How to homeschool your children during lockdown 2.0

Are you trying to homeschool again during the new lockdown? One thing many people new to homeschooling worry about is how to get their children to do the homeschooling, especially when they have several children. Now it’s half-term, you might be able to take a few minutes to up your homeschooling game.

Part of the problem for why homeschooling is so chaotic right now is that teachers are used to only having one age group in their classroom, so even though they might be using different work for different groups, those groups are still learning the same topic. There will always be times when the whole class do things together, regardless of their abilities.

At home, unless you have twins or triplets, they are unlikely to be doing the same lesson, so you need to organise your home learning differently to how it’s done in the classroom.

The following is adapted from my new book Homeschooling 101: How to Homeschool in the UK available here on Amazon and free with Kindle Unlimited, which I co-wrote with the amazing Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientifica Now, who really knows his academic stuff!

First of all, don’t try to do everything all at once. Let’s say you have three children you want to work with. A teacher in a classroom can’t teach three lessons at the same time and neither can you. It’s not possible. So give two of the children a task that doesn’t require any direct teaching, such as colouring or a home exercise YouTube video, and get the third child on task.

My personal preference is to start explaining the work to the child who will need the least help, and move through your children to the one who will need the most help, so you can spend as much time as you need sitting with them and getting them on-task with their learning.

Another option is to get the middle children on-task first, then get the one who needs the least help to help you with the child who needs the most help getting started. This approach works when all your children are close in age and when the child needing the least help is older and more academically able than the others. It won’t work so well if the child who needs the least help is five and the one who needs the most help is twelve.

Sometimes the hardest part can be getting the children to sit down and listen to you. Patterns of behavior based on years and years of the way parents and children live together will make it hard to use the sort of behavior management that works in a teaching environment.

It makes sense that the parent-child relationship is very different from the teacher-child relationship. You are there when your child wakes up in the night with a nightmare. You’ve sat through fevers with them. Taken them to the doctors and held their hand.

Your bond with your child is completely different to the way your child relates to their teachers. And that’s how it should be. But it means that what works in a classroom won’t necessarily work at home to get the children to sit down and do their work. Especially given that home is where all their toys and games are. So cut yourself some slack, you’re asking things of your children that aren’t part of your usual parent-child relationship, and this can cause conflict or outright refusal.

Another issue with the current situation is that most teachers have never actually homeschooled their own children and don’t know how it is different. Naively, some teachers (and head teachers) seem to expect children to do exactly what they would do at school… but at home. This is unrealistic.

Homeschooling lessons should be shorter and more productive, because the children don’t have to wait for all the classroom crowd-control. Many homeschooling parents have said that their child gets through very little content at school compared to at home.

What some teachers don’t understand is that the children should be spending less time learning at home to achieve the same outcomes. Mass video calls with a whole class of children are very unproductive, yet this is what many have fallen back on. This is because they don’t know what else to do.

Many normally-homeschooling parents (parents whose children aren’t registered at a school) only do 2-3 hours of table learning (learning at a desk) a day! These are parents of children who go on to take exams and then get into university. The rest of the day is often learning things like cooking, gardening, going on bug hunts or drawing/painting.

Here are some tips to help you get your children into a learning head space:

  • Make space: Have a dedicated part of the house such as the dining room where you can do homeschooling. This helps your children know that when they are here, they do learning. This area ideally needs a table and chairs, which is why a dining area or dining room will work well.
  • Zero distractions: Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV. Switch off the Wi-Fi if you’re doing a learning task that doesn’t require it. Ask everyone to put their phones in the middle of the table or in another special place and only allow them at designated breaks (once everyone is in the habit of doing their schoolwork, you can allow them to use their phones to do research).
  • Make a plan: Studies have shown that children who have a clear idea of what to expect from the day are more productive. Think about it. If you know what someone wants you to do, it’s easier to organise yourself. Using a piece of paper or a planner pad, write down times for each task (don’t forget breaks) and leave this sheet where your child can see it. If they can’t tell the time yet, just write down the order of the day, e.g. “Maths, break, English, break, P.E., lunch…”
  • Take a break: Research shows children’s brains can pay attention to a task for about forty minutes before they lose focus. Plan ten- to fifteen-minute breaks for the children every forty minutes. During breaks, children should have the option of snacking/drinking as this helps concentration.
  • Make noises: Some children work best with music. Others work best in silence. If your children are struggling to focus, try either putting music on or turning it off. Typically, what works for one child won’t work for another. In that case, earphones are the way forward. You can even put white noise on YouTube and play that through earphones if it helps!
  • Experiment: If your children are struggling with this kind of setup, change it up! You are free to do anything with your homeschooling, so you could sit outside to work (in coats and hats in winter), or even completely change the type of learning you’re doing with your kids, there are ideas in my book for ways you can homeschool with an outdoor classroom environment.

