Dahl's 'The Witches'. We looked at the rhyming pattern in the poem and I explained that it was written in rhyming couplets. Then Charlie read an extract from a book called 'The Secret World of Magic' by Rosaline Kerven and answered questions on it. I reminded him to answer in proper sentences (he'd much rather not).

One day, after Charlie had finished his morning's work, we tucked ourselves up in bed and I started to read him 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. For some reason best known to himself, he has always refused to read it, but he didn't protest when I read it to him. I shall continue to read him one or two chapters a day and then we'll see if he wants to continue with the series.

Continuing the theme of magic, this morning I asked Charlie to tell me what he thought  were the key ingredients for a fairy story. He came up with: blacksmiths, princesses, princes, shops, castles, palaces, houses made of sweets, towers, forests, underwater kingdoms, fairy godmothers, giants, bad fairies, wolves, wands, hay [I think he was thinking of 'The Three Little Pigs'], stones, magic beans and magic carpets. A great list. 

Then we watched this useful clip from the BBC's Learning Zone, which is providing us with a lot of helpful material at the moment: 'Fairytales - Ingredients and Influence'.

After that, I helped Charlie to write his own fairy tale, referring to Usborne's 'Write Your Own Story Book' for help.

Using a 'story mountain' helped Charlie to see how he could plot his fairy tale.

He came up with a great idea which featured a king, a rich man, armies, a wizard, magic paper and gold. And the tale was neatly wrapped up with a moral at the end.

Charlie is still spending a lot of time painting. We have continued to refer to the Usborne Art Treasury for inspiration.

Charlie's homage to Van Gogh
His version of Monet's 'Water Lillies'
My version of Rousseau's jungle paintings (featuring a much-loved kitten we once had)

In addition to the painting and the writing, we have also found time to go swimming in a local pool (heated, this time) and to go for walks.

A walk in a local nature reserve came to an abrupt halt

Charlie has also kept up with his old school friends, meeting up with them after school and at weekends.

Later this week, we are going on a day trip up to London.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Learning maths through art

Tiles from Iran, c.1250 - 1300

After leaving Reception at school and moving up into Year One, Charlie would often complain that they didn't do much art anymore. This became more pronounced as he moved on up the school and I presume this was because the demands of the National Curriculum didn''t leave much time for the teachers to teach anything else. 

At the moment, Charlie says he wants to be an architect when he grows up, which means learning the skills of drawing will be very useful to him. But, of course, ambitions change rapidly as we mature and learn more about ourselves and the world we live in, so he may well end up as something else entirely. His desire to do art, however, seems perfectly sensible. He is simply asking to be allowed to do something which has been natural for human beings for as far back as we can know: the oldest known prehistoric art is the series of Stone Age petroglyphs discovered in two ancient caves in India and is estimated as dating from 290,000BCE.

Art fosters creativity and imagination, encourages self expression and helps with observation, spatial awareness and physical acuity, such as hand-eye co-ordination. Charlie struggles with tidy handwriting and practising his fine-motor skills can only be helpful.

In addition, studying art can lead into many other topics - which is why, this week, we have found ourselves learning about tessellation ('to tessellate: to decorate (a floor or pavement) with mosaics; to cover (a plane surface) by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping', OED). 

On Monday, Charlie chose a project from the Usborne Art Treasury which involved replicating Iranian tiles created in the Middle Ages. These tiles form a perfect pattern of stars and crosses which fit together without any gaps. The tiles shown in the photo above were made to decorate a room in a palace, but other tiles were used to decorate religious buildings.

We cut three identical squares of cardboard and overlapped them to make a star

Charlie cut out the shape of a cross

The cut-out cross

He placed the cross and star shapes onto paper and drew round them.

The really fun bit: decorating them
The first tile
Charlie used acrylic paints to decorate the tiles. Once the paintings had dried, he mixed PVA glue with silver glitter and painted it all over the surface to form a glaze. This replicated the glass-based glazes that gave the genuine Iranian tiles their glittery look.

