Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The best British childen's magazines for home education.

Having reviewed a large number of magazines for home education, I've decided to share our results.

1st place:
This went quite easily to Aquila. As I have included my full review just below this post I will not go into much detail. This is an excellent choice for education for many reasons. It has a strong emphasis on science, but also incorporates many other subjects. The very part though - is you do not even notice it is educational as you read it. The subjects are presented in such a way that it is truly fun for children rather than feeling like another school assignment. To find out more go to:

Puffin Post: The main reason to subscribe to Puffin Post  is not the magazine at all - it is the books. A subscription to Puffin Post costs £45 and only includes 6 issues - one every other month. Each issue has articles on several books as well - but the best part is - you get to choose one book from each issue to be sent out to you as part of the subscription price. So the child reads the magazine, finds out about each book and then chooses the one they want to read the most.  I really liked these magazines, they are well written and cover a wide range of interests, but the part I like best is that they really encourage children to choose their own books.
To see my complete review please visit dooyoo@
or visit

How It Works: An excellent science and technology magazine , listed as ages 8+. This magazine appears to combine articles for children with more adult articles.
see my review @
or visit their site:

Discovery Box: An excellent magazine for those who are looking for a publication that covers a wide variety of educational interests. The majority of the magazine is non fiction, and there is a good mix of subjects covered. Each issue has a has articles on science, nature and geography.

National Geographic Kids:
We are letting our subscription to this magazine lapse. It simply had too much fluff and too many ads. But this is written at a lower reading age than most of these magazines, and with a limited amount of text makes easy light reading for younger children. Some issues are better than others, but you do learn something about science, nature and the world in each one.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

My review of Aquila Magazine

This review can be found on dooyoo, ciao, the Aquila website and in shortened form The Observer on Sunday 18, 02. 2012.

