skittles rainbow

Easy Home Science Experiments You Can Do With Your Kids


How do you get kids interested in science? Make it fun and hands on. These science experiments are guaranteed to get your kids excited and you don’t need any science knowledge to do them. Just a bit of common sense and a few household ingredients.

Cornflour Magic

You will need:  1 cup of cornflour (it can be any size), 1 cup of water (it has to be the same cup as the one you use to measure the cornflour), 1 large bowl, a spoon,  and food colour (optional)

Add cornflour into the bowl. Add the water and food colour. Mix and play around with the mixture.

  1.  Scrunch up the cornflour into your hands and see if you pick it all up and roll it into a ball. It will become a ball and look like a solid as long as you keep moving the ball between your hands.

  2. Now keep your hands still with the cornflour ball still in your hands. What happens?

  3. Dip your finger into the cornflour mixture, it should be a liquid. You can stir it gently and it look and feel wet.

  4. Stir it really fast. What happens?

  5. Punch the cornflour mixture with your fist. Did it splash?

You can do this on a large-scale, watch this video with the same mixture in a swimming pool.

Skittles Rainbow

You will need: 1 packet of Skittles, a large flat white plate, some water

Place the skittles in a large circle around the edge of the plate. Add water into the middle of the circle but don’t drown the skittles. Do this carefully so that the skittles do not move. Then keep still and watch what happens.

  1. Repeat the experiment with hot water. Do you see a difference?

  2. Repeat using M and M sweets.

  3. Repeat but make a square shape with the skittles.

skittles rainbow

Elephant’s Toothpaste

You will need: 1 sachet of instant dried yeast, 1 small plastic water bottle, 120 ml of hydrogen peroxide (6% strength), a large squirt of washing up liquid, 3 tablespoons of water, food colouring.

You should have most of the ingredients at home, except for the hydrogen peroxide. You can buy this from any chemist. Hydrogen peroxide has a shelf life and over time it changes to water. So don’t use an old bottle that’s been lying around your house for months.

If you do not have safety goggles, then an adult should do this part.  Hydrogen peroxide can irritate your eyes and skin and safety precautions are written on the bottle. Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the empty water bottle. Then add the washing up liquid and food colouring. You can stir the mixture gently. Now place the bottle in a large deep tray or in the sink as it can get messy.

Children can do this part of the experiment. In a separate container, mix the dried yeast and water. Then quickly pour this mixture into the bottle. Do this quickly if you want some drama.

  1.  Try different food colours.

  2. hydrogen peroxide is available in different strengths, try the same experiment with different strengths.

  3. Try different shapes containers, the longer and narrower the container the quicker the foam rises up and out.

Here’s a video of my experiment.

 

Easy Ways To Help Your Child With Handwriting.


The national curriculum has put a greater emphasis on cursive handwriting. Children in year R are being taught how to write joined up and it’s worrying many parents because they don’t know how to help. I’ve collected some “gems” over the years and have used some of these resources with my daughter. This post gives you easy ays to help your child with hand writing.

What is cursive handwriting?

‘Cursive’ or ‘joined-up’ handwriting is any style of writing where letters are joined to make writing faster.

Make it Fun!

If we can make the physical process of writing – handwriting – enjoyable from the start, children are more likely to see themselves as ‘writers’. If the physical process is unpleasant then there is a danger that everything associated with it – spelling, writing stories will also be unpleasant.

Pre-writing Activities

Handwriting is a skill which takes time to learn, just like using a knife and fork or tying your shoelaces. So activities like colouring in, using scissors, anything involving the hands are beneficial.

The Dadlab Youtube channel has some great videos on practicing handwriting with children. This video is a Montessouri method where the child writes the letter in a tray of granulated sugar. It’s so easy to do and great fun.

If you do have a whiteboard, you can write and then get your child to rub out what you have written by tracing over it with a finger. I have done this at Kip McGrath and its so easy to do. Here is a short video.

For a more structured approach try pre-writing activities which involve tracing shapes and lines. I print these out and laminate them so that children can write over them with a dry wipe pen, rub out and write again. Senteacher.org has lots of printable resources you could use.

