Mini-Series: Holistic Homeschooling

A while ago I wrote this post on how we accidentally found ourselves unschooling. A few months later I updated to say we had moved to a more holistic model of homeschooling, promising to tell you more about the change…and then I left you hanging :-p

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But I finally sat my butt down behind my screen and shared my thoughts on holistic education in a series of blog posts. You can find them all here πŸ™‚

What is holistic education in general?

And more specifically,

What is holistic homeschooling? 

As well as,

Holistic Homeschooling as an aspect of Homesteading. (coming soon)

And for those of you who have made the decision to send your children to a public school, this post talks about how to ensure your children still get the holistic education you want for them 😊

I hope you enjoy this mini-series on educating THE WHOLE CHILD. Make sure you have subscribed to the blog so you don’t miss out on future posts. You can find the subscribe option in the sidebar 😊 And please share your ideas and feelings on the subject. We have so much to learn from each other!

See you soon x

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Take aim and fire!

I have recently discovered some people find it offensive for a suburban homesteading page to discuss despatching animals to feed your family. Trust facebook to bring out the ugly in people.

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It has me wondering though… are our followers not aware that we here at ‘Forage and Forge’ all about becoming as self-sufficient as we can on our little patch of suburbia OR do people not really know what suburban homesteading is? Maybe people believe we should strive for self-sufficient vegetarianism? Hmmmm

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So I have (of course) decided to write a series of blog posts explaining the how, what and why of suburban homesteading 😊 Which makes NOW the perfect time to ask any questions you have about this way of living.

Fire away!

Homeschooling with a toddler in tow

I often get asked about homeschooling (specifically tablework) with a toddler. Honestly, it was easier when she was a baby. But I have a few tricks to make lesson time run smoother!

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Whether you have a more formal style, or you are unschooling, there will be times when your older child needs your attention,Β  needs to be able to concentrate and work free from major disturbance, and needs not to have their work/project manhandled by tiny fingers. Here’s a few things that have worked for us 😊

#1 Start with a movement game.
We always do this before we sit down to do any work at the table. Wynter-Rain may not be able to do the same actions, but she gets caught up in the enthusiasm and loves to stomp around and yell with Nikolai. This helps Nikolai concentrate better and allows Wynter to join in so she doesn’t feel left out.

#2 Toddler’s own school supplies. When Nikolai is drawing or writing, Wynnie wants to too. She has her own stash ofΒ  scrap paper and old crayons ( Pro tip! These are often eaten so buy or make non-toxic crayons. Remember the unicorn poo incident I posted about on facebook 😜). If Nikolai is making models or using maths manipulatives we give her some blocks of her own.Β  We always have homemade playdough at the table to keep her fingers busy.

*One-on-one time.
When Nikolai wants to concentrate on some independent work, this is the time for one-on-one mama and toddler fun. Don’t try to squeeze in your housework now. It’s a recipe for disaster. I know! Sit down and enjoy cuddles, fingerplays and picture books. It’s too easy to get caught up in facilliatating the older one’s learning and forgetting the little miss needs her own time too. Leave housework for when the kids are playing together or naptime. Likewise, if Nikolai has a science experiment he wants to try, I usually ask him to wait until Wynter is having her nap.

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These are my top 3 tips for homeschooling with a toddler in tow. What are yours?

Beneath the Christmas Tree

With less than a week to go before Christmas, I think it’s about time I got cracking on the gifts. I’ve purchased a few items, but on the whole this will be a handmade Christmas. Excitingly it will also be the closest we have come to a zero waste Christmas too!

Wooden Blocks

$8 worth of pine off-cuts from Bunnings and an hour in the workshop is all this gift costs. Simply use a saw to cut the timber into different shapes and sizes. We’ve decided to make half of the blocks and gift Nikolai with a child-sized set of hand tools with the remainder of the timber. This way we can help him to make some blocks as well.

