Monthly Archives: July 2011

Mosaic making

After seeing the intricate mosaic floors in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery I was keen to let Cana have a go at making a mosaic tile so she would understand how they are made and how involved the process is. Well, also I love doing things like that so it’s a win-win for me and hopefully she gets to learn to love making mosaics too!  Did toy briefly with the idea of  using coloured paper on a black background to make a paper mosaic but decided it was way too boring and we should just get the old tile cement out as it’s much more fun.

making patterns

making patterns

Being only 5 this was obviously going to be a shared activity but I was surprised at how much she wanted to do by herself. First of all I gave her the little coloured tiles (tesserae is the technical term I believe but I always call ’em “little coloured tiles” in my head) and she played around for quite a while making patterns with them inside the mould but it was soon clear that she wasn’t going to be able to make a proper picture as the tiles were quite large and we were only going to make a small mosaic.

original and enlarged design

original and enlarged design

So I asked her to draw a design and she decided she was going to make a bird mosaic and drew quite a detailed picture. I enlarged it to fit the size of the mould, and omitted it’s legs (don’t they draw them up to their bodies when they’re in flight anyway, like aeroplane wheels? – hmm, as you can tell ornithology is not a strong point, luckily Cana and Jude still think I know everything about birds because I can identify a robin and a blackbird!) so it would fit into a rectangle. Then we started laying on the tiles together. She wanted a red body and head but I “guided” her gently by suggesting perhaps the beak would stand out better in red if the head was blue like the wings but although she acquiesced I think I was getting on her nerves with all my suggestions as after that she kept rebuffing all my offers of assistance, politely but firmly. “Shall I put this here for you?” – “No thank you mummy”.

"gerroff mummy, I can DO IT!"

“gerroff mummy, I can DO IT!”

I'm flying without...errr, legs

I’m flying without…errr, legs

When we got to the bits that needed cutting she’d give me a tile and say “Can you cut that bit off please” and then she’d lay it on. Did manage to help her a bit (because I love anything arty I can’t just let kids do their own sweet thing, I’m always interfering) but she did keep me in check and was totally engrossed in it. Anyway, I think it looked pretty darn good when she’d done it. This happened a week or so ago as I had a bit of trouble with making the tile. Tried to use a method I’d read about, turn the design over (I stuck it all together by patting down tape on top of it first) then pour cement into the mould. For some reason this method, which sounded feasible to me, did not work at all as the cement didn’t seem to set very well. So ended up reverting to my  tried and tested method of sticking the design on to the back of another tile. That worked fine although it was a  bit of a faff, then we grouted it (more me than her as she couldn’t really push the grout in hard enough although I pretended that she could) and hey jolly presto, a beautiful mosaic of a bird. We shall probably put it in the garden somewhere.

an authentic bonnet, waaaaay better then a sparkly Cinderella dress methinks.

an authentic bonnet, waaaaay better then a sparkly Cinderella dress methinks.

Also finished her sun bonnet today, after she loved the one at Sarehole Mill so much. Made this, very unprofessionally I might add, by cutting up an old pillow case with a ready-made frill. She was so grateful for all my hard work – she said “what about the dress?”. I said, “I’m sick of sewing now, you’ll have to wait. You only want to wear your blimmin’ Cinderella dress when you dress up anyway!” “No Mummy, I WOULD wear it” she assured me earnestly. Huh. I’ll see if she remembers.

And finally… as I’ve been at work 3 days a week all term, Christian has been trying to stick to the routine while I’m not there. He’s making a book with her on the “art” days and has been teaching her some word processing skills too. She’s been writing the cutest letters to people in Word and then I email them so she can get replies.  Here a sample:

Dear anty clare

are you having a nice day

how are ruput and isaac and uncl stevun and blue bell and

uncl stan

love cana


Dear Mummy

I just wanted to say I did hand writing

I did reading I red charile and lola and the charile and lola book was called

but where completely are we?

I wochid mama mirbell she told me all abowt grilus and cmeleus and sea horsis and elifuns to

hop you have a nice time to day here four days to morro with no work

see you

Love Cana.

(Love that she knows how many days I have off work a week!)


To Ma Ma

i’ll see you on home school ing

days i’ll see you

soon. you mit

Give me a hot choclut

you mit take me to the park

wen you get home. if you wont you can have

A hot choclut your self.

Give your self a pat on .

The back .