Some children will thrive working in the same room as their brothers and sisters. Others will struggle. Some schools during the current lockdown are saying that children need to be working alone, but this is unrealistic (and not what happens at school). Other schools are saying children need to be wearing school uniform (what absolute nonsense). Schools have clearly gotten notions this time around.

If you are really stuck for things to do with your children, do check out my free printables which you can find on the resources page and my article on ideas for things your children can do with Lego.

Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor, either. The advantages of a tutor are that someone is with the child, checking they are working for set times in the day, as well as being there to answer questions. A tutor is an investment, so don’t go for the cheapest, go for one who has good reviews, their qualifications are verified, and most importantly, who works well with your child. If the first one you try isn’t the best fit, let them know ASAP (so they can update their schedule for their other clients), and get a different tutor!

It is far better to get through this new lockdown with your mental health and family relationships in tact than to do every single thing sent home from school. If you follow these tips, you will soon be homeschooling like a boss!

Homeschooling 101 is available on Amazon or get a free sample packed full of tips when you sign up to my newsletter (unsubscribe at any time). Do also check out my free resources.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

How to safely use essential oils in home-made soap (infographic)

Essential oils can cause harm if used incorrectly because they are potent substances. Putting the essential oil on the skin neat (undiluted, or straight from the bottle) causes irritation and can leave your skin burnt. The oil is diluted in soap to a rate of about 3% (average) which makes it less likely to cause irritation although some sensitive souls are still allergic to some essential oils even at this low concentration.

Check out the infographic and follow these tips to use essential oils safely in home made soap:

1. Buy from a reputable seller

This is the most fundamental first step. It’s not always easy to spot a fake, especially because they’re being sold online where you can’t inspect the product.

A clear bottle is a dead giveaway as genuine oils degrade in sunlight so have to be stored in dark bottles (amber is most common).

The label or online listing should tell you the Latin name. There are many oils with the same common name. If you can’t see the Latin name anywhere in the product listing, there’s a chance the oil isn’t the one you expect it to be, which will ruin your blend at best, and at worst, could cause skin irritation because you might use the wrong quantity.

The listing should always tell you the country of origin. For example, “French lavender” might say “Product of Hungary” at the bottom of the page. This would make it apparent that it wasn’t genuine French lavender from France.

Of course, real malicious fakers and counterfeiters would not honestly write “Made in Kevin’s backyard out of olive oil and artificial lavender fragrance” so the most important thing to weigh up is whether you believe the website you’re shopping on is genuine, or in the case of Amazon, whether the seller is genuine or not. Product reviews can very easily be manipulated so don’t rely on them alone. Soapmaking groups online can help warn you against scams and recommend genuine, reputable suppliers.

2. Always follow the recommended quantities

The FDA and EU both have guidelines about the amount of any fragrance (including natural essential oils) you can use in cosmetics. Usually this is somewhere between 1-5% depending on the oil and its potential toxicity. It’s very easy to want to use more essential oil when your soap hasn’t turned out very strong smelling, but there are other ways to solve this problem. Check out my article 10 ways to get the fragrance to show up in your soap.

3. Do not overheat (above 50 degrees) and ideally keep under 40 degrees (102F).

Overheating oil causes it to release free radicals as the oil’s fatty acid chains break up. Free radicals are carcinogenic as they contribute to cell oxidation. Overheating an oil is the fastest way to change it from safe to dangerous.

When an oil gets too hot, it also loses its fragrance, which is another great reason to take care over the temperature.

4. Do not eat!

This should be self-explanatory but some people do try and eat (or drink) essential oils. Unless they have been certified for food use and sold as such, it’s best not to risk it, especially when it comes to children. Just because something came from a plant, that doesn’t make it safe. All the traditional poisons of Greek tragedies were plant-based.

