Medieval Banquet Preparation


They say it’s all in the prep, and who am I to argue?  So we went at it with attitude.  Well, at least I did.  The children didn’t really catch on until the day of the banquet when they miraculously turned into mini Super men and women, whizzing around enthusiastically (well, nearly) doing my every bidding (again, nearly).

I had woken up rather disconcertingly to a five year old sitting on my bed staring down at me, approximately three inches away from my face, 5am in the morning.  Given I’d got to sleep two hours previously I was not amused.  In fact I very nearly jumped out of my skin.  I attempted to tuck her down in Gary’s side of the bed and sternly told her to go back to sleep.  Alas she was far too interested in stroking my arm (!) to make any attempt at close eye, and so we got up and started our day, hours earlier than would have been my preference.

There is something to be said for starting the day earlier than planned, and given it was the day of our banquet and we were expecting to feed 12 that very evening, a few extra hours wouldn’t go amiss.  We had already done a run through of the actual presentation to my mum the day before, a sort of dress rehearsal.  C11 had been feeling terrible (she is the last in our family to have caught the cold that’s been going around) and could barely talk, let alone enthusiastically on her topic of medieval fashions.  We all did our best and retired for the day with the knowledge that we had an enormous amount to do the next day and we would probably be one man down.

C rallied, however, and in spite of feeling like rubbish she did her level best to participate as much as she could in the preparations of the feast.  And there was much to do…cleaning for example:

Ribbet collage med 4

Much, much cooking, which L11 and I did together:

Ribbet collage med 2

  1. Melting the butter for the pork roll filling
  2. Stuffing the goose
  3. Basting the goose
  4. Making the raspberry coulis

We were planning on using bread trenchers as plates and so made those the day before:

Ribbet collage med

  1. Grinding the flour
  2. L mixed the flour with an egg, water, oil and yeast
  3. We baked them in the hot oven for 30 or so mins and then left them in a cool oven for maybe 6 hours to completely dry them out.
  4. They were rock solid, really – if we had thrown them at glass the glass would have shattered rather than the dish.  That hard.

L worked so hard on the day of the feast producing much food, all ready to be popped into the oven to cook in the hours before the guest arrived:

Ribbet collage med 5

We cooked only food which would have been around in the middle ages, which meant no potatoes

  1. Roasted carrots and squash
  2. Pears in a spicy red wine sauce
  3. Roasted beetroot and red and white onions
  4. Cherry pottage

Presentation boards and props were gathered and displayed in readiness for the presentations:

Ribbet collage med 6

  1. C11 collected all the costumes
  2. Medieval signs
  3. Wooden bowls for hand washing, salt and desert
  4. One of the place settings – bread trencher, wooden spoon and wooden cup

However, we did get the odd moment for relaxation:

Ribbet collage med 3

Four thirty came about quickly (this was the time the guests were arriving).  L11 was due start proceedings with her presentation which would aim to educate our guests in the etiquette expected of them during the feast – y’know burping and so forth….

More next week!

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Ancient Aztecs


Please bear with me.  I took a few days off after the presentation (to recover!).  I will endeavour to answer all your lovely comments and visit your blogs over the weekend.  For now, I just need to stare into space….

During this study, the children dressed up, made some Aztec masks and fans as well as trying their hands at sculpting an Aztec calendar.  I also had them write a story about something which had grabbed their attention during their time with the Aztecs:

And the masks they painted:

And the fans they made:

And an Aztec Calender (of sorts), unpainted:

And painted:

I asked the children to write a fiction story about something they felt strongly about with regards to the Meso-America cultures we’d studied.  Here is C9′s story about a boy, caught as a sacrifice:

                                                                                      Human Sacrifice: Zero Skull’s Story

I darted through the crowds and slid in between people’s legs.  Two fat guards, dripping with sweat, colourful with feathers, hurried after me.  I was a sacrifice.  Although I had escaped many a time, I could not run very fast.  I was starved.  I collided into two more guards, they recognised me and grabbed at me, but I slipped through their fingers.  Suddenly I crashed into a raven haired girl carrying a basket of bread.  My mouth watered.

“Please may I have some of your bread?  Please?”