Magnatiles

Not homemade or zero waste. Actually these are one of only a handful of plastic toys we allow into our home (you can read more about our toy guidelines here), but I am so excited to add these to our small selection of open-ended toys. I purchased ours from Modern Teaching Aids.

Doll

I found this gorgeous handmade doll on Etsy. Crocheted from natural materials,Β  she is soft and warm. I deliberately chose a doll with minimal facial features to allow for more imaginative freedom. A world away from hard, plastic dolls with their painted on features, this doll could just as easily be sad as she could be happy, angry or serene.Β 

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Doll’s Cradle

A tip shop find! My husband spotted this old timber doll’s cradle and brought it home to be nursed back to life. A lick of chalk paint and it will be a beautiful bed for the baby doll.

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Imagine the cradle in a soft, chalky white

Playdough

I’ll be making up large batches of no-cook playdough with Christmas themes: gingerbread, peppermint candycane, orange and cinnamon. Simply add different natural colours and scents. For example white playdough with peppermint oil and red edible glitter makes candycane playdough. Layering the different doughs in a glass jar will make a cheery gift for small nieces and nephews.

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My experienced playdough-making assistant will help make the gifts

Bake-your-own Cookie Jar

Zero-Waste Chef has a lovely recipe for a Choc-chip cookie kit in a jar which will be perfect for older nieces. I’m sure their chocolate mad mama won’t mind helping them bake these!

Homemade Cordial

Forget chemical-laden artificial flavours in a plastic bottle. Homemade cordial is easy to make and tastes divine. Find my recipe here. I’ve been collecting glass bottles to make cordial for all of the grownups πŸ™‚

Bath salts and scrubs

Got salt, sugar, honey? You’ve got everything you need to make these little treats. I haven’t settled ona recipe yet,  but here’s some ideas to get you started

Books

Another gift that is neither zero waste nor homemade, but seriously…BOOKS!

And of course everything will be wrapped in either fabric offcuts, or this lovely paper printed by Nikolai.

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Potato stamping an old roll of brown paper

What treasures are waiting beneath your Christmas tree?

Unlearning

Unschooling is as much about parents as it is children. For most of us this is a completely new way of life and learning. In truth, for the parent it is often more about unlearning.Β  Here is what I personally need to unlearn.

I need to unlearn the idea that children need to be taught. They don’t. They need to be supported in their learning. Learning can not be stopped, it comes as naturally as breathing,Β  but it does need a champion who will honour, encourage and facilitate it.

I need to unlearn the idea that successful learning is measured in pre-determined outcomes. A test won’t tell me what you have learnt, only highlight what you have forgotten in this moment. It can’t tell me what those hours of play helped you discover, or show me your passions, or tell me everything you uncovered about flying.

I need to unlearn the concept that learning is linear. Set facts do NOT need to be taught in a certain order at a certain age. Who decided that Ancient Egypt should be studied in grade three and that all prep students should learn about ocean life in the midnight zone? Why can’t you discover algebra and fractions before you memorised your time tables? If it is useful or meaningful to you, you won’t miss out. Everyone has gaps in their education, we can all fill them when we want to or need to.

I need to unlearn the idea that there is only one right way to learn. Learning doesn’t come just from textbooks and worksheets. Screens aren’t all bad. Joining a sports team isn’t more important and valuable than hours spent outdoors with your cousins and friends.

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Learning through play

I need to unlearn the notion that only an expert can understand my child’s needs as a person and as a learner. And I say learner and not student quite deliberately. No teacher has the time to understand his quirks, to give him the freedom to satisfy his sensory needs, to allow him to discover the world in his own way and on his own timetable. A loving parent is naturally more invested in a child than even the best teacher.

I need to unlearn the bizarre concept that socialisation can only properly occur when a child spends 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 40 weeks of the year in a room with other children of the same age. I know that there is more benefit to spending time in mixed age groups, of having your extended family be the epicentre of your world, of learning about the community by actively participating in the everyday life of your community… Rather than try to become socialised in a strictly regimented fashion, with bums on seats, mouths closed and eyes to the front.