These worksheets from Activity Village are lovely.

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Once your child has mastered simple worksheets, they can move onto pictures. The idea is to give plenty of opportunity to hold a pencil correctly and control the pencil.

 Try this lovely owl picture from the Scholastic website.

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Then there’s these pre writing worksheets which don’t use dotted lines at all.

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Back Chaining

Start with your child’s name. This technique is called “back-chaining”.

Write the whole name first, and then write it again underneath but leave off the very last letter for your child to complete. Then write it again, this time leaving off the last two letters and so on, until the whole name is written independently by your child. Doing it this way means there is always a correct model for the student to copy, and you are breaking down your child’s name into manageable chunks.

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Back- Chaining a technique to help your child learn to write their name.

Starting Points

Starting points are very important- mark them with a dot or a star, and make sure your child is forming the letters in the right direction.

This worksheet from kidstv123.com marks the starting point with a star so the child knows where to start.

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I make the children say what they see before they start writing so for example an “m” is a stick and tunnel and a tunnel.

a – round the roundabout and then straight down

b – it’s important to get this right as many children confuse their b’s and d’s. Talk about the letter as if you are describing a movement rather than a shape. Start at the top and go down the ladder. When you get to the bottom go up the ladder a little bit and then go round the roundabout. You may need to explain that the roundabout comes after the ladder.

c – is a curly caterpillar

d- same as the letter “b” but explain that the roundabout/ball comes before the ladder.

e – across the bridge, over the top and down and round.

l – long ladder

r – one-armed robot

Teach similarly formed letters in groups, rather than working alphabetically, so, for instance, “c” and “a” may be taught together as may h, m, n and r.

These workseets from the measured mom are an excellent way of writing numbers. They show clearly where the starting points are and each worksheets covers one number. The numbers are in different sizes too which also helps with pencil control.

Get your child to practice their name by making your own name writing worksheet. Just print the worksheet, and put it into a clear plastic pocket. Children can write on the clear plastic pocket and wipe clean easily if you use dry wipe markers.

To Trace or Not To Trace?

Tracing letters instead of writing from scratch is easier but I would only do that for children who have good pencil control. At Kip McGrath we prefer to start with tracing as it gives the children a template. Tracing improves fine motor skills and should be used initially. Stop tracing once your child can write all the letters of the alphabet confidently.

The following websites do some great tracing worksheets.

SEN Teacher Flash Card Printer – select a word list suitable for your child, select font size 4, select a dotted font and change to a plain border. Print, laminate and use.

Handwriting worksheets – particularly good for making cursive handwriting worksheets.

Soft Schools – easy to use and prints out the handwriting guide lines too.

Super Teacher Worksheets – child friendly worksheets generated, a few are free to try.

Donna Young has a whole section on handwriting resources and what I like abut this website is that they are arranged in order of difficulty.

4 Key Strategies To Help Your Child With The 11 Plus


Is your child sitting the 11 plus this year? Are you feeling overwhelmed by your child’s forthcoming 11 plus exams? Here are key tips to help your child prepare.

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Helping Your Child With The 11 Plus

There is a growing trend in my town. Since starting my education centre 12 years ago, I have seen an exponential increase in children applying to get a place in grammar school. Grammar schools have grown in popularity since the last recession and parents are now more aware of school standards.

The thought is “if I can’t afford to send my child to a private school, I’ll send him to a grammar school even if it is 30 miles away”.

1.  Don’t Start Too Late

Cramming for exams doesn’t work and it’s a short-term solution. You should start preparation at least one year before the exam so ideally at the start of year 5. If you leave it too late it will build unnecessary pressure on you and your child. I find that children who start early also adopt a good work ethic. They get into the habit of regular daily study on top of their school work and these skills will be invaluable at grammar school.

2.  Build a Good Foundation

Grammar schools take the top 5% of students.  For a child to have a good chance of passing the 11 plus exam, I recommend that the child should be in the top set and the top table in both English and Maths.  This alone is not enough, children must be keen readers.  Reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge.  General knowledge cannot be learnt by reading an encyclopaedia, rather it is learnt through experience or through reading around the subject.