Conclusion:

Essential oils can be safe in soaps if you take care and follow some simple guidelines. If you need to check any information e.g. chemical compounds present in your essential oil or the maximum concentration for use in various cosmetics and soap making, contact the seller for the product safety documentation (or download it from their website if they’ve made this easy. The Soap Kitchen makes this very easy, as an example of best practice).

Sources:

Turek, C and Stintzing, F (2013) Stability of Essential Oils: A Review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12006

Bejar, E. (2019) Adulteration of Oregano Herb and Essential Oil https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ezra_Bejar/publication/337113671_Adulteration_of_Oregano_Herb_and_Essential_Oil/links/5dc5cb74a6fdcc5750348535/Adulteration-of-Oregano-Herb-and-Essential-Oil.pdf

Check out my other articles about essential oils in soaps:

All about essential oils in melt and pour soap (and infographic)

How to get the essential oil scent to show up in soap

History of essential oils in soap

How to make soap: Everything you need to know to make soap even in a campervan.

Here’s a selection of my other articles about making home made cosmetics:

Vegan green tea shampoo bar recipe

Vegan hair conditioner bar recipe

One-ingredient avocado face mask recipe

Easy melt and pour breastmilk soap recipe

At-home DIY facial for new mamas!

DIY upcycled book caddy from a wine carrier

So I really wanted one of those gorgeous Ikea spice racks that Americans are transforming into book holders for children, but sadly, UK Ikea don’t sell the same spice racks. The ones in the US go for $6.99 and the nearest UK equivalent is £18.

That’s a pretty huge difference, when you consider that a British £1 is worth more than $1 USD. Like, they get the same thing for about £5 that we would have to pay £18 for.

Nope.

So I bought this wooden wine carrier from Hobbycraft. It was unfinished and I measured it. It’s the perfect size for the Gruffalo but about half a centimetre too small to fit any of the Charlie and Lola books in (boo). If Hobbycraft ever make these half a centimetre bigger, I’ll get another one and paint that instead.

IMG_2042b

I painted the ends green and the middle red, using cheap acrylic paint from The Works (£2.99 for 6 different tubes of coloured paint) and cheap brushes, also from The Works.

They deliver.

I copied the frog picture from Jellyfish’s favourite bath sponge, a frog we have dubbed Mr. Ribbit. If you’re wondering, the frog sponge is here in a 2 pack.

It took two days to do the whole thing and I feel really proud because I am not very good at painting.

IMG_2044b

IMG_2049b

I can see the frog could have been painted better (by someone other than me, with a steadier hand and better drawing ability) but overall I’m happy with how this turned out. The first thing Jellyfish did when he saw it was try to put it in his mouth so he definitely thinks it looks like his frog sponge.

I can’t wait to put books in it!

Have you made anything this week? Let me know in the comments.

French Programmes for Kids on Netflix

So after my last post I was asked by someone how I found French programmes in Netflix for our home language immersion for Jellyfish. Here is a list of all the ones I’ve found.

You can set up a new profile and change the language settings to French instead of English for that one profile. Otherwise, you can go into “audio and subtitles” from any show and change the audio or subtitle language, but many shows are not available in French.

You can do this with other languages, too, but I’ve noticed 90% of shows on Netflix are available in Spanish, a lot are in Portuguese and Polish, and quite a few are available in Arabic and German, but very few are in French so it took a bit of trawling but I’ve saved all of these to a list. I’ve listed their English names here where I recognize them, so you know what they are, and there’s a separate, smaller list below for teens:

TV shows for kids in French:

Octonauts

Word Party (la fête des mots)

Alvinnnnnn! and the Chipmunks (Alvinnnnn! et les chipmunks)

Les peregrinations d’Archibald (not sure what this is in English but it has a bee)

The adventures of Puss in Boots (Les aventures du chat potté)

Rabbids Invasion (Les lapins crétins)

Morphle

Cory Carson (Tut tut Cory Bolides)

Talia: Les temps des chansons (not sure what this is in English but it’s French-language nursery rhymes set to modern beats, a bit like Little Baby Bum)

Charlie’s Colorform City (Charlie au pays des Autocollants)

A series of unfortunate events (Les désastreuses aventures des orphelins Beaudelaire)