Our ideas around education are the result of our own upbringing and are often rooted in a fear of failing our children. It isn’t always easy to step outside the norm, to let go of what we have been conditioned to believe, to try something new. Yes, for me as a parent unschooling is most definitely a journey of unlearning.

But won’t they just watch TV all day?

A reader asked me recently about how to encourage her child to watch less tv and spend more time actively learning. You know,Β  in the tangible kind of way we mothers can measure and record. I quickly shot back a reply but I’ve been pondering the issue ever since. To be honest, I was already thinking about this a lot lately as I tried to figure out the balance in my own home. And this lady wasn’t the first person to bring the issue up either. I am often asked about unschooling, “If you let them choose for themselves,  won’t they just watch TV all day?”

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Clearly NOT just watching TV all day

To be perfectly honest, unless you are a TV-less family, the answer is, “yes, they probably will”.Β  The second part of my answer though is that it is only for a time, and only for a reason. But, and here is the tricky part, it’s your job to figure out the why and go from there. When you understand why your children make the choices they do, you can respond appropriately.

This isn’t always easy, and it’s an ongoing process. Unschooling really calls on a parent to become very aware, to observe carefully, to respond thoughtfully. It also requires a good deal of self-reflection and this can be uncomfortable. Necessary. Life-changingly beneficial. But uncomfortable nonetheless.

Look carefully at what is happening.Β  Is the TV watching part of the de-schooling process you aren’t allowing for? Is it because you have inadvertently made it a reward or a forbidden fruit? Is it being utilised as a learning tool and you haven’t noticed? Is it because you aren’t as involved as your child needs in this moment?

None of the reasons are because the child is lazy, manipulative or addicted (although I personally think this last one can become a problem if the issue goes unchecked). It’s not even that there is something inheritantly wrong with TV. Each of the reasons actually come back to you. Told you this may be uncomfortable.

Think on what you and most other adults do at the end of a long, stressful day at work. We come home, turn on the box and relax a while. Children are the same. The come home from school after a long, stressful day and they want to use the tv to relax. De-schooling can be looked at in part as an extended period of relaxing after a period of stress (conventional schooling). Eventually they relax, realise they aren’t going to be forced to sit at their books for hours on end and then they feel free to re-engage with the world around them. Providing a rich environment to explore along with a peaceful atmosphere will go a long way in helping this transition.

Of course there is trust involved in the process and we wouldn’t be human if fear didn’t occasionally creep in. Fear is a part of the ‘new’ and the ‘different’. Fear can lead us to place arbitrary limits on TV but these limits can be counterproductive.

Imagine you are told you can only eat chocolate on a Saturday afternoon (substitute your favourite treat if you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t LOVE chocolate). You are going to think about it, talk about it, all week long, just waiting for that moment when you can have the chocolate. It’s the same with kids. We focus on the limits and they focus on the whinging. What happens when we stop talking about restricting tv and instead start offering our own time? The value shifts!

Sometimes with TV there is learning happening and we can’t see it. We become so focused on the perceived negatives that we can’t see what is actually happening. Jess from A Thoughtful Life wrote a great piece explaining how this happened in her family (read about it here). Look closely to see if this is what is happening and then help to support this learning. This may be the perfect time to try your hand at strewing.

In my home I have come to realise that TV watching increases as my level of involvement decreases. That isn’t easy for me to admit, but there you have it. My uncomfortable truth.

“Do you want to turn off the TV and go play outside? “ (I say as I am busy washing dishes/checking my phone/dressing the baby)
“No thanks, Mum”
But if I wander out into the garden you can be sure a certain someone will appear behind me, ready and eager to help and to learn.