3. Involve Your Child In Every Step

A child who is included in decision-making will be more willing to put the work in. It reduces the burden for you too.

  • looking at the websites of all the grammar schools you want to see

  • going to school open days

  • choosing the grammar school

  • knowing what is going to come up the exams – is it just verbal reasoning or is it more?

  • taking charge of preparation; your child should be organised and know what to revise

  • teach your child to mark the practice questions and tests

  • teach your child to monitor and record scores

4. Use a Variety of Resources

Use books. The popular books are by Bond, CGP and  Letts.

Use worksheets. You can download practice questions by searching “practice 11 plus worksheets”. Worksheets are better in some ways because once you have downloaded them, you can print them as many times as you need.

Use online sites. Online sites like 11plus.co.uk provide online practice tests and exercises and also do mock tests.   Wordbuilder is an excellent site for vocabulary practice.

Use practice papers. When doing practice tests, first focus on ensuring that your child answers every question without a time limit. Work on accuracy and technique and let your child familiarise themselves with the different question types.  You don’t want your child reading the instructions on how to answer each question in an exam situation, they should just start working it out. After that you can start doing practice tests under timed conditions.

Play games and puzzles. This blog article talks about how you can still practice verbal reasoning skills to keep your child interested.

Experts say that you cannot prepare a child for grammar school because they either have it or they don’t. I’m not here to argue that point, I’m just here to help you help your child. Whether they get into grammar school or not, it’s the journey that matters more than the outcome.

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The 5 Tell-Tale Signs That Your Child Is Struggling At School


So many parents feel detached from what’s going on at school; and helpless as a result. They don’t really know how things are going, and if they do, there’s often very little can do to influence matters.child-school-struggle

The trouble is: this stuff is important. Really important. What your child is doing NOW is likely to have a massive effect on their future. Do you know how well they’re doing right now?

So here are the 5 tell-tale signs that your child is struggling at school:

1.  Hates Reading Aloud

If your child hates reading aloud it could indicate that they lack confidence in themselves or their reading ability. It might be that they don’t understand what they’re reading, it could be that they’ve had a bad experience when it comes to reading at school. Whatever the reasoning, a reticence to read aloud can definitely point towards a struggle. Look at your child’s body language when she reads, I notice children fidgeting, rocking, rubbing their eyes, clearing their throat needlessly and even whispering rather than reading aloud.

2.  Guesses At Words

If they ARE reading aloud, but they guess at words, it could be that they’re struggling to decode the word and understand what they are reading. Children will see the first letter and guess what it might be, and generally make wild guesses if the book is too hard. In younger children, they don’t even look at the first letter of the word and will choose a word they are familiar with. This can be a big problem at school when the onus is often the child to learn by self-discovery. If you find your child guessing at words there’s a chance that they’re behind and struggling to read material for their age group.

3.  Getting Heated

If your normally placid child suddenly starts becoming more aggressive or heated, there’s a very good chance that something is wrong. It’s almost unheard of for a child to just become aggressive for no reason (particularly a child at primary school age), so generally when it happens, something is bothering them – it could well be their studies at school.

4.  Works Hard, But Gets Mediocre Marks

One of the clearest signs that your child is struggling is when they seem to put a lot of effort in, but still struggle to get a good return on that work. This could indicate that the way they’re being taught at school doesn’t suit them, or that they’re behind the average for their age group.

5.  Takes Ages To Finish Simple Homework Assignments

If your child is taking ages to finish a simple piece of homework – or the dreaded “learning log”, they may well be finding the work too hard or it might be that they are struggling to motivate themselves to complete the piece of work. Either way, there’s an issue there, so if you feel like the work should be completed much more quickly than it is getting done, it’s worth finding out why that’s the case.

Hopefully now you’re in a better position to work out whether your child is struggling at school. If you feel like they are, and you’d like a professional opinion to help you decide what to do, we’d love to talk – call us on 01582 402225 now.

