It’s been ages since we had a “circus” in The Learning Zone so I thought I’d host one. Everyone brought an activity and we had fun trying out different things.

We had sherbet making (acids and bases) and paper chromatography:





Various watery activities to do with things like surface tension:




Psychological memory testing:



The well known milk, food dye and washing up liquid demonstrations – we experimented with Ecover and cheap washing up liquid there was quite a difference:



And balloon rockets and the ever fun to play with non Newtonian fluid which I didn’t manage to get a pic of.

Jonathan’s actual birthday saw us at my Mum’s house in London (having spent the night before there and enjoying a lovely meal out with my family the night before at a little noodle bar Dim t  in Hampstead- great food and company always a good combination!). So Jonathan got to open some family presents before we headed out for the day.


We were in London to go along to the Big Bang Fair, a science fair with hands on activities and live shows. Our assessment of it was it was good for free but when we took into account the ferry fair and petrol it wasn’t such good value – however Jonathan had a good time and lots of science and maths was done and we met up with good friends there too.




We headed home and had Jonathan’s official birthday the following day. Everyone gets to choose all the meals on their birthday so Jonathan chose bacon bagels for breakfast, ham and cheese toasties for lunch and toad in the hole for dinner – all nice and easy which is always helpful – last year he wanted sushi and beef pie which was much more complicated (not to mention expensive). We did presents and cards after breakfast.


After church there was more food and then time spent making paper aeroplanes from Jonathan’s new book and then having competitions flying them – including one that involved needing to do a dance while you threw them!


Then a week or so later we managed to find time to fit in a birthday party. Jonathan wanted to have a magic cards birthday but also had friends he wanted to invite that didn’t have an interest in magic cards – we managed to achieve this by having two overlapping parties. Party 1 people had an hour of Lego (and youtube clips) and then pizza then home , party 2 people came to join in with the pizza and then magic cards then home. During this party I had a great time downstairs chatting with some of the mums and drinking tea – it’s great when the kids want parties that don’t involve too much parental involvement. My main involvement was sourcing the mountains of Lego from my friend and making a serious mountain of pizza.



Then the final installment of his birthday was the present we had given him. It was a birds of prey experience with Haven Falconry. Jonathan and I were the only ones there and we got to learn lots about the birds and to fly them. It was great.

The Barn Owl- this was definitely our favourite to touch as it was so soft and its feathers were and was my favourite to look at.


The Harris Hawk – my favourite to fly


 The Kestrel – this little bird was Jonathan’s favourite to fly.


The Something Something Scots Owl from South Africa – beautiful to look at, Jonathan’s favourite from this perspective.


Finally a week and a half after his actual birthday we are finished with the celebrations!


Yesterday evening our friend and slightly-crazy-inventor Dan Roberts came round to help me with some bits on the van. It turned out we didn’t have quite the right bits and I was feeling slightly bad that I’d dragged Dan over for no real purpose. “It’s ok” says Dan “I’ve got something we can do that might mean its not a wasted trip”. Assuming he needed a hand with something, possibly requiring use of a computer, I was happy to help out. It turns out that he actually wanted to show us his bubbluminator (as I have just named it). It had to be set up in the dark, ideally outside, so we cleared some space around the patio table and set it up.


It’s a fairly simple box with a light bulb inside and a plastic dish on top. You add bubble mix to the top and blow a bubble with the straw then sit and watch (ideally from below the height of the bubble).



The results were simply amazing. The bubble goes through a “lifecycle” the basic structure of which appears to be fairly typical, though each one is unique. I’ve posted some pictures below and more (and higher quality.) on Flickr, plus you can watch a 5 minute video of some of the clips I recorded strung together.

Not content to be mere spectators we also did some experimentation along the way and discussed what scientific principles might be involved along the way. We brought out a full-spectrum light box from the loft and tried that with a new bubble. It definitely made a difference, with more vivid colours. Jonathan also managed to make some amazing patterns by blowing bubbles inside the main bubble, while Rebekah used the opportunity to experiment with her photography.

It wasn’t the evening of apple bottling and laptop working we had planned, but being friends with Dan invariable means things take an unexpected direction with surprising frequency.


The two pictures above show the bubble just after being blown, with some interesting stripy effects. It then moves into brighter colour bands as shown below.

Towards the end it fades into a wispy black and white, looking a bit like a snowglobe. This stage happens just before it pops.

You can see more of the variation (there is lots!) on the video.


I am so behind with blogging and will go back and fill in at some point but for now here is our weekend away in London. Just Jonathan and I were going which was really nice as we don’t have much time just the two of us.