As many of you may know, I am passionate about children’s literacy. This was one of the major reasons behind my decision to home educate. I want my children to read well – but also to love reading. After all, as Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot.” I have also felt it important that children have a wide variety of reading material and enjoy reading from many different sources, so in addition to my massive collection of children’s books, I like to have at least one magazine subscription as well.
The problem is that finding really good magazines to appeal to boys of my son’s age and interests is difficult. We have subscribed to National Geographic Kids for some time, but the last issue was the final straw. My son read 9 pages of the magazine – but this amounted to very little text in bubbles alongside photos. The majority of the issue was advertising or writing about new products we could buy. It’s gotten to the point that each issue is like browsing through the Argos catalogue as the children come up with which items they want on their Christmas list. I did ask my son if he wanted to keep getting the magazine – he says he isn’t fussed with the magazine but likes some of the sweets and toys. I can buy sweets much cheaper at Tesco though, and the toys usually end up in the bin a few days later. So my quest for the perfect children’s magazine began.
After a fair amount of time researching online, I came across mention of AQUILA billed as “the magazine for children who enjoy challenges”. A bit of research shows this magazine was originally developed for “gifted and talented children”. In fact I have found one private school boasting that they use this magazine for their gifted and talented programme – and I could easily see designing a monthly curriculum around this. The company states that their current position is as follows: “we hope that AQUILA can inspire all children to reveal their brilliance”. Personally, I believe all children are gifted and talented. It is simply a matter of helping them to discover their own unique gifts and talents. After reading this magazine myself and with my son, I do believe this magazine is an excellent resource to do just that.
My only problem with this magazine was that the price was £45 and I was concerned that if we didn’t like it I’d be out a fair amount of money. I had never seen an issue and didn’t know anyone who had. They do offer a money back guarantee but I know it can take ages with some companies to get your money back. So, cheeky git that I am, I emailed and asked them to send me a sample copy which I would review, and if I found the magazine appropriate to our needs I would subscribe.
When my sample copy arrived, my first thought was “This is a bit thin”. It is in fact only 24 pages. By comparison NG Kids has 52 pages. Pulling a random copy off my shelf though, I found 21 pages of advertising, then we have 4 pages of pull out posters, none of which would be of any interest to us, and overall far too much fluff.
Once I started looking through AQUILA magazine my initial appraisal was quickly cast aside. It may be only 24 pages, but there were no advertisements (excepting a small offer in a box to refer a friend), no page after page of pull out posters of fluffy animals – in fact there were no posters at all. Of the 24 pages, my son read and enjoyed every one except the letters to the editor, and a single page in this magazine had more text than the nine pages he read of Nat Geo Kids. There are illustrations – and some very nice ones at that – but there is a good balance between illustrations and text in this magazine. There are enough pictures to keep a younger child interested, but there is still plenty of in-depth information in the text.
I received the Sept 2012 issue. The main articles in this issue were:
The Disappearance of Large Animals: This article explored possible reasons for the extinction of most of the very large mammals during the Pleistocene age. It does not give one single answer but explores many possibilities and encourages readers to think for themselves.
It All Happened in the Trees: This article is about the evolution of mankind, pointing to how scientists believe many current features of humans stem from life in the trees. I don’t agree with everything in this article, but I teach my children the prevailing scientific theories with the understanding that many people have different beliefs. But agree or disagree, I really enjoyed this article, in large part because it encourages children to think and question things. There is an interesting section on vision here, which led us off into many other subjects. We started by reading about how the position of an owl’s eyes give it the ability to judge distance better, but this led to a discussion of how different animals have different types of vision – which finally led to a fairly large project we have started on dinosaurs, by examining different features, such as placement of the eyes, and using this feature to guess if the animal is a carnivore or herbivore. We also had a very long discussion on how the opposable thumb affected the development of humans – but why other animals with an opposable thumb have not developed in the same manner. This article was only two pages, but so far we have spent hours reading, discussing, and pursuing other activities.
Puzzles: This magazine has two pages of puzzles, all of which involve some sort of mental exercise. We enjoyed doing these together and I found them fun as well. My son liked the fossil match puzzle best while I felt a maths puzzle involving cubes was the best.
Things to make: This section has a lovely craft idea which we will be doing as soon as we gather the stones. Basically you heat small round stones in the oven and colour them with wax crayons for some really lovely results.
Stone Age People: This article describes several different types of humans. It mentions early settlements, use of tools, Neolithic monuments and more. My son was especially interested in the cave art so we will be trying to reproduce some of the drawings on slabs of clay.
Wordworm: This appears to be a monthly column; the focus for this issue is an article discussing the French language. My son especially enjoyed discovering which words were the same in French as in English, so we are going to be working on a project of our own to find as many common words as possible between English and German.
Paws for Thought: Also appears to be a monthly column. This issue had an article on the Scottish Wildcat.
Just Think: This article was my favourite. It asks if we have a choice and explores the concept of scientific determinism. I think this was brilliantly written and encourages young children to think philosophically as well as scientifically. This led to another very long discussion. The result was that my son believes in a mild form of determinism but is willing to convert and believe all behaviour is controlled by pre-set chemicals and electrical impulses, because according to this idea he should not get in trouble if he watches The Big Bang Theory or plays video games when he should be studying, or does anything else he isn’t meant to. After all, it isn’t his fault – it is scientific determinism – who are we to argue with science?
Fun with Maths: Another monthly column, this issue explains the history of counting, the base ten system and why we have the numbers eleven and twelve instead of one-teen and two-teen.
Fiction: I didn’t expect much from this. My son is very picky with fiction, and for the most part finds short stories quite dull. I was pleasantly surprised though when he really enjoyed the two page story – Sharing the Good News of Mr Bones.
Overall, I really can’t think of anything bad to say about this magazine. It is expensive – but I often complain about the lack of real quality in children’s magazines. This is a small independent publication putting out a really first class product, and it does not have advertising to help defray expenses. Considering these facts, I find the price quite reasonable and hope that by subscribing I can help keep a wonderful publication in print. Needless to say, I did subscribe. I can’t wait for the next issue – the focus is on volcanoes and earthquakes.
In addition to the standard £45 for 12 issues, they also offer 4 issues at £20. There was an offer in the magazine to refer a friend and they could get 3 months for £10. They did allow me 3 months at £15 though which means I can buy the full subscription after Christmas.
This magazine is recommended for ages 8 – 12. I would say the lower age limit is fair enough. My son is age 7 and quite enjoyed this, but the text is small and this is written on an adult reading level. He could read it, but we chose to read this together, and I feel he got more out of this magazine with all of our discussions as a shared activity. I would recommend this for children of his age, but not much younger. As to the upper limit though, I am in complete disagreement. I think this magazine would suit teenagers with an interest in science very well. I also could see subscribing to this magazine purely for my own reading pleasure if my children were grown. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a magazine so much. I’m afraid I can’t stand the traditional women’s magazines. There is more to life than makeup and romance stories. It’s nice to find a magazine that encourages thought and leaves the reader feeling as if they have learned something – and I will never be too old to enjoy learning new things.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Using magazines in Home Education