(experimenting with full stops here, don’t think Daddy quite explained that one properly!)

So gorgeous, the things she thinks to say, and it is all totally independent. Apart from the occasional panic if she presses a letter too hard and gets two lines of Fs or something. Honestly, how can you NOT want to homeschool?

She does have a day to do actual ‘real’ writing, with a pen. I try to make it meaningful in it’s context, so writing in a card for someone for example, rather than just writing for writing’s sake. We do such a lot of that in school, obviously because we have lots of hoops we are training them all to jump through to make the school look good in the league tables so we don’t get turned into an academy… but don’t get me started on that. The other day though, when she was watching ‘Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies’, a nature programme on Cbeebies, Christian got her to write about what she’d been watching so she’ wrote about chameleons. It’s not really that funny but I laughed so much when I read it that I had to take a picture and put it in this blog too.

"until ther inormus"

“until ther inormus”



measuring ingredients

kneading - the fun bit

In our follow up to Sarehole mill we did make some bread. I make bread most days actually, but in the bread maker, so although Cana has helped me add ingredients, she didn’t really understand about kneading and how it was hard work for the bakers who had to knead dough in the enormous troughs at Sarehole. So we made some. And we made a round loaf like the ones we saw at Sarehole. Quite delicious actually. And she enjoyed it so much that she asked to make some more this week, which suited me as I’d accidentally deleted the photos of the last loaf.


Woodgate Valley Farm

Jude decided that he would like to visit a farm today, and as we live very near Woodgate valley, and didn’t have much time this Monday we decided we would revisit this small urban farm. Christian dropped us all off with our picnic (half consumed by this time, it must be admitted – I am definitely one of those children who would have failed the marshmallow test as a child, perhaps that’s why I’m only a teacher!) and it was another beautiful July day.

I have to admit to an unfortunate error in judgement that rather spoilt our afternoon however. We should have visited during school hours because there were a few local children who use the play area and they were, ummm, how can I say this charitably… not the most pleasant of play companions for my two. Cana was just rather bewildered as to why two  complete strangers would be shouting “you’ve got a boyfriend!” in her face repeatedly, with a few sly punches thrown in. Jude, not sure what was happening, but eager to participate in the spirit of the occasion, began shouting random things back. Had to hustle them away and had just got to the farm bit when the varmints followed us. Decided it would be a good time to go and look at the horses.

The horses were magnificent. About 8 lined up along the paddock fences. Cana was brave enough to stroke one

slightly wary

on the nose but Jude refused to go anywhere near them although he did consent to count how many legs one of them had. Not because it had an unusual number but just because he can’t count much further than four so it’s all good practise.  As a lot of them came right to the fence we could have a really close up look at their hooves and manes. I’m not particularly into animals myself but horses are easy on the eye and Cana exclaimed immediately “Oh mummy, they’re BEAUUUUTIFUL!”

After that we returned to the farm area, which used to be free but is now £1. It’s just a field that been sectioned off with a few different animals in it. Not terribly exciting and even stretching everything out you can’t really spend longer than 40 minutes in there. Well maybe the children could but I would be extremely bored. But they got to look at chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys in the poultry field. We’d gone swimming that morning so it was handy to be able to look at webbed feet and tell them that’s why they have to keep their fingers together when they’re swimming.

Then “Billy Goat Gruffs”, as Jude called them, some pot-bellied pigs and a big cow called Belle. They’ve seen all of these animals before but because the fields are small they could really examine them through the fences. The pigs grunted obligingly, the ducks dived for food and one goose got in the pool and had a wash. All fascinating if you’re only 3 or 5. The farm also has some rabbits in enclosed runs and on the way out we went past “Happy”, a very unfortunate looking pig. When Cana was a small toddler she was terrified of Happy, this time she was intrigued by his hideousness and when we got home she drew a picture of him and labelled it “Happy, ugly”.

technicoloured 'Happy'

A quick stroll through the wild flower meadow, with a brief talk about habitats, and we came back to the play area. Unpleasant children still there so we went into the visitors centre which was disappointingly not child-friendly at all. Finished the remnants of our picnic and then Cana and Jude got to play in the nice play area at last. Unfortunately there were now some more children, one of whom hit Cana and then told her if she would be his slave he wouldn’t hit her any more. She thought this was a fair deal but I had to explain quite emphatically that it was not appropriate behaviour. Then Jude got into trouble with two bigger girls. Sigh. Will definitely go in the morning next time.

