Friday, 13 November 2015

Autumn leaves and bark rubbings

 An invitation to the park for bark rubbing and other Autumn fun was gratefully received this week as it's been on my to do list for a while.

Our local park is perfect for learning about trees as it has a fantastic collection of common and unusual trees, from very common Ash trees to a very uncommon female Maidenhair Tree (complete with fruits that smell like manure, hence why female trees are rarely planted).

The kids had great fun making bark rubbings and playing in the fallen leaves, then made a leafy meteorite picture.

When we got home Ollie and Toby spent a lot of time examining the leaves we had collected.  Details we just hadn't noticed, such as the patterns of veins and the distribution of colours became very apparent under the microscope.

The next day we started up a tree scrap book, adding in our bark rubbings and any leaves we had collected, and looking up the Latin names of some I didn't know.  It was a good opportunity to explain why Latin names are useful - we had found two types of cedar in the park, but they looked completely different and were from different families - one a Cedrus, the other a Thuja, so it was a good example of how we can use Latin names to tell us about plants which have the same common name.

 We made an index page, with Ollie and I each doing some of the writing so he got his writing practice in without it being a complete hand ache to him.  Finally I made a list of what we had found, with things we needed for our book and stuck it in my bag - so now when we're out next time we know we need to look for certain leaves.

This kind of project can grow and grow, with tree outline images and pictures of flowers or seeds added over time.  A really nice way to encourage kids to really look at and feel the trees around them.

Whizz, Pop, Bang! Science magazine for kids

This week we had a really exciting opportunity to review a new Science Magazine for children.  It was perfect timing as Ollie is getting too old really for the magazines he's had previously (e.g. Octonauts), but the alternatives we have tried (Nat Geo Kids and Horrible Histories) weren't a good fit for him just at the moment either given his current skills, interests, and knowledge base.

Enter Whizz, Pop, Bang! Magazine.  The first things I noticed were the quality of the paper and printing (nice and sturdy for repeated enjoyment) and the lack of adverts
(the boys spend longer drooling over toy adverts than they do on the activities in other mags).  The next bonus point was for quantity of content - between the text to read, printed activities and experiments to conduct we should get at least several weeks of use out of each magazine (contrast with a maximum of a couple of hours from our usual mags).  Finally the price was a pleasant surprise.  At £34.99 for a year's subscription of 12 issues, that works out at around £2.95 an issue, (again contrasting with the mags we got previously which were between £2.99 and £3.99 when bought in store, although perhaps cheaper on subscription).  I almost forgot - there are also no cheap plastic toys and bags of sweets attached to the cover. The boys and I disagree on whether or not this is a good thing.

As with other kids magazines, the age range that the magazine suits depends on how much parental time you have to spend with your kids, with younger ones needing it to be read to them and older ones being more independent.  The age range seems wider than other mags though, which is helpful with more than one child in the household.  Little brother Toby has been getting just as much pleasure from participating in the experiments as Ollie has, and even came up with novel observations of his own that were not on the experiment plan (i.e. that the ice cube in oil didn't melt anything like as quickly as the one in water at the same temperature).  The only place where age would be an issue for us is on some of the paper based activities, but I headed that off at the pass by photocopying the activities on my printer/scanner so Ollie could do them as the instructions suggested, while Toby drew over them as he saw fit.

 We liked the mixture of practical activities to try in amongst the text.  There were even opportunities to submit results to the magazine for a chance to win prizes.  We have only had time to try out a couple of experiments so far, but the results of the shaving foam marbled planet were just beautiful, and the density experiment inspired Ollie so much that he insisted I filmed him explaining the results.  There's loads of great kitchen chemistry experiments available online, but I really liked the way this magazine not only set out how to do them clearly and simply, but also explained the science behind them in clear and simple terms too.  Very often
 science activities for kids miss out on explaining why the thing is interesting from a scientific point of view, or what the purpose is.  I also liked the way that each theme was no more than a few pages long, so the kids get a taste of lots of different topics, some briefly, others in more depth but with plenty of variety throughout.  It really supports what I'm trying to do with the boys in encouraging them to see that everything is science.  I think a printed list of experiments within the mag with ingredients and equipment needed would be useful though so I could get everything we need before I start reading - the kids were a bit frustrated we couldn't do the marble run roller coaster 'right now!' because I didn't have any pipe lagging to hand.