Home educated children often develop very specialised knowledge. I am certain my 7 year old knows more about paleontology than many adults, and both of my sons know far more about aircraft, the military and DNA than the average child their age. My just turned four year old,  recently looking for good insult told his father - "I'll smash you so hard they won't recognise your DNA". He knows perfectly well the value of DNA in identification, and is always trying to come up with some scenario under which Parasaurolophus DNA could be found and used to resurrect his favorite dinosaur.

 I've met an other home educated child who could tell you everything about dogs, right down to veterinary care. In fact she impressed a local vet so much that he hired her at a very young age, having already memorised most of the veterinary manuals at 15. Yet another in his teens knew everything about mechanics, while others could answer any question on the history of Japan, The Middle Ages etc...

 There is nothing wrong with a child pursuing their own interests and learning the things they want to learn. In fact I am quite certain they learn more, and more importantly retain more information when the facts interest them. I  do not mind if my children spent a significant amount of their time in education learning about their favourite topics. But as great as specialised knowledge is - I don't want it to be at the expense of general knowledge. At age 7, my son is certain he wants to be a paleontologist, but 7 is far too young for career choices to be set in stone, even if he has stuck to ths one for 3 years. As my children are very young - I want them to branch out - explore everything.

 This is where a really good magazine can be invaluable in home education. A monthly magazine provides a bit variety to a child's ordinary routine. The articles in each months magazine introduce to new topics we might never have considered before. It is like have an extra teacher in the home, someone to a offer new and different point of view.

Educators have recognised the importance of non-fiction in a child's education, and schools are including non-fiction from a very early age. Most home educators do too, but a magazine is the perfect way to keep this varied. We recognise now that children build vast stores of general knowledge in early childhood, organising this information and putting to better knowledge as they grow older. But far too many older children are growing up without the general knowledge one would expect. University instructors are repeatedly complaining that students lack the most basic general knowledge - scientific literacy, a knowledge of their own history and the history and culture of other nations. A good general interest educational magazine is an excellent means of building of base of general knowledge about the world around your child.

We have recently sampled and reviewed quite a large number of children's magazines. We found Aquila to be far and away the best choice for our family, but we will still be using a few extras as well. I chose Aquila for a few reasons. The first is that being an educational publication, it fits in quite well with a home school curriculum.  I also loved the fact that this magazine is all content. There were no page fillers or fluff, nor were there any commercial ads. The very best thing about this magazine for us is the fact that in contains enough familiar and well loved topics to keep my son interested and wanting to read it combined with new topics we would never have dabbled in otherwise.

 Each month presents a new list of topics for us to explore and there is quite a lot to discuss as well  crafts to do and subjects for further research. We always choose at least one topic to find out more about. It might be volcanoes, or prehistoric mammals, or how hands shaped evolution. or the silk worm or Ancient Egypt. We even had one issue with an excellent article the concept of scientific determination. I think this was a wonderful way to encourage children to really think philosophically and scientifically.  Most of these are topics we would not have explored otherwise, so this magazine helped to give him a broader and more balanced education.

 I would recommend  choosing at least one high quality, non fiction magazine. You will of course have to consider your own child's interests and reading level. Just reading the magazine will do a lot to encourage literacy as well as to help your child learn about new places, ideas, and concepts. But I certainly would not stop there. I would plan on devoting at least one full day to each magazine. Read it, do the crafts, look up topics online, and if need be, order a few books to match as well. By becoming actively involved in the subjects your child will learn more - and it is great way to spend time together as well. Most of all, I think my child learns just by discussing the topics with me. We always try to consider other points of view, play devil's advocate and argue another position on science related topics etc... The more you put into a resource like this - the more your child will get out of it.

My next post will be a round up of educational magazines for children featuring the best and worst of genre, after which I hope to include some photos of art projects from the magazine we are using. Please check back soon for a complete run down of children's magazines in the UK.