Sculpture Trail

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Well, we’ve been to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery a few times – Cana and Jude love the Modigliani wooden puzzle and the tactile room where you can touch all the exhibits. Someone at work told me there are stuffed animals in the Museum bit but we’ve never got past the Gallery before. I quite fancied going in search of them however so Cana and I set off on what turned out to be a bit of a sculpture trail though Birmingham City Centre.

Off on the bus again, this time with Mae in the sling so we could go upstairs and view the Bristol road from the top deck. Oh the thrill. Actually, have to admit  I do feel a teensy bit excited going upstairs on a double decker but I just pretend it’s for the children! Following Steiner principles, we aren’t intending to do any abstract mathematics until Cana is 7 so everything has to be practical. That means that she was wearing her new watch, which she consulted earnestly every few minutes, and she has to pay the bus driver (I tell her what coins I need and she finds them in my purse). The journey into town was slightly livened up by a moth on the window. Cana was slightly jumpy about it being near us so I was giving her a lecture about how you mustn’t hurt their wings by trying to catch them as they are so delicate when it suddenly landed on me and I broke off,  mid-lecture, to squeal and thrash violently around, much to the amusement of the bloke sitting opposite.

Look at meeee!

Got off the bus and strolled up New Street, stopping at Victoria Square by the fountains as Cana loves the big Sphinxes and wanted to climb up on one. This done, and a little think about what they were made out of (stone) we proceeded a few yards to the Anthony Gormley Iron man sculpture.

Iron Man

Had a look at the seams and talked about how you had to melt metal to make it join together. A passing nod at Queen Victoria (Cana wanted to know why she was holding a “wand”) and then round the corner to sit on the lap of Birmingham’s first member of parliament – Thomas Attwood. Cana is very fond of this prestigious and dignified gentleman, who sits on the steps outside the library with his reform papers scattered carelessly around.

Into the Art Gallery we now went, pausing on the way to look at the beautiful mosaic floor (we have a mosaic in the garden but I would like to make one with her now so she can see how it’s done). The first thing you see when you arrive upstairs in the gallery is an imposing Jacob Epstein sculpture of Lucifer. It’s pretty large with a magnificent pair of unfurled wings. Cana is fixated by it. Although she hasn’t noticed before what she saw immediately this visit – “Mummy, he has a willy!”. She was surprised that you could get “boy” angels. She is familiar with the angel Gabriel through the Nativity but we hadn’t discussed gender before. As I’m not actually sure about the biblical stance on the gender of angels, except that some of them seem to have male names, I just said that angels weren’t really men or ladies, although the sculptor had indeed given Lucifer a willy.

Facing Lucifer, somewhat appropriately, is a much smaller sculpture we hadn‘t noticed last time we came of Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. On the way home Cana said this was her favourite sculpture of the day which shows that even children can recognise a great piece of artwork when they see it as Eve is by Rodin. A joy to behold. Cana wanted her picture taken by the sculpture and when I asked at the desk they said photography was permitted as long as I filled in a form first, which was pleasantly surprising.

'Winter', Cana's favourite because of her red dress

Ignoring the paintings we went through the gift shop into a room full of stained glass. Most of the scenes were religious ones she is familiar with (mainly the crucifixion) but there was a gorgeous William Morris one depicting the four seasons which Cana liked as it had four pretty ladies on it. We spent quite a long time in there looking at the windows and finding characters we recognised, like Elijah in the desert, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Had to raise the point in here that when Jesus was on earth it was fairly unlikely that he was as blonde as he is in all the stained glass windows as he was from a country where most people are light brown like her.  There were also some more sphinxes in that room but she didn’t like those ones and thought they were scary.  I had to reassure her that you couldn’t really get a lady with the body of a lion.

And so into the Buddha room. There’s a Buddha in there that’s more than 700 years old. I was impressed but Cana couldn’t really understand that though she was interested in the patterns and the other fantastical images of Hindu gods. Later on I heard her telling daddy with great relish, “there was a boy and his daddy CUT HIS HEAD OFF! And THEN, he gave him an elephant’s one!!”

After that Cana had had enough of the museum and wanted her lunch,

about time too mummy

and Mae was noisily agreeing, so we hastened to the Cathedral Green and had our sandwiches there. Never did get to see the stuffed animals. Oh well, there’s always next time…