We started with a ferry ride, breakfast in Ikea and then a couple of hours on the coach. This was very enjoyable and passed quickly as we played crib, the ministers cat, hangman and squares. This got me thinking about how educational doing that sort of thing is – crib with the arithmetic skills as well as strategic thinking, the ministers cat good for building vocabulary particularly thinking about adjectives, hangman good for spelling and imaginative thinking and squares again good for strategy. So a wasted couple of hours were actually spent productively – not with me trying to be educational but just by default by us engaging together (on the way home again we were so shattered we both sat and listened to radio 4 downloads!).


A short hop from Victoria to the natural History Museum. Jonathan had specific things he wanted to see before we arrived and then on reading the leaflet decided to see another few things. I resisted the urge to “make the most” of the visit and take him to see lots more and as such we had a very relaxed time looking at volcanoes, dodos, dinosaurs, an archaeopteryx and a giant sloth – and for some reason seeing some obsidian was thrilling too.




Then he wanted to go to M&M world and as this trip was about taking him to do London things that he wanted to do (and that I could afford) that’s what we did. It’s not really my thing but if you are going to do these things you should embrace them wholeheartedly!



The next thing on his list was a trip to Primark so he could buy a onesie with his own money – my sister obliged by taking us there and then we had a nice family meal out at a little Italian restaurant – again Jonathan’s choice he wanted pizza.

Friday was spent meeting up with Ruth and other zonies from the biology group visiting the Centre of the Cell, wandering around Covent Garden and doing the BBC tour.

The Centre of the Cell was slightly disappointing as most of the material was available online – however I don’t think Ruth would have spent as long engaging with it and discussing cell related topics if we hadn’t gone and it was free. We had seen the TARDIS before Ruth was more excited then.



Ruth went home with the others while Jonathan and I went back to my mums and had a lovely roast dinner and choice of three puddings!

Our last day in London saw me doing some bargain hunting in the Salvage shop with mum while Jonathan went to the kids club cinema with Jane and Jonathan. A quick trip round the exceptionally crowded Borough Market Then we had my highlight of the weekend an Alternative Walking Tour of London. We spent a couple of hours walking around the Spittlefields area of London learning about its history and looking at street art and graffiti. I learned so much and found it fascinating. I would definitely do it again as by its nature the art work will have changed. I didn’t know that people did street art with stencils and paste ups as well as chilled spray cans (to give a different effect) as well as all sorts of other things. I’ve just put a few pics here but will probably do more later.



We had a great weekend.

Moving on from our week at Helford Passage we were going to Port Isaac via the Eden Project. After much research we decided that paying for a prebooked gift aided ticket for the grown ups and Blue Peter Cards for the kids was the way to go.

We packed up at the cottage early and got on our way on what must have been the hottest day of the year. We arrived and discovered that Jonathan had not taken any notice of the hot weather and was in tracksuit and long sleeved top – so we needed to unpack half the car to find some shorts and a T-shirt!

Walking to the domes:



I was very impressed with these tea poems and plan to have a go at writing my own – click on the photos to see them larger.


We didn’t spend long outside as it was sweltering and I don’t do well in the heat. So we entered the domes. As we went into the tropical biome I really wished we had taken the girls here at the start of their environmental management course as they could have experienced some of the conditions they had learned about.

The Tropical Dome:



It was so hot and humid in the dome – over 40 degrees and hight humidity – so we couldn’t go on the viewing platform.

We came out into the relative cool of the cafe and bought a very expensive very sharp lemonade and a very good value very delicious pastry and salad.


Slightly cooled down we headed to the Mediterranean biome.

I had printed off a worksheet that I gave Jonathan the option of doing – it was not a successful venture as we couldn’t find half the stuff and everyone was a bit grumpy due to the heat by then!



 Then it was back into the outdoor heat:



We managed to find some more indoor activities and get out of the sun for a bit.


 We were too hot to hang about in the grounds and went out vis the shop – we resisted the urge to buy many herbs and notebooks but succumbed to a necklace and some lovely looking bread. Then we headed out to Port Isaac and another lovely week in Cornwall. If I didn’t live in the Isle of Wight I really think that Cornwall would be the place I’d love to live.


Ruth is doing IGCSE Chemistry – aiming to sit it next January. She prefers working with some others so we have teamed up with Sam and Albie to work through it and some others are joining in as well.

We’re approaching it in a different way to other exams – Maths was weekly tutorials and Environmental Management was broad understanding followed by 6 weeks of mega revision with loads and loads of exam papers. This time we have been inspired by Grits and her blog assignments for her children. So Sam and I are writing weekly blog posts – based on the IGCSE chemistry book and various websites. The aim is a chapter a week, working through the questions and viewing the material in interactive ways on-line. We are then getting together every so often to do some practical experiments.

Today was the first day of practical activities.

Firstly we needed to set up the “lab”. Partly in the kitchen, with a hotch-potch of chemistry equipment borrowed and some everyday items,

and partly in the garden (failing to have a fume cupboard and needing instead a “well ventilated room”).