“You’ve watched far too much TV. Turn it off and go play!”
“But this is my favourite!”
or
“There isn’t anything else to do!”
or
“But that’s boring! “

But if I ask if he would like to come play with me, or go to the library with me, or have project time with me, the answer is almost always a resounding,  “Yes please, Mum! I’ll just turn the TV off”.

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Construction time is fun when Mum is there

What he is really telling me here isn’t that he wants to spend all day watching TV, it’s that he wants me. He wants my time, my attention, my support and my encouragement. He wants me. He needs ME. So rather than focussing on restrictions, it is better for me to focus on fulfilling this need. It is better for me to stop focusing on what I don’t want him doing, and instead focus on what we could be doing together.

So answer honestly, do your kids just watch TV all day?

Ditching the plan: a home education update

When we were first planning for our son Β to leave school and rejoin us at home I had wonderful visions of spending our days curled on the couch reading classical literature together. He would of course then give me a dazzling narration of what we had just read. We would enjoy our mornings traipsing through bushland before settling in the shade of a large tree to sketch in our Nature Journals. Upon our return home we would listen to Beethoven whilst painting Monet-inspired watercolours before a quick science experiment. The next day we would do it again, but this time find the time for a maths lesson, a grammar lesson, maybe a little Latin practice and then bake some bread. By hand. Naturally.

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Well to be honest we have done all of those things. Except the Latin. I don’t know why I thought a 6 year old would want to learn that, or even know what it is to begin with. Although there is a stray notebook somewhere were he has diligently copied out the words, ‘Noun comes from the Latin word nomen, meaning name’. But none of the activities have looked quite the way I picture them in my head.

That’s because it was my fantasy. My beautiful fantasy where Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori got together and had a magical education pedagogy baby and called it Our Homeschool Life. It had very little to do with how my child actually wants to learn. How he needs to learnat this point in time.

Kids are naturally curious. Spend 5 minutes with any two year old and you will know for sure that children are hard-wired to seek out knowledge. The 1001 questions they ask kind of tips you off that they can’t help themselves. That doesn’t suddenly disappear when they turn 5. That isn’t a magical number that turns them from passionate, curious truth-seekers into empty vessels for us to pour our wisdom *cough cough* into.

The first few weeks went well. We started our days with some handwriting practice,Β  recited some poetry,Β  took turns reading novels aloud and launched into MEP maths lessons. But learning cursive isn’t as much fun when it goes from ‘I want to learn to write pretty like Mum’ to ‘I am being forced to practice writing even though I think my writing is pretty good already’. Novels can lose their spark when you are made to give a narration just when the story takes an exciting twist. Maths worksheets just plain suck, no matter how clever the designer was. Cue yelling and tears from us both. Suddenly my little mathematician didn’t like maths anymore.

We had brought our child home in part because we could see school was sapping his desire to learn…and now we were doing the same thing.

Whoa! Time to step back. De-school. Not just him, but us parents too. Let him spend a week reading a Harry Potter novel. Play board games. Bake. Hike with no pushing for a realistic sketch in a Nature Journal. You know, just for the sheer love of it. Like we used to. When we let go and trust our kids to learn, when we surround them with the tools they need to explore and make sense of their world, and when we let them see us learn and engage ourselves, the learning begins to take care of itself.

And so we spend our days curled on the couch reading together. We hike and go to the beach. We listen to music. We bake bread. We play boardgames and draw on our wall (don’t worry, it’s a hall-length blackboard). He plays on the tablet and helps in the garden. And he is learning! Even more importantly,Β  he is learning how to learn and LOVING IT!

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The recipe says 2 tablespoons but I only have the half tablespoon.
So how many will you need to put in? I’ll put in four.

This pupa looks different from the last one. Different butterflies must make different kinds of pupa!

Mum! I made my characters talk on Scratch. What should I make them say?
Hmmm. I’m not sure. Would you like to look at some books of plays when we go to the library?
Yes! And then I can make awesome stories on here. Look, I can make them move when they talk to each other.