“Shak ren la,” the girl answered and took a few loaves out of her basket and wrapped them in some cloth. “Hes.”  She handed them to me.

Thank you.” I said and darted off.  When I looked back the girl had disappeared.  “Phew” I sighed, “I need a place to sleep.”  Suddenly, I noticed an ally way that stank of rotten food and lay down to sleep in a doorway covered in a sack.

I woke up in the early morning.  The pretty girl was staring down at me.

“Ne la homey,” she said inviting me inside her warm home.  She gave me some cool milk and a roll.

“Thank you.  Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Shaharuzad.  I am a refuge, an orphan.  My parents were sacrificed.  Are you a sacrifice?”

“Sort of. I am also an orphan like you but I am to be sacrificed in a month.  I am a pitiless boy.”  I said that with tears in my eyes.

Suddenly, crash, crash! Bang, bang!  Two guards and a captain raced in.

“Him.” The captain pointed at me and the guards grabbed me, I looked at the wide eyed girl one last time before I was dragged out of her home.

The guards tossed me before Montezuma, the king of the Incas.

“Why did you run away?” Montezuma shouted at me.

“Because I am not going to be sacrificed.” I screamed back.

Monty, (as I called him) glared at me, “Scum! I’ve decided he’s scum!  We’ll sacrifice him tomorrow.  Now lock him up!”

This was my last night in the human world. I had to run away, but how?  This question penetrated my mind. I had to run away.  As I pondered this, my eyes wandered to the window.  It didn’t have any bars! Yay!  Climbing down the window, as quiet as a mouse I slipped into the ally where Shaharazad lived.

Five years later Monty gave up searching for me.  I had lived and hid in Shaharazad’s home and now I was free of the guards.  The guards looked at me with respect.  I became rich.  Also I became a noble and I even married Shaharazad and we lived happily forever more.


Ancient Mayans


The Ancient Mayans were incredibly interesting to study.  We completed a lap book, a Mayan dig and made some Mayan pottery.

The Mayan part of their lap book:

The findings from our Mayan dig:

And clay pottery and painting Mayan style:


Tomorrow I will post about our Aztec study

Resources for Studying the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs


This is one of my looking back posts of work we did over the summer holidays a few years ago.  It was a study which was meant to last a whole summer, but which the children enthusiastically completed in two weeks!

Here are some of the resources we used:

Not terribly authentic dressing up!

Activity books, lapbooks, sticker books and colouring in books

Clay for modeling, a Mayan archeological dig and mask making

Lots and lots of non-fiction books…..

…and as always lots of historical fiction!

Tomorrow I will share what we did with all these wonderful resources.

In Memory of my Dad


My Dad and Mum on their wedding day

My Dad and Mum on their wedding day

My Dad died five years ago.  It was this which pre-empted our decision to move back to England, so we could be with Mum.  Mum and Dad had divorced years ago, but were still incredibly good friends and his death was a huge loss for her.  I’ve never talked about my Dad much in my blog.  Ours was not a simple relationship, marred by decades of alcoholism.  When I had children I think Dad felt it was his second chance and was the absolute best Grandfather my children could ever wish for.  By the time we moved to Ireland he was visiting most days, helping around the house and taking the three older ones (who were two and three at the time) out for a daily walk.  I finally had the support and love of a father I had craved all my life.  When we moved to Ireland, he continued his quest to give our family his unparalleled support.  He phoned daily, wrote, we emailed and sent packages to him (of ridiculous things the children wanted to send him like Play Mobil figures and the like).  He always responded with utmost enthusiasm to it all.  My older children have wonderfully happy memories of Dad.

Dad and I on my wedding day

Dad and I on my wedding day

The December before he died, three months after A5′s birth, he, his wife and my mum and brother came and visited.  It was the first (and last) time my family had all been together for years.  They came for Christmas and it was lovely.  We could not have known at that time that he would be dead within months.  When he turned 70 in the following March, I sent him a letter.  It was a letter that just a few years previously would have been impossible to write.  It was a letter telling him how much I loved him.  How much I appreciated him as a father and how much I enjoyed the relationship we had developed since the children had been born.  It was a letter which had him phoning me in tears, telling me it was the best present he had ever received in his life.  He had never before told me he loved me, and he didn’t then, but it was at that moment I knew, with all of my heart, that he loved me with all of his.

