Category Archives: History

“Why do we have to change the clocks twice a year?”

Interesting question. (This was Lyddie’s question last week, when we changed ours.) “The world takes its time from Greenwich,” says the line in Mary Poppins:

– and yet England only runs on Greenwich Mean Time for half of the year.

So, why?

The inveterate conspiracy theorist in me looks first for a political motive – and indeed, it seems from Wikipedia that I might be right to do so:

Reading the English translation of that directive, I see a ruling to harmonise the change to daylight saving time across the member states so that it happens on the same day, but nothing to explain why it happens in the first place.

My suspicion is that forcing populations to adapt their body clocks twice a year is a political tool which reinforces the power of a ruling body over its people, but Lyddie and I did go through the various given reasons together.

She also asked: “Why does the world take its time from Greenwich?” which led us to the International Meridian Conference, held in Washington in 1884 and attended by 25 nations, in which the following resolutions were adopted:

1. That it is the opinion of this Congress that it is desirable to adopt a single prime meridian for all nations, in place of the multiplicity of initial meridians which now exist.
2. That the Conference proposes to the Governments here represented the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude.
3. That from this meridian longitude shall be counted in two directions up to 180 degrees, east longitude being plus and west longitude minus.
4. That the Conference proposes the adoption of a universal day for all purposes for which it may be found convenient, and which shall not interfere with the use of local or standard time where desirable.
5. That this universal day is to be a mean solar day; is to begin for all the world at the moment of mean midnight of the initial meridian, coinciding with the beginning of the civil day and date of that meridian; and is to be counted from zero up to twenty-four hours.
6. That the Conference expresses the hope that as soon as may be practicable the astronomical and nautical days will be arranged everywhere to begin at midnight.
7. That the Conference expresses the hope that the technical studies designed to regulate and extend the application of the decimal system to the division of angular space and of time shall be resumed, so as to permit the extension of this application to all cases in which it presents real advantages.

We found the text of the proceedings and enjoyed spotting the evolution in the 125 year-old language used. We looked through it to try to find the answer to her second question and found this, spoken by the French delegate:

“… the meridian of Greenwich is not a scientific one, and that its adoption implies no progress for astronomy, geodesy, or navigation; that is to say, for all the branches and pursuits of human activity interested in the unification at which we aim.

“Thus, science is absolutely disinterested in the selection which we are now discussing and that fact I wish to emphasize particularly, as we are about to take a vote which we can easily anticipate by the one we had a few minutes ago, in order that the opponents of the resolution may not be accused of obstructing progress and the great aims of science for private interests.

“If, on the contrary, any conclusion is to be drawn from the instructive debate at which we have assisted, it is that the principal, I will say more, the only merit of the Greenwich meridian—and our colleague from Great Britain just now reminded us of it by enumerating with complacency the tonnage of British and American shipping—is that there are grouped around it, interests to be respected, I will acknowledge it willingly, by their magnitude, their energy, and their power of increasing, but entirely devoid of any claim on the impartial solicitude of science………. For the present we decline the honor of immolating ourselves alone for progress of a problematic, and eminently secondary order; and it is with perfect tranquillity of conscience that we declare that we do not concur in the adoption of the meridian of Greenwich, persuaded as we are that France does not incur the reproach of retarding and of obstructing the march of science by abstaining from participating in this decision.”

– from which we inferred that the decision was a purely political one, formed from the alliance and to help with the then trading links between Britain and America.

We then became interested in the political history between England and France, which of course took us to Napolean, before we ran out of time and energy for studying on that day.

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Filed under Curiosity - a delicate flower, Geography, History, Science

Autonomous learning, what it means for us

Home ed is different for every family. We have friends who follow a set curriculum all morning, every day during the week throughout term time and do nothing else deliberately educational at all. Others insist on an hour or so of set learning, then do other things with the rest of their time. It’s quite common, too, for families to do most of their ‘home education’ out and about with various groups, engaged in planned and themed activities together. Here in West Yorkshire, for example, there’s at least one such event planned for every day of the week by various people and groups of people – some regular, some not. Usually all home educators are welcome.

Royal Armouries

We’ve done some of that, but tend to be more home and family-centred these days. I’ve found, over the years, that my children learn best when I let them take the lead. So we went to The Royal Armouries yesterday, for example. One of the girls had asked to go, so we went. Once there, we split into two groups: an adult for each child. (This is where adult offspring really come in handy!) And we followed the children around the museum, not the other way around. I was with the four year old and amazingly she didn’t just run through the place and out the other side: she actually wanted to know the answers to questions like where things were from, and what was happening here:

He's shooting the tiger.

Going at her pace took some doing – the temptation is for me to see things that I think might interest her and hold her back to point them out, but she stops asking questions if I do that, and I know that questions are vital to her learning. So:

'Wow, swords. What are they for?'

– has me scrabbling to read the plate to her, before she’s off again. She only wants a word or two: she’s only four. We’ll come back again frequently when she’s older, if she wants to. Maybe when she can read the plates for herself.

At home the method/way of life is similar. There’s lots to do here: we’ve amassed quite a collection of stuff over the years and it’s quite well organised and stored in a visible, accessible kind of way. I’ve always liked the Montessori idea of preparing the environment (although ours is not so rigidly structured) and also, I suppose, what unschoolers call strewing (although ours is not so parent-led – I’m just the one who pays for it, transports it home, finds a box and a shelf for it and then usually tidies it away again when it’s finished with! Our children are quite capable of doing their own strewing.)

Last night, for example, the old comic box had an airing:

It surprised me when she wanted to do the thing on this page properly.