I added heaps of water to my painting and now it looks like a Monet!

How did the flowers turn blue? Maybe the water travels up inside their stems?

Mum! I did 304 times 3 on my Montessori times app and got the answer right. Soon I will multiply THOUSANDS.

Learning happens naturally and at their own pace when we give our kids space and freedom, along with the tools and encouragement they need. We just need to let go…and deschool!

This post was originally entitled ‘Ooops. We turned into unschoolers’. Since I first posted this we have moved away from that term as we have refined our views and adjusted our approach, realising that for us unschooling was an important part of the deschooling process but ultimately not our true path. I would now say we are taking a more ‘holistic home educating’ approach. More on that in this post!!

~Edited 10th March 2016~

Halloween Aussie-style

Normally this time of year I’d go on my regular rant about Americanisation (it’s a word) and consumerism. You know, because Halloween is slowly becoming a thing in Australia. And it’s not even Autumn here! But this year The Mister convinced me to put all that aside and participate in a few Halloween-themed activities under the pretext of Cultural Studies. Ok ok. I promised to stop being cynical…just this year. The kids approved πŸ˜‰

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My Little Mathematician and I started off chatting about what he thought Halloween was, and I chimed in with a bit of history about it. I came prepared thanks to this quick Halloween history read. He asked plenty of questions and we took a little detour to discuss the difference in seasons between here and the Northern Hemisphere. We’re pretty relaxed learners around here, so this all happened around the kitchen table one afternoon. Nothing resembling school happening here :-p

The next day everyone was still keen to continue the theme so we googled some spooky poetry to read aloud together. This inspired us to have a go at our own acrostic poems. We even wrote a couple of recipes for Witches’ Brew.

When The Mister got home the real fun began. It’s not Autumn here, and while pumpkins are available we thought something seasonal would be more appropriate. So here’s our Watermelon Jack-O-Lantern!

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The boys cut the top off a large, whole watermelon then googled pumpkin jack-o-lanterns for some spooky face inspiration. Next came the messy part…scooping out the inside.

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Oh my! There is sooooo much watermelon in a watermelon!! The chickens had a nice treat, the kids ate quite a bit while working, and some went into a juice for us. I think I’ll make a granita or some sorbet with the remainder. Feel free to share your fav recipes in the comments.

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Once the face was cut out we realised we had no candles hahaha. Never fear. An LED off The Mister’s work helmet worked a treat, and is much safer with Little Beatie getting about.

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We now had the perfect excuse to watch a fantasy movie together for Friday movie night. Any excuse to indulge in our favourite genre really πŸ˜‰

Are you celebrating Halloween this year? If you are, hop on over to Expedition Homeschool and join in Kelly’s blog hop. There are loads of fabulous ideas for celebrating Halloween and bringing it into your home learning.

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Take note of the bolts. It's Frankenstein's Monster

Happy Halloween from this cycnical homeschool mama Down Under πŸ˜‰

It’s times like these

I’ll be honest; renovating has produced so much rubbish I am almost afraid to show it. Quick, look at this cute pic of my daughter playing in our new (still unfinished and unfurnished) living room!

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Now while you are still smiling, look at this…

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YIKES! And that is just the packaging from the flat pack Ikea kitchen :-O It doesn’t include any of the old kitchen and flooring we had to dispose of. Scary, isn’t it :-/

Times like these there is only one thing to do- reuse as much as we possibly can!

And so we are experimenting with sheet mulching. This is a permaculture method of preparing garden beds where you first lay cardboard, followed by organic matter, then nitrogenous matter, then aged compost. You allow it to break down and are hopefully left with rich soil to plant into next season. We will be trying this around our fruit trees as well.

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It’s not just the garden that has benefited from what would have been recycling at best (landfill at worst). Our homeschool has been able to use quite a lot. I know, I know. Who wants to fill their home with rubbish? But just look!