Raising Tomorrow’s Champions


After seeing the remarkable achievements of team GB in Olympics 2012, it made me think about what it takes to make a champion and whether it is possible to transfer these “champion-making” skills to the classroom.  As a parent and a teacher, what can I do to make sure that children can achieve up to and if not, beyond their potential.

What qualities does a champion have?  Is it down to natural talent or is it due to sheer hard work?

There is no magic formula, but the key ingredients are:

Passion and Enthusiasm

High achievers love what they do, and have a deep respect for it.  Whether it’s a sport like Tennis or whether it’s a science project, they will absorb themselves into it.  I’m not a champion, but I love Chemistry, and I have such a passion for it that I see chemistry everywhere.  I see car number plates as the elements of the periodic table and I see hexagons and benzene rings.  Find out what your child likes, what they have a passion for and allow them to follow it. 

Hard Work

Even if someone has superior genes, it’s not enough to get to the top.  Champions and high achievers actually enjoy working hard, and constantly push themselves to achieve more.  In fact, if they are in a situation in which is too “easy” for them, then they will soon get bored and get out.  Striving and struggling and working to the extreme limit is what they thrive on.  After a bad test result, they are more likely to analyse the test in detail and revise twice as hard to improve.  Mo Farah, the winner of the 10,000 metre race, trained 120 miles every week without fail.  Children need to see how much hard work goes into making a champion.  Show children how much it really takes to make a champion, the hours of hard work, the many failures and the lessons learned.

Focus

Champions are extremely focussed and never take their eye off the target.  I’ve seen this in many athletes in the Olympics, and when an athlete loses concentration, they lose the game.  Being focussed is a fundamental skill for children to learn.  It’s easier to focus when there is a target to aim for, so whatever task a child has to do, give them a target.  Target driven learning is much more successful. 

Ambition and High Aims

Champions know what they want and they aim high.  Aiming high allows them to visualise success, and it drives them.  But just having ambition is not enough.  You will find that Champions have a main target but also lots of min-targets and goals.   They adhere to a strict timetable and nothing can get in their way.  So if your child wants to climb Mount Everest, then let him have those dreams.  It may seem like a pipe dream to you, but don’t discourage your child.  Instead help and encourage him to take one step at a time remembering to give rewards for small achievements.

A Love of Competition

Champions are not afraid of losing a game or playing or racing against someone who is better than them.  They see competition as part of the struggle to get to the top.  They use competitions as opportunities to learn and improve and to gauge their success.  Encourage your child to be more competitive.

By competing, they learn how to:

  • work under pressure

  • how to stay focussed

  • how to handle things when they don’t go their way

  • how to perform in front of other people

The journey to excellence begins with a belief and an attitude that says “no matter what happens, I will and I can do it”.  I believe that once a child has this in their heart, then anything is possible.  What do you believe?

The Dos and Don’ts When Helping Your Child With Homework


It’s exam season and most children in school are doing tests or exams. Almost every parent knows what it feels like to know that their child has a test the following morning and their child is not prepared. Just this last week, I have taken double the amount of calls I usually take to put worried parents’ minds at ease. Homework is a common cause of arguments in homes and we’ve all fallen into that trap where parents nag about homework and children ignore……

Does your child expect you to help them with homework? Have you ever done your child’s homework for them because you thought it was too hard? And how do you tread that fine line between helping your child with homework and interfering/doing the homework for them?

Homework has many purposes; the main one I think is to re-enforce what has been learnt in school. It teaches children how to work independently and finally it teaches them to be responsible.

At my centre, we give homework for all of the above reasons and our policy is to allow the children to do their homework without ANY intervention from parents. Parents are encouraged to check that the homework is done and that it is done to a suitable standard, but not to sit with their child while the homework is being done. If a parent has to intervene, then we ask them to highlight or mark the questions they helped with so that we are aware of any areas of difficulty.

Sometimes parents don’t even realise that they are helping. Take the following scenario for example:

Child: Mum I can’t do this question.