Glitter Force

King Julien (Roi Julien)

Peppa Pig

Yu-Gi-Oh

 

Films for kids in French:

Ponyo (Ponyo sur la falaise)

Howl’s Moving Castle (Le château ambulant)

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

My neighbour Totoro (mon voisin Totoro)

Princess Mononoke (Princesse Mononoké)

Spirited Away (le voyage de Chihiro)

Pup Academy: L’ecole secrete (not sure what this is called in English. Pup Academy: Secret school is the direct translation but I’ve never heard of it)

Duck, Duck, Goose (destination pékin)

White fang (croc blanc)

Tintin

Peter Rabbit

Madagascar

Pokémon: Mewtwo (Pokemon Mewtwo: contre attaque)

 

Movies and shows suitable for teens in French:

Easy A (Called Easy Girl in French)

Clueless

Gilmore Girls

The Crown

The Seven Deadly Sins

 

Hopefully that’s given you a good starting point and let me know in the comments if you have any others!

DIY No-Sew Montessori Toy

We’re starting a bit of Montessori right now, particularly in the way of getting Jellyfish to play with toys that show him how to sort, organize, or how things work. If you’ve looked into implementing Montessori in your playroom (or in our case, the square metre of floorspace in the living room where Jellyfish can play safely), you will know already that those toys are expensive. They are also not very versatile. So I am planning to make him some toys, and this is the first one I did.

I came across the idea of a posting toy, where it’s basically a cardboard box with a slot that kids can put objects in. Jellyfish isn’t really at that level, yet. So I flipped it around. Instead of posting things, he can pull them out. He loves opening things or taking them apart and he especially loves pulling all the tissues out of boxes if they’re left in his reach.

I originally thought play scarves could go into the box, but all the ones I’ve seen on Amazon are unreasonably expensive for what amounts to a few flimsy strips of fabric, and delivery is like end of June, by which time Jellyfish will be into something new, I’m sure. So I got an empty tissue box and some old baby vests that a) don’t fit him and b) have no other use. I can’t give these vests away because they are stained and no one wants stained second hand anything, and anyway the whole world is on lockdown so it’s hard to buy/sell/exchange preloved items.

tissue box toy3

Tissue box toy2

I cut the baby vests into squares. Pinking shears would have made a neater edge but we don’t have that luxury right now. Then I folded them into the tissue box so they would come back out again without him having to make much effort. It took like 5 minutes to make this toy so parenting effort = zero.

tissue box1

I have placed all the “tissues” inside the box and left it on his play mat. I can’t wait to see him playing with this in the morning! So they aren’t that filmy, flimsy scarf fabric that looks so shiny in all the baby sensory pics. I don’t know that he will care as long as he has a box full of things he can take apart. And in terms of sustainability, it has saved a tissue box and three stained baby vests from landfill. I am parenting like a boss tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Today was actually a total washout as Jellyfish has 5 teeth coming in and he is in a lot of pain and crying. Today was a TV day and I justified it by putting on Octonauts in French dub because that’s then educational, right? Yeah, you can change the language on Netflix via the subtitle menu and it alleviates my guilt. But tomorrow will be epic. And if not, there is wine. Which is also French and therefore educational.

What random things keep your baby entertained?

How to hit the ground running with homeschooling

So I may have designed and published a free course on homeschooling for anyone with kids. I know people aren’t *technically* homeschooling because they’re doing work sent home from school, but there isn’t a single word for what millions of parents are currently doing around the world and this course is for that.

Do your kids have a big pile of school work to do before the schools re-open? Want to know how to get them to do it, and what to do when they ask you for help with a subject you know nothing about? Trying to juggle kids and work during the lockdown?

I made a quick and FREE course on how you can hit the ground running with homeschooling, especially for busy parents whose schools have sent work home! https://mama-adventure.teachable.com/p/hit-the-ground-running-with-homeschooling/

You’re welcome. xxxx

Alternatives to toilet paper and baby wipes.

Okay so this post talks about… bathroom stuff. If that bothers you, now is the time to bail.

Still with me? Then you’re probably also out of toilet paper. At the moment it’s almost impossible to get toilet paper, baby wipes and kitchen roll around the world because scared people are stockpiling it.