A very young Gary, me and Dad on my graduation from Nursing school

A very young Gary, me and Dad on my graduation from Nursing school

A few short weeks later he was dead.  But he and I had said all that needed to be said.  There was nothing left.  No regrets.  The past pains had literally been forgiven and forgotten and my memories of him, to this day, are all of him in his latter days, loving our family with all he was capable of.

Dad, it’s been five years but I still feel like it was yesterday I last talked to you.  I find myself waiting for the next email, letter, call, which of course won’t ever come.  I still haven’t deleted your email address from my computer. I probably never will.  I love you, and will love you forever, for you are my Dad xx

Good Timber

    by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight

For sun and sky and air and light,

But stood out in the open plain

And always got its share of rain,

Never became a forest king

But lived and died a scrubby thing.


The man who never had to toil

To gain and farm his patch of soil,

Who never had to win his share

Of sun and sky and light and air,

Never became a manly man

But lived and died as he began.


Good timber does not grow with ease:

The stronger wind, the stronger trees;

The further sky, the greater length;

The more the storm, the more the strength.

By sun and cold, by rain and snow,

In trees and men good timbers grow.


Where thickest lies the forest growth,

We find the patriarchs of both.

And they hold counsel with the stars

Whose broken branches show the scars

Of many winds and much of strife.

This is the common law of life.

My brave brother chose and read this out beautifully at my Dad’s funeral.  It is now one of my favourite poems.

Reflecting on the Success of Project Based Learning



I know this is usually my collage day, accounting our week of learning.  This week we have been busy getting over infections and working towards our presentation (which due to illness had to be postponed to next Tuesday).  I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to take any photos.  We did however, bring to a close our twelve or so weeks of learning using projects as our primary learning method and I want to document the successes and failures of this educational experiment.

First up, projects have been a huge success in our household overall.  Individually, they will need tweaking to make them work better for each child, but in the main, I think we have found a method of home schooling which works pretty perfectly for us.   It seems like all our home schooling over the past ten years or so has naturally led us to project based learning.

Bizarrely, backing off and letting them have more say and more freedom has probably been the steepest learning curve for me.  Having always been the driving force of our home school it is difficult for me now to know when I should step in and when I should sit back and let the child figure something out for themselves. One of my children would be quite happy to allow me to do all their work should I be so inclined and so I have to be particularly careful with that child to make sure they are working to the fullest of their potential rather than at half mast.

I have learnt that I very much enjoy watching my children each explore their own ways of learning, which are all so different.  It has been very interesting for me to discover that T12 wants me as far away as possible from his learning.  He will ask for help, but he likes pretty much total independence and has completely blossomed under that freedom.


This term he chose the War of the Roses to study and confidently set about researching on his lap top.  This was a new acquisition for his birthday and Christmas and it has been such a help to his school work we have decided to get L and C one before their birthday in October.  What astounded me the most was his 1000 word play he wrote documenting his learning, which he then filmed using his sisters and father as his actors.  This was a big undertaking for someone who hates writing and had never really operated a video camera before.  He figured out everything by himself and has learnt so much.  His film, whilst incredibly good given his lack of experience, was a little on the dark side.  Even though he had lit the area with all the lamps he could get his hands on, Gary could hardly be seen.  He is already trouble shooting that issue in preparation for his next film.  Also, he filmed in stages, filming each scene at different times of the day, depending when each actor was available.  The problem was that the lighting tended to be different in each scene and when they were pasted together there was a lack of continuity in lighting.  So again this is something he will address in time for his next film.

L11 has enjoyed the practical nature of project work, and coming up with ideas.  She, however, does not enjoy learning alone.  Whilst she wants to actually carry out the work herself, she needs my presence for moral support and simple company.  She has always hated being alone so this doesn’t really surprise me.  However, like her brother she has completed her term’s project almost entirely independently.  She doesn’t require my help, just my presence.