Mum: I can’t help you, but I will read out the question for you. The question says “Katie has 5 apples and Tom has 6 apples, how many apples is that altogether?”. So Katie has 5 apples, can you picture that in your brain?

Child: Yes.

Mum: Good. And Tom has 6 apples, can you picture that?

Child: Good. Now work out how much that is altogether.

Without even realising the parent had broken down this question into simpler words and steps.

When parents do help, then it can cause many problems:

1. The parents try to teach the child their way.

The way that you and I learnt how to do simple arithmetic is totally different to the way it is taught now. For example, the traditional method of adding up is to add in columns, but many schools use the “partitioning” method to teach addition. If your child has been taught partitioning and you are trying to teach them the traditional “column” method (maybe because you think it’s simpler), then you could end up confusing your child. Confusion can lead to mistakes, which can lead to loss of confidence. So ask your child how they work things out at school. Use the method they use at school first and if your child is confident with it, then you can teach your method.

2. The parents have to learn all about the topic first.

This takes time and it is difficult to know what the expectations are. In such cases, the parent’s anxiety can spread to the child. If you don’t know about the topic, then don’t use search engines to gather information so that you can help your child. It’s better to help your brainstorm what they know about the topic and start from there. Teach them how to look up information and develop their research skills instead so that they are the ones looking things up on search engines and not you.

3. The children start to rely on help from parents.

Some children are reluctant to ask their teacher for help at school so they will ask mum or dad because it’s much easier. So a shy child may not have understood what she was doing in class earlier that day, she didn’t ask for help from the teacher and therefore waited until she got home to get mum to explain it better. Encourage your child to ask for help from the teacher first. Be firm and resist the urge to help, and that way, if they don’t get help from you, they are more likely to ask in school.

In contrast, I think that teachers should only set homework that they know the child will be able to do. It mustn’t be too easy either. I have often changed the planned homework at the last minute because I knew that the child was not confident enough to do it by themselves at home.

4. The children learn that at the first sign of trouble, mum or dad will bail them out.

Children need to take responsibility for their own learning. The homework belongs to the child and should be completed by the child. Some children need re-assurance and there’s no harm in explaining how to do the homework so that the child can get started. One parent told me that when her daughter was doing her maths homework, she asked for help. The homework was on long multiplication which involves many steps and so, the mother sat down with her daughter and wrote down all the steps involved. She then sat there until the daughter worked out the second problem correctly. Then she decided to leave the room and within seconds, her daughter said “mum this is too hard, I’m stuck”! The mother still left the room and the daughter completed the rest by herself – CORRECTLY.

5. Parents end up nagging and bullying their children into doing homework.

This can lead to resentment and sets homework in a negative light.

2011 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

4 Games to Help With Verbal Reasoning


If you are helping your child prepare for the 11+ verbal reasoning tests, then try the following games to put in a bit of fun into your schedule.  Your child won’t even realise that they are learning skills to pass the 11+ exam.

1. Challenging crosswords – give children exposure to lots of words and therefore can improve spellings.  They encourage children to use dictionaries and encyclopaedia’s but with the added benefit of being fun.  You can play online here.

2. Suduko is a number puzzle game that children as young as 5 can do.  For younger children you can make up grids similar to these.  Sudoku improves analytical thinking in children, it teaches them elimination and logical thinking.

3. Scrabble – increases the vocabulary of a child. It teaches spelling skills to children.  It enhances the mathematical skills in a child and shows us how adding one new letter can change a word or the entire meaning of a word.  It helps develop critical thinking and teaches problem solving skills.  It helps in developing an improved memory and concentration.  Here’s a great website for playing Scrabble online.

I use scrabble tiles to help children with anagram type questions.  Start with giving the child just 3 tiles (one must be a vowel) and ask to make as many words as possible.  Then move up to 4 tiles and so on.  Children need to be taught how to work out new words in a systematic way rather than just randomly putting the letters in order to see if they make sense.  This skill of doing things logically and in sequence is a fundamental skill for verbal reasoning questions.