The science news was inspiring and relevant to the kids, and I liked the pages in each magazine which feature the life and discoveries of a different scientist each month, including female ones - a group who traditionally have been left out of the history books.  Having interviews with working scientists included in the magazines was a really good way of showing a range of different careers available and again contributed to the idea that everything is science - including making chocolate.  There's even a section on the back page to add to my store of terrible science and nature jokes.

Kids are natural scientists and engineers and often they lose this as they get older and exposed to a misconception from school that everything to be discovered has already been discovered, or that science is boring and irrelevant.  Resources such as this magazine are a vital way to address the issue and keep our science mad kids interested. It's also desperately needed as a resource at Primary School age where science is woefully under-represented in the curriculum. I think the usefulness extends to many kids in the early years of secondary school too, since when I taught 11 and 12 year olds they mostly had no science knowledge and this would be a good way to introduce it in a fun way.  As a resource for family learning, whether as part of a schooled child's leisure time or a home educated child's 'school' time it's equally valuable.  Finally, the issues contain seasonally themed information and activities, which all adds to the fun. I'm grateful to the folk behind it for putting so much hard work in producing it and getting it into print.  I will definitely be subscribing for the boys.

NB: I requested the magazine for product review for my blog because I saw an advert on Facebook and it looked like a great concept.  I'm really happy that the producers took me up on my offer and sent me all four currently in print as the magazine has far exceeded my expectations of a kids magazine.  No financial incentive involved.  Opinions and pictures are all my own.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Exploring Art at the Jerwood

 Introducing children to art is a really fun thing to do.  It doesn't have to be all serious.  I don't feel the need to overload small kids with names, dates, deep philosophical meaning. 

But what I can do is go along to art exhibitions and say, 'I like that picture over there by an artist called Lowri.  He's painted the seaside and I like the colours'.  I can ask my little art critic to pick something they like and tell me about it.  How do the colours make them feel?  What time of year is it?
 One of our local galleries is the Jerwood in Hastings.  As locals we get reduced rate entry, so for all four of us that's £6 currently.  This makes it reasonable to go to a few times a year, and worth repeat visits as they change exhibitions and have new displays.  The children's activity sheets available for free enable us to play treasure hunt with selected pictures, and guides us through questions and activities to get us thinking about the pieces, such as making a self portrait.  The gallery also runs kids activity days, which we've enjoyed in the past but which can be really busy, so it's nice to go at quieter times too.

Sometimes it's good to get a different perspective on a picture, as Toby demonstrated by spinning on the floor as he described the contents of one lino cut still life.

 Other times it's good to put yourself in the perspective of the artist.  Ollie here is examining a picture of a boy with a cat, and drawing a portrait of himself with his hamster.

It was the last day of an exhibition 'Lowry by the sea', which was really good to broaden my own horizons as I have only ever seen his pictures in books and they were all of people in cities. To see seaside images, and trials with water colour and felt tip pens was really interesting.

Ollie enjoyed the activity that called for him to add boats to a Lowry picture of the sea.  He took an interest this time in the medium that the pictures were made from, with the wide pallet knife marks in an oil painting capturing his attention.  He said it looked like a puzzle.  When I explained how it was made he requested some oil paints to try.  I've never used them myself, I think a trip to the discount bookshop that sells art supplies is needed so we can try it out.

The boys especially like the abstract and na├»ve art styles. I think seeing pictures like the ones they produce at home up on the walls of a real gallery inspires them and gives them confidence.  Finding styles that kids can relate to is the trick to opening a lifelong enjoyment of art.  Instead of looking at art as something grown ups do, that they could never achieve, they can see that they themselves are every bit as good as the pictures on the walls. 

 We spent the evening walking on the beach and watching with great excitement the slow drama unfolding of a fishing boat being pushed down to the sea ready for it's night's work.

The boys clapped and cheered when it finally launched, and seeing how much they liked it I took a couple of photos so they could look at them again, perhaps use them to make their own pictures.

Art is all around us, in the light shining through Autumn leaves thrown in the air, or the sculptures the kids make by balancing piles of pebbles.  It isn't just in a gallery, but sometimes it's nice to go and see that type of art too.