We do have a real bunsen burner and a borrowed tripod, even a proper beaker and test-tube, but no clamp-stand – a handy microphone stand did the job nicely!

The kids arrived and this being home-ed they ranged in age from 10 to 15 and some of them are planning to do the exam, some are just following along for fun and some are the brothers of the people doing the course. We did some demonstrations togtether then in groups did some more while the others did some card-sort activities, demonstration on the relative size on an atom etc.etc. If you want to see the experiments we did you can have a look at the blog post.

Some of the things we did were:

mixtures and compounds – using sulphur and iron filings

Our first effort at showing diffusion in a liquid using some rather illicit Lead Nitrate and Potassium Iodide

The second effort worked much better and gave some spectacularly sparkly results

We used a mix of kitchen equipment and lab stuff, so this was speed of diffusion of a drop of food colouring in water of different temperatures.

We had a go at making elephant toothpaste  but ours wasn’t anywhere near as spectacular as the ones you can find on you-tube – I will have to have more attempts to see if I can do better – anyway it illustrated what a catalyst was.

And here are some shots of the theory – should the LA ever need to see a bit of evidence that we do actually do something!

And then when most people had gone home Martin went and smashed the bouncing egg at the bottom of the garden.


We’ve done a bit more science over the last few days too.

Just some observations of celery and food dye.

The inside of some celery that has been in the food dye.

And the inside of some that hasn’t been in the food dye.

Jonathan also made some lovely gloop. You need real borax for this version to work and it’s now more difficult to get hold of – the borax substitute that is now sold for household use apparently doesn’t work. As we are not obsessive about cleaning here we still had an old packet of the real stuff so used that. You make it with a borax solution, PVA glue and food colouring.

So Jonathan really enjoys science and Ruth fancies having a go at Chemistry and Biology international GCSEs over the next year or so which has meant we’ve been thinking about science activities a lot recently. We’ve started doing a few more science demonstrations so that Jonathan can enjoy them and Ruth can learn something!

So we did what any serious scientist would do and made a raw bouncing egg.

We soaked the egg in vinegar for 3 days and watched the bubbled form as the vinegar reacted with the shell.

Then we tested the gas at the top to see if it was carbon dioxide (a test for carbon dioxide is that it extinguishes a lit match).

Then we fished out the still raw egg and tried to bounce it.

After bouncing it and examining it with a torch we shoved it in some golden syrup.

The we left it for a day. After that we looked at it again and it was no longer nice and firm and bouncy. It was pretty squidgy and Ruth noticed that that the syrup was no longer thick but runny.

Then we put it back in water to see what will happen then, but we haven’t got that far yet.










A few of us met up to do some science this afternoon. The theme was Levers and Pulleys. Having nothing to contribute to the levers and pulleys theme, and having recently rediscovered a container of real borax, I took gloop making ingredients. So we met up in a garden and had a good play.


Clever home-ed dad Mick had made a brilliant balance beam with nails in it to hold weights (they looked like bags of dog poo but apparently they were 1kg bags of sandpit sand). They all experimented with placing different amounts of beams in different places and predicting what would happen and how to make it balance.

Naturally as this is home education not school education you need to involve small children and dogs if at all possible!

We then tried adjusting the pivot point of the balance to make Pete and Eli balance.


Then we experimented with lifting a bucket of sand in various ways.

Some had more success than others.

They did some more experimenting and then spent a couple of hours playing while we drank tea and discussed, well, educating the kids mostly!

A couple of weeks ago we had a lovely trip to Winchester. We started off with a load of friends on the Ferry.


The teens and some of the braver adults walked from Southampton to Winchester while the rest of us went to spent the day experimenting at INTECH. We were delighted to unexpectedly meet up with the Fareham and Gosport Home-educators and manage to wangle getting in on their very hefty education discount 🙂






The adults played as well as the kids.



We’d decided to make a couple of days of it so headed off to check out the travelodge (ie. make sure they hadn’t double booked us. Then into Winchester to wait for the walkers at a park.

Not too many blisters from my kids but some of the others had nasty ones.

The it was just hanging around until watching Private Peaceful – Sue and I found a lovely cafe in the fabulous library and enjoyed a cuppa while the others sat outside munching chips.

Private Peaceful was good but not quite what we expected as it was a brilliantly delivered monologue.

Ruth (who doesn’t do late nights really) was very glad we had booked a travelodge and we weren’t joining most of the others heading back for the 10.30 ferry. So she could fall asleep quickly after a soak in a bubble bath.

We spent the next day enjoying the sights of Winchester, clearly doing lots of sitting around and then concluded the day with a quick trip to IKEA for yet more bookcases.