A learning holiday from home

As I noted in my previous blog, Home-Schooling an Academics Diary, I am an academic at The Open University. I am also a father to 3 children aged 14, 12 and 7.

If like us, you visited more places abroad than before your children were born you might have the opportunity to have a learning holiday at home.

One of things we will really miss this year is going on holidays.  We like to take our children to places where they can go to the beach and also experience some local culture. We think it’s important to help our children learn about the traditions and beliefs and practices and history of other countries when we visit them.  I am not suggesting our holidays become field trips but rather that occasionally we might take our children to see a well-known monument or site and explain its significance.

During one holiday we went to Cairo and visited the Cairo museum.  Just outside the museum we bought this picture.

The picture has some interesting facts about it that tell a story of ancient and modern Egypt and we explained this to our children:

  • At that time (2004) we had been told Egyptian archaeologists had just learned how to create papyrus paper, which was apparently a lost art. So, the picture was painted on paper similar to that used by ancient Egyptians.
  • The painting used Hieroglyphs which was the way ancient Egyptians used to communicate i.e. in pictures.
  • The painting shows the Egyptian God Anubis judging the weight of a man’s heart. If the heart was as light as a feather the person could enter the afterlife.

It’s not exactly a holiday to Egypt but it shows how you can use things you have at home such as pictures, memorabilia or ornaments you brought back from other countries to teach your children about other cultures.

You might also find the Open Learn course Art and visual culture: Medieval to modern, interesting.

Kieran McCartney


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Raffle Your Time

As I noted in my previous blog, Home-Schooling an Academics Diary, I am an academic at The Open University. I am also a father to 3 children aged 14, 12 and 7 and in the very fortunate position that my wife is also an academic.

The Challenge

One of the areas we found quite challenging is that our youngest child requires much more direction when it comes to structuring her home-schooling day.  She would often refuse to do any mental maths or even do some reading.  In her defence I would refuse to mental maths, where it was possible

The Solution

We thought that providing a clear structure for her day would make life easier for her but outside the school context somehow, it just didn’t seem to work.  So, we applied the Einstein maxim that insanity (at least in relation to how we home schooled our daughter) was doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. We wanted our daughter to engage in the learning, so we took a slightly different approach and introduced a game called ‘raffle your time’.

In this game we left the choice of topic our daughter would study, to chance.  We used some polystyrene egg shapes and using a biro noted a different topic in each one. Then:

  1. We placed the topic choices in a small plastic bowl and asked our daughter to close her eyes and choose an egg.
  2. The agreement was that whatever came out of the bowl as a choice would be the topic that was studied.
  3. Once that topic was chosen it was then removed from the bowl that day.

After completing the task associated with the topic e.g. arts and craft our daughter would take a break and we would repeat the process 1-3, above.

The Result

So far, so good.  The random nature of the choices seems to have helped remove the ‘dread’ or reluctance our daughter felt and left the choices of learning to chance and not the product of the school of Mum and Dad. This is easily repeated using pieces of paper that are folded over so your child can’t see the writing.

If you would like to learn more about structuring children’s education you can find out more on the OpenLearn course Exploring children’s learning

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Home-Schooling an Academics Diary

Why are you and I here?

I am an academic at The Open University. I am also a father to 3 children aged 14, 12 and 7 and in the very fortunate position that my wife is also an academic. My wife also works from home, at least during the lock-down period. Our work is something that we love doing because we have a passion for the subjects that we are involved in. However, we must also strike the balance of providing education for our own students, offering support for the people who we work with and provide an education for our children who cannot attend school because of the lock-down. There’s a lot of plate spinning.

Our two eldest children, who are boys, are in secondary school. Therefore, when compared with our primary school aged daughter they have a little bit more ability to conduct some independent learning whilst simultaneously still receiving help from us. The secondary school where our boys attend provides some great learning opportunities that our children download from the schools Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Some of the tasks are very practical and others are more academic in nature. Where my seven-year-old daughter is concerned, the nature of her education requires much more direct engagement because she is that much younger and has not developed the same level of independence as her older brothers.

Now comes to the reason I am writing this series of blogs. Some who may read this blog might find some similarities between how you and I now experience working and/or how your children now experience education. I will share some of the things that my wife and I are doing with our children where their education is concerned.

The blogs are intended to be one parent i.e. me, sharing ideas with other parents on what I am doing in relation to home-schooling. I also want to share ideas with education professionals who may also find what we are doing useful. I should note from the beginning that whilst some of the ideas I present here are related to tasks our children have been provided with from their respective schools, many are not. Additionally, we have adapted some of these tasks provided by the teachers were our children attend school or modified them so that we can incorporate other skills we think will be useful for our children.

“Wax on wax off”

As I read through some of the activities that my two boys have been sent, I noticed that whilst there were several practical ideas the majority of what they were requested to do involved reading and writing. I also noted that there were down periods for all of us. Much of the work that they now received was not homework but rather schoolwork that should have been done in the class. I was also spending less time commuting and taking my children to and from dance lessons, Hurley practice or martial arts. It occurred to me that there was a great opportunity to teach my children a skill that they might find useful when they are older. It was the idea of martial arts and Mr Miyagi from the 1980s film The Karate Kid that partially inspired what I thought would be a great idea.

So, I noted that the fence that surrounds our property either had not been painted ever! Or, it needs to be repainted to protect the wood. I thought a good idea would be to ask my children to help me repaint the fence. I thought it would be a good education opportunity because they could learn to practice something that they might do when they became adults. 2/3 of my children were incredibly for the idea. My eldest child was much more reluctant. I decided that I would rather create an environment where they could learn by doing something, they enjoyed so only three of us would paint the fence.

Before we started

So, the three of us set about painting the fence. It seemed like such a minor thing however I was bombarded with questions. Things like –


  • Why are we doing it this way?
  • Why are we painting the front of the slats and then the sides?
  • Why can’t we paint the sides first?
  • Does it matter what way I hold the brush?
  • Why can we not start at the other end of the fence?
  • What if we run out of paint?

One very interesting question came from my son who asked, how do we know we have enough paint? Now, before you read what I did next it’s important to know that what I know about mathematics I could write on the back of the stamp!

So, I said to him;

Me: That’s a great question. Have a look at the top of paint and tell me if it says anywhere how long the paint should last?

Son: yes, it says it should do 50 m².

Me: Okay, how do we know how much 50 m² is in relation to the fence? (This one took a bit of thinking before he answered…I had to think of the answer as I asked the question as well).

Son: Well, we would have to work out the area of the fence.

Me: How would we do that?

Son: We would probably have to measure all the wood. But, Daddy what about the spaces in between the wood? ….He had me there!

Me: Ahh, so how could we calculate the area of the surface?

Son: We would probably have to measure each piece of wood and then add it altogether

Me:.. And then

Son: See if the amount of paint we have will cover the amount of wood we have to paint

I did a rough, calculation –

So, under the tutelage of my son, I applied the calculation for working out surface area. We compared the number we calculated with the volume in the paint tin. So, he knew how to apply mathematics to a real-life problem and learned a skill that he might need to use in the future i.e. painting a fence.

You can find out more about everyday maths, here.


Kieran McCartney


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