Our tessellated tiles, now decorating Charlie's bedroom wall

One morning, we watched this introduction to tessellation.

There are several more videos on the BBC website on this subject, but we particularly enjoyed the one on shapes in the natural world.  

Charlie remembered the five-sided shape of the Pentagon in the USA, so we had a look at the photo online and read about why the building was built in such an unusual shape (it fitted the plot!).

After that, Charlie had a go at working out which shapes would tessellate.

Then he spent some time colouring in some tessellated shapes downloaded from

Earlier this week, Charlie continued working on ConquerMaths because he really wanted to earn his gold certificate. He was very proud when he achieved it. This means he has progressed from Bronze (68%) to Gold (95%) in two weeks. Yesterday, he managed to achieve his Platinum certificate, which means he'd scored 100% in all his Maths tests.

Charlie hated Maths at school. But in the past few days, he has been doing Maths without even noticing it - and enjoying it.

This morning, he played in the polygon playground on mathcats and created this:

I pointed out that some of the shapes fitted together neatly and he said, patiently, "They're tessellated, Mum." 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Artist's studio

'You can never do too much drawing.'
Jacopo Tintoretto

Charlie has set up a studio in his bedroom. He has spent hours drawing and painting in there every day. He completes his other subjects first thing (he was delighted when he earned a silver certificate for ConquerMaths), then he's free to do what he wants.

Charlie's first painting with his new paints

One of his latest drawings

I have given him a book I'd originally given to my older son several years ago, which has been collecting dust on the bookshelf: 'Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered' by Quentin Blake and John Cassidy.

Described as 'for people who want to draw but don't mind starting at the beginning', this book is not particularly concerned with teaching techniques. Instead, it has a far more ambitious aim: 'to give you the ability to sneak into the heart of your subject by going direct'. As the author says:

'One can spend weeks on a marvelous painting of a rabbit, accurate to the tiniest detail - and yet still miss its essential rabbit-ness. And then dash off a funny little sketch in a few lines - and pin that bunny's soul to the paper.'

Here are some of Charlie's drawings, alongside the great Quentin Blake's:

Last Friday, we spent a couple of hours painting ceramics at a local pottery cafe. It was very relaxing.

Charlie chose to paint a mug

First layer of paint

Decorations added

The workspace
The finished product a day later, after it had been in the kiln
And a surprise at the bottom of the mug

This week we are doing art projects from a wonderful book called The Usborne Art Treasury. Pictures to follow!

Monday, 23 June 2014


Summer swimming
With extra long sunlight hours to play with on Saturday, we took ourselves down to the oldest documented freshwater public pool in the country. Charlie dipped one toe in the water and decided it was far too cold to actually swim (he had a point, frankly), so we sat and watched my far braver friend swim several lengths in the icy water whilst we basked in the sunshine and ate dripping ice creams.

On Sunday morning, we visited the beach at Newhaven to collect Tom, who had surprised us all by suddenly agreeing to go fishing with a friend. 

On our way, we passed the ruins of what had once been a stationmaster's cottage. Originally built in the 1830s, it ended up being used by various stationmasters during the 19th and 20th centuries. The local villagers of Tide Mills and the stationmaster were cleared out of the area at the beginning of World War II and the cottage was later damaged during military training. It was demolished at the end of the war.

Signpost for the stationmaster's cottage - now derelict
The ruins of the old cottage
We followed the path until we reached the shingle beach, which lies between Newhaven and Seaford.

After stopping to chat and admire the fish that the boys had caught (shown here by friend's Dad), Tom indicated that he was now anxious to go home.

He was pink cheeked, flushed from the sunshine and from his success. It was a real confidence boost for him to go on an outing like this and Charlie shared in his delight, recognising what a big step it had been for him.

We walked back across the shingle, treading carefully around tiny red Bird's-Foot Trefoil and Yellow-Horned poppies. The poppies look so fragile, but they are tougher than they look, weathering storms and the constantly shifting shingle. They seemed like an apt metaphor.