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As we sort the pile we are collecting the interesting pieces to add to our art and construction area. We have all sorts of building materials now to use in play, projects, construction and science experiments.

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These fantastic ramps were used in a science lesson on slope and gravity. The cat has taken to hiding inside when the kids aren’t busy racing cars all over the board πŸ˜€

We have used large flat pieces to line the lower parts of one wall in this room to create a giant drawing board! Once it is covered it will end up in the garden for next year’s sheet mulching.

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My favourite project though has got to be this Montessori-style Multiplication Board. Yes, it is just a 10×10 grid drawn on with a Sharpie, but honestly,  my Little Mathematician is so in love with it and had no idea I had made it from ‘junk’ until I discussed this blog post with him.

Once again, you can find full instructions on how to present the Multiplication Board on InfoMontessori. Basically though, this material is used to learn times tables.

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Here is our set up  (please note, the grid should be numbered 1-10 across the top. I added this after taking the photo but you can see it in the picture above). The child chooses which times table to work on. In this case it’s 3 times as noted by the giant die. You then take 3, one time by placing 3 beads in the first column. The child counts the beads and writes the equation 3×1=3 on their paper.

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You then take 3, two times by placing 3 beads into the second column, count the beads and write the equation 3×2=6. From here you just continue across the board, using the (yellow) marker at the top to help keep track of where you are (this is where the written numbers help). Once the child reaches the end they can check their answers against a times tables chart.

We keep this material available on our maths shelf for our Little Mathematician to work on whenever he chooses. At the moment it seems to be his favourite activity and gets picked almost daily! Not bad for junk πŸ˜‰

(If junk isn’t your thing, or you don’t have any cardboard going spare, you can order a traditional wooden multiplication board from A2Z Montessori).

This has been a good opportunity for us to talk as a family about junk/rubbish/landfill and the ways we can contribute to either the problem or the solution. For The Mister and I it has been the shock to set us on the path of aiming for zero waste.

Staring at the pile of cardboard we both felt so awful that we had inadvertently caused such a huge amount of rubbish. We just knew that the next logical step from our homemade/homegrown/homecooked/homeschooled lifestyle was to now begin looking at reducing the waste we produce on an everyday basis. Look forward to lots more on that topic in the future!

Are you a (striving for) zero waste home?

How we roll

“Mum, how high can you count?”

“Mum, how high do you think I can count?”

“Mum, what’s the highest number anyone has ever counted to?”

While I’m over here feeling as though time is getting away from me, and the to-do list will never be done,  my Little Mathematician has the serious issues on his mind. Time to scrounge around for some materials and help him start a Number Roll.

If you’ve never heard of a Number Roll before, it’s a Montessori work designed primarily to assist in mastering linear counting. Basically you have the child start at 1 and write each successive number, on and on….FOREVER! Well, not actually forever, but for as long as the work holds interest for them. And for a 6 year old that can be an incredibly loooooong time. Nikolai has decided he would like to see how far he can go between now and Christmas πŸ˜‰

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I made this Number Roll by cutting strips of grid paper and putting them in a box. Really, it’s that simple. The very first strip has the columns marked (units, tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands…We’re nothing if not optimistic) which helps with the secondary aim of this work; reinforcing place value.

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So far this activity has generated a huge amount of excitement and interest. I’m going to have to cut more strips tonight in case Nikolai chooses this work again tomorrow.

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To store the roll we have blue tacked the start to a toilet roll and wound the paper round. The roll and the blank strips are stored in a small cardboard box (thank you Ikea :-p Got to make use of all that cardboard refuse from the flat pack kitchen somehow!), and placed the box on our Maths Shelf.

You can find more information on Number Rolls here and also over here. This has got to be one of the simplest, yet most enjoyable linear counting activities out there, and can be made quickly and cheaply with materials already on hand.

Do you DIY in your homeschool?

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