And sometimes they want to just bake a cake:

The icing on the cake, groan

Or make pictures:

Houses are the thing ATM

Or look something up on Wikipedia:

..whilst eating a pizza

Or do workbooks:

... whilst kneeling on the dining table.

Or any amount of other things: see friends, phone friends, build things, make things, read things, take things apart and see how they work, ask endless questions, play in the field:

New swing, for the - ahem! - *children*.

The list of possibilities is endless. The point is, I never ask: “What do you want to do now?” because I don’t need to. They work it out themselves, getting ideas from books, friends, family, TV, the Internet, games, or just the environment and the thoughts in their heads. I don’t ban or limit anything: they could play computer games all day if they wanted to, but they never want to. I try not to suggest things, because when I do, they stop being creative and owning their learning.

But I don’t do nothing. I facilitate everything they want to do, never saying ‘no’ to anything if I can help it. I keep the place relatively clean and tidy so that they can be safe and have the clear space they need. I organise my time and money so that they can get what they want, go where they want, do what they want when they want to get, go and do it. I answer every question asked, or help them to find the answer (and the questions never stop, thank goodness!) I read to them a lot. I help them to learn. I will even teach them if they ask me to, though sparingly.


Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Curiosity - a delicate flower, History, ICT, Innate, Letters, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Reading, Strewing, Writing

“Doing Egypt.”

It all started with this book

– which attracted Lyddie’s attention in a shop.

This led to:

Gods on our walls..

Pharoah hat (sorry, *headdress*) on our table...

A trip to the (very good) 'Egypt' section of a local museum...

Finding Egypt on the globe..

Small timelines...

Getting out the old, *big* timeline again (we really must make one of our own)...

More books...


More 'Egypt' stuff...

And watching old 'Egypt' films.

Finally I’m told: “We’ve done enough Egypt for now.”

So it’s all gone in a box until it’s needed again:

Next up? China, apparently. I’d better get another box, then.

(Most of the pics above should be clickable. Some lead to other sites which explain our sources.)

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Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Egypt, Equipment, History, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Writing

Since my last post here, we’ve been..

(amongst other things)

Tracing snowflakes

Making puppet shows



Writing fridge poetry

Welcoming new family members

Practising our handwriting

Ogling the fireplaces in a local stately home

Cycling with skeletons

Doing activity books. 'Pre-school workbooks', they call them. 'Pre-home ed fun books', *I* call them.

And gratefully receiving gifts of books. A whole boxful! Bliss.

We’ve also, this week, been creating maps of our local area – first from memory, then from walking around with a clipboard, then from sloooow driving, and stopping, and reversing, and driving again, then from Google Maps and Street View. Next, we’re comparing the current ones to some we have from 60 years ago, before the M62 was built, to see what’s changed and how. We’re also thinking we’ll do some treasure hunts. An easter egg hunt, with treasure maps!

This all came about because I thought Lyddie’s mind would suit cartography, so I suggested she try to draw a map. She’s always been interested in where she was, and where things were in relation to one another – ever since she could sit up and look around and talk. She has a practical mind which likes to organise things into their proper place and structure.

One of the joys of home education: having the time and the freedom to really get to know one’s own children, work out what they’ll like and – after a bit of trial and error – hit on the right thing and watch them run with it.


Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Driving, History, Innate, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Pre-home ed, Writing

Bedtime reading and the history of inventions

The baby and I are currently having sections of this book read to us by Lyddie every evening:

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It’s not something we could plan for, as Mr Badman seems to think we should be able to.

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If I tried to insist that she did such a thing, Lyddie would be sure to resist. She’d close the book and we’d never hear any more of it.

But I currently don’t have to insist, so she’s reading – struggling with some words, but making definite progress every evening. She’s even talking about writing out some of the stories because she wants to improve her handwriting skill.

How could I have written this into a plan three, or six, or twelve months ago?

Ditto, her recent obsession with the solar system, or again with the months of the year and the seasons, which led to my scrawling of this chart as I supplied the required lengthy explanation and answered her questions:

22 Jun 2009

In school – or Mr Badman’s vision of home education hell, [opens pdf] she’d have probably been made to sit and colour it in, or learn it by rote to be ready to churn it back out at the next inspection, to order. As it was, she was free to look at it, ask a few questions, understand and move onto the next thing.

She’s been re-watching the Narnia films as well, and the beginning of the first one made her wonder about World War II again, about which she’s been interested for a long time. What were Anderson shelters? How did they work? What happened to them at the end of the war? And we got onto talking about evacuations as well.

We might make it to Eden Camp this year, in support of this recurring interest of hers, although we’ve also recently got into looking at castle times, thanks mostly to this book:


(which allows for endless peering at the tiny people, each doing something interesting in every different room) so a visit to here is still very much on the cards.

The juxtaposition of those two time periods in Lyddie’s mind at the same time gave rise to some extra questions, like:

“How long ago did they build the castles/ have WWII?”

(Explaining the concept of ‘hundreds of years ago’ to a six year-old isn’t easy, is it?)


“Why didn’t they have guns and bombs in castle times? Why did it take them so long to invent such things?”

So we got out another book:


– which opens out like this:

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– the relevant parts, I suppose, being this:

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and this:

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At least it gave some perspective, and context. Lyddie poured over it for hours and then her brothers joined in and kept pointing out various aspects of it to her.

A massive amount of learning took place in that one relatively short session with the timeline, but I could never have planned for it beforehand in a million years. Lyddie’s older sister, for example, wasn’t interested in such things at all and hardly ever looked at those kinds of books.

How are we supposed to know in advance where our children’s curiosity will lead them?


Filed under History, Planning - or not, Reading, Seasonal stuff