Ribbet collagelil

Her project work has been all about preparing the medieval feast, which will be held at their presentation on Tuesday.  Given she is catering for 12 people at our feast, she has handled it fairly well.  L12 is laid back by nature and so long as she know what is expected of her she usually calmly delivers.  Her main beef has been that she has felt alone and a bit isolated for the duration of the project.  We are planning on counteracting that with some one to one time at the beginning of each day’s project time.  She has also asked if she could explore her artistic side a bit more.  My answer, of course, was that she could do as she wished for it was HER project!  I think at that moment a light bulb went on in her head, as she suddenly realised the potential in project based learning.

C11 has probably struggled the most with project work.  She says she enjoys it, and she certainly seemed to enjoy the research at the beginning, but she got bored very quickly, so that finishing the 12 week project was particularly difficult for her.  Having discussed it further, she has asked for more input in breaking down a project into manageable pieces and having accountability for finishing one part before moving on to the next.

Ribbet collage1D

Her project was on medieval fashions and to be honest I think she bit off more than she could chew, and I think she may have lost interest because it was simply too hard.  At the last-minute I had to step in and help and I feel she now does not think of the dolly’s clothes as her own creation, even though she did a lot of it herself.  She is so full of great ideas but they are often not terribly realistic.  I’m not really sure what my job should be.  Do I attempt to rein her in, but in doing so steal her joy and enthusiasm by taking full ownership of the project away from her, or do I step back and watch the inevitable upset which will follow as she fails to reach her self set goals?  I don’t know the answer.  However, I do know that this forthcoming term I will be striving to help her to set her sights on a fully and easily achievable goal.  She needs the confidence that success will bring, and she needs to know what she can achieve rather than what she can’t.  I will do everything in my power to set her up pre-project for success and enjoyment; but I am also going to back right off the moment the term starts and give her the space to succeed on her own.

I think I can confidently say we are now project based home schoolers.  It sits comfortably between more formal methods of learning and unschooling, and I really do think it suits our mix of personalities.  We’re all looking forward to next term learning along side each other.

Homegrown Learners photo 50ee37ee-4f60-43f2-83eb-bb7deb75fd49_zpsbacda61d.png

A Literary Approach to the Hundred Year War


Otherwise known as the Lazy parent’s guide to teaching The Hundred Year War!  Yes, I am all warred out.  We have covered the Crusades in-depth and T12 has been learning all about the War of the Roses and concurrently we have been learning about the Hundred Year War.  Enough already!  Stop the fighting!  Claire is getting bored!  So what does a home school mummy do when she is fed up with battles and wars but wants her children to have at least a passing knowledge of the set of wars affectionately known to all as the Hundred Year War?

Handily, I had a good excuse not to be involved.  Gary had taken two weeks off work to make a start on the new school room and this seemed the perfect opportunity to give the children some resources and learn completely independently.  As I begun researching the hundred year war, it struck me just how much literature there was out there pertaining to it.  This gave me the idea to do a short unit using a primarily literary approach.  I would provide the resources and the children would use any that appealed to them.  I knew we would be calling on the older children to look after the younger children during the two weeks so I chose not to set them any written work, preferring instead to have them narrate all they had learnt at the end of the day.

We obtained the following two books as a download to listen to.  Whilst not quite as wonderful as his Sherlock Holmes books, Conan Doyle considered them to be his best works and they are well researched:

2212349_300 doyledaugherty_the_white_company

Shakespeare is famously known for writing historical plays about the kings of England.  As we will be studying Shakespeare next year, and ultimately Shakespeare is designed to be watched rather than read, I opted for the films of his works rather than the actual written down plays:


The Hollow Crown series was a huge hit with my girls but a bit hit and miss with T12.  He did not enjoy the first video but the second and third he loved.  They all (but especially T12) really enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, which contains his famous battle speech:

In addition, I bought in a few factual books which they read a few pages of each day.  These were bought more for T12 who really enjoys learning about battles and wars; the girls not so much:

DSC_0217 battle

I also had the children peruse this squidoo lens as much or as little as their interest allowed.  It wasn’t required work, just extra should they wish to delve in deeper.

This really was a simple way for the children to learn about this subject in a pain-free and easy way.  It took less than 30 minutes each day reading time, plus some listening time and of course their favourite – video time.  It required practically nothing from me which, as I was helping Gary with the school room, was exactly as I wanted it to be!

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