Week 2: School Ship Tobermory

This week K chose to look at a book by Alexander McCall Smith, more famous for his books on the Number One Ladies Detective Agency set in Botswana and also the 44 Scotland Street series, set here in Edinburgh and starring the precocious Bertie and his dreadful mother amongst others. School Ship Tobermory is a new addition to his series of books and we are already onto the second.


The week got off to a tricky start. Halloween and a small party had been looming large for at least a month and now it was here, so from about 6:30am the refrain was “when do we go to the party?”. We managed to use the laptop for some maths, English skill building and then researched the author for our biography sheet. K was very impressed by how many books he writes (especially given how her head is full of stories trapped by writing problems). I’m not sure if it is just his face (and who can help how their face looks) but I get a great sense of honesty, kindness and a deep sense of ethics (which is unsurprising given his career teaching medical law!) from every one of his books. Even the unpleasant characters are treated humanely (without excuses). He reminds me a lot of Maggie Keswick Jenks, who I am only aware of through documentaries and her wonderful legacy, the Maggie’s Centres – the sense of joy in life, of taking all of it, up and down, and deciding to embrace all of it’s complexity with a deep love and vibrancy and raw honesty. I digress – but let’s say this week was a good week for me too. We used the internet to research the author, asking what we needed to know and how important the facts were to understanding his writing.

One of the challenges was deciding just what to study, as the book lead us in such amazing directions – geography, navigation, history, naval terminology, knot tying, friendship and bullying.

We compared different types of map: how did the artistic version look compared to the ‘realistic’ one? what techniques did the illustrator use to show mountains when he couldn’t use colour? how do we know there is water around the island? Compare the scales used, to work out the size of the island – why are there different measurements?
Using scratch board to try art techniques. I really loved looking more closely at Iain McIntosh’s illustrations – there is such a great use of line, shape and it’s all done with ease and mastery (in the finished result). We looked at his website to find out more about him, his techniques and get ideas for using the scratchboard. It is a LOT harder than we thought, although using different shaped tools (all ordered from Amazon, sorry) was a good art lesson.

K spent a few days with her grandparents – who are fully on board with homeschool so far – and so she stepped up and produced her own timetable to make sure everyone stayed on track.


Miss K decided that everyone needed a timetable for the day so we all knew what was happening when. I love the illustrations! It’s interesting that she naturally uses pictures as well as words to keep on track.

Her navigation studies included a couple of astrolabes – made at home with cardboard and ingenuity from the site DIY, a safe online space for children to learn how to make and do. It’s a wonderful resource and really worth spending time on. You never know when it will spark off a learning journey.

We are only using the site in a limited way as I don’t feel she needs the community/sharing aspect yet – lots of time for that in years to come!

She also began her nature studies, using the online book “Exploring Nature with Children” by Lynn Seddon. Each week has a great list of resources based on each topic, this week being fungi. There are books, computer links, things to look out for on your nature walks, a series of art prompts and an appropriate poem.

Studying different types of mushroom from her walk.

Reading out her nature studies to granny and grandad.

K and Grandad did a series of experiments from a Twinkl science project on finding the best materials for making boats. I was impressed with how much writing she did, as it is not easy for her to focus and the physical act of writing is tricky. She is learning so much though.

The cardboard astrolabe from DIY.

As usual, she did the start of a very detailed and exciting story about the adventures of Penny Lolly and the were-fox but lost focus after two pictures. It looks very interesting so far.

We used the twinkl website for handouts to look at about friendship and bullying, as the characters of William Edward Hardtack, Maximilian Flubber and Geoffrey Shark (school bullies) are quite prominent in the book, as is the friendship between brother and sister Ben and Fee and their schoolmates Poppy and Badger.

There are lots of special words which you only find on board ship – we made a note of some of them but didn’t have time to do the illustrations!

Overall a great week for learning, although the hardest thing is actually fitting everything in during the week. We need to factor in a lot of breaks to regroup and focus, time for music practice, time to walk the dog and move around, time to get household jobs done and of course there are intermittent appointments. Social time is limited just now and in winter that is always a challenge but I hope it will get easier as we ease into the routine. Next week’s topic is Dogs, one of her favourite subjects, rather than an individual book, and it will last for several weeks.

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