4. Chess – Chess is one of the best games that will make children  think of different strategies to achieve victory.  It improves concentration and memory and teaches children how to solve problems.  Research has shown that it significantly improve mathematical ability.  Please read this article for more benefits.

But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, let us do the work for you.  Book your child for a free assessment and let us take care of things.

Using Lists as a Teaching Tool


I am constantly bombarded by busy parents complaining that they never have enough time to sit down and help their kids with whatever they are struggling with at school.  Out of all the activities you can do with your kids, I have chosen making lists as one of the easiest to do.  Below are ways in which you can use lists as a teaching and learning opportunity:

Make lists.  Making lists is easy because you dont have to write in sentences, and you can choose the number of items on the list.

ENGLISH

  1. If your child needs to improve vocabulary, ask her to make a list of words she could use instead of “nice” or “big” or “said”.

  2. List 10 questions you would ask your favourite cartoon character/TV personality/pop star.

  3. List the top 5 things you would take with you if you went to live on your own on the other side of the world.

  4. List words belonging to the same “family”.  For example list words with “igh” or “ea” or “tion” in them.

  5. Read a book and list the first ten nouns/verbs/adjectives/adverbs that you come across.

MATHS

  1. Make a list of all the objects in the house which are cylinders, or cubes or spheres.

  2. Collect 10 random items from around the house, weigh each one using electric kitchen scales and list them in order of weight.

  3. Grab a handful of coins and make up 10 different combinations of the coins.  Add them up.  List the coins you add up and the answer.  You might need to vary the coins here depending on the child’s age.  The simplest combination is to use only 1p and 10p coins.

SCIENCE

  1. List all the items in the house that are made of cotton, or list all the different types of materials things can be made of.

  2. List fruits and vegetables that grow only tropical climates.

  3. Write down all the things you find in the house which are neither pure solid, liquid or gas.  (you will need to explain what these could be, for example, gels, foams, emulsions, pastes).

GEOGRAPHY, HISTORY AND CURRENT AFFAIRS

  1. How many capital cities do you know, how many rivers do you know, how many mountain ranges or mountains do you know the names of.

  2. Name as many people as you can in your extended family.

  3. List names of famous scientists, famous artists, famous composers, famous writers, famous inventors etc.

  4. Find and list the top 3 news stories of the day on the internet.

  5. Take a walk and list the different types of houses and buildings that you come across.

The lists are endless and it’s up to you which topic you choose, how difficult you make it and how many items you want in the list.   You can even make mental lists whilst on long car journeys.  Lists can be useful for revision and general organisation purposes as well.  Sit down together and make a list of chores your teen has to do, or organise a revision timetable in the form of a list.  Teach your child how to use lists as a means of checking their work or targets.

The list of things you can do with lists are endless.

Your Game is Loading……


“Your game is loading….” These were the first words my three year old learnt to read.  It’s because he became obsessed with the free games you could get on “Sky TV” and recognised the words before he knew his alphabet. 

My 5 year old niece can read “B&Q”, “TESCO” and “Disneyland”, yet she can’t read the word “the” yet.  She sings the alphabet song beautifully, but can’t recognise all of the letters yet. “B&Q” is bright orange, it’s in your face and you can’t miss it and I know that she has no interest in DIY whatsoever.  “TESCO” is everywhere, on TV, on billboards, in magazines and newspapers and on the internet.  She is the target audience for “Disneyland” , so it doesn’t surprise me that she can recognise it.

The point I am trying to make is that children pick up a lot from their sensory memory, which is what they see, hear and do and through repetition. I know that if I wanted to make my niece learn to read and write the word “the” I could make dozens of flash cards with this word and stick them all over the house.  I could make them in different colours and decorate them with cartoons of her favourite TV characters so that she notices the pictures and then subconsciously sees the word as well.  It’s all about familiarity.

The other point is that children are more likely to learn if it is enjoyable.  Making learning fun is the key to success.  It also has to be targeted at the right level.  Too hard and she’ll lose interest and get frustrated and too easy and she’ll get bored. 

So learn from the marketing guru’s who advertise their products heavily and use their techniques to help your child to learn.