Here’s some alternatives to consider (most of these are fine for use on babies too):

  1. Cotton roll soaked in water (DON’T FLUSH THIS, it has to go in the garbage).
  2. A personal hygiene bidet or perinatal bottle (it’s a bottle you fill and squirt it over your private parts to clean them). You’ll still want to pat dry but this might reduce TP usage especially if you have underlying health issues like IBS or hemorrhoids. Fill it with warm water and imagine you live in Japan. I bought 2 of these (one for my husband and one for me) and they arrived while I was writing this article.
  3. A towelling washcloth soaked in water (DON’T FLUSH THIS. You can wash it in the machine on a boil wash with some bleach then re-use).
  4. Newspaper (scratchy much? PLEASE DON’T FLUSH THIS EITHER).
  5. Grass or leaves. Hmmm…. I think I’ll try all the others first, haha.

Got any other alternatives to toilet paper that I haven’t covered? Let me know in the comments.

Are you also struggling to buy hand sanitizer? This post details 10 great alternatives (and 2 less great ones).

How to sanitize your hands when there is no hand sanitizer

A quick look on Amazon shows lots of hand sanitizer for sale, but let’s take a look at some of those reviews before discussing what REALLY works to sanitize your hands:

There’s a legit-looking bottle of “50ml” of hand sanitizer (doesn’t that sound like a lot… it’s not even 2oz) sold here and the reviews are claiming it’s not got any alcohol in, it’s a scam, and it’s $7 for a tiny bottle. Don’t buy this hand sanitizer but look at those reviews.

I personally wouldn’t buy hand sanitizer on Amazon right now because there’s so many scams involving fake products. I saw one that said they’d been sent a bottle of glue! Hand sanitizer is a relatively recent invention and before we had it, people were able to clean their hands.

Instead of getting scammed by things that won’t protect you from coronavirus, try these other ways to clean your hands:

  1. Soap and water. The absolute best way to keep clean is soap and water. I’ve talked before about how soap works in my article about micellar water. Basically, you don’t need fancy soap. Any soap will do. And you don’t need hot water (bacteria doesn’t start to die until a higher temperature than you would wash in).  It says a lot about people that you can buy plenty of soap on Amazon still.
  2. Liquid soap and a bottle of water. If you’re out and about, get a bottle of water with a sports cap. Rub liquid soap all over your hands, get all the areas, then wash it off by pouring water out of the bottle. This is the best way to clean your hands if you don’t have access to a faucet. No room in your bag for a bottle? Get one of these flat-folding reusable ones instead.
  3. Shower gel. We should all be washing a lot more now, so this Aveeno moisturizing shower gel (soap free) is a good choice.
  4. Bath bubbles. Guess what? Bath bubbles are identical to shower gel but usually more in a more concentrated form. This one has epsom salt, eucalyptus and spearmint in it.
  5. Shampoo. If you can’t get anything else to wash your hands in, a shampoo with LOTS of sulphates is what you want. Those sodium laureth sulphates we usually avoid putting on our hair are super-strong cleaning agents (which is why they can over-clean your hair and make it dry out). Herbal Essences smells really nice and is full of all the sulphates you can shake a stick at.
  6. Baby wipes. Choose a packet with soap infused into the wipe. One of these is basically a cloth covered in soap and water. As a first choice, soap and water, but baby wipes are a much better idea than those really dangerous “vodka and aloe vera” recipes which won’t be strong enough to be effective. Of course, buying wet wipes online is also nearly impossible right now because people are buying them as a toilet paper substitute, but you can probably get them more easily in a local supermarket depending on where you live and what deliveries are happening.
  7. Micellar water. I’ve said it before, but micelles are basically super-gentle soap. This will clean your hands better than fake hand sanitizer if you wash it off with water aftercovering your hands in it and rubbing it in like soap. You can even get it in teeny tiny bottles to carry around on the go.
  8. Micellar wipes. These are still readily available and will clean your hands.
  9. Dish soap (aka washing up liquid in the UK). This works exactly the same way as any other type of soap or saponified cleansing agent and is cheaper than some of the others, but selling out quickly.
  10. Laundry liquid. Another cleansing agent. Biological is best. Wash hands thoroughly.And if you don’t care if your hands flake/dry out/get dermatitis/burn:
  11. Bleach. Kills all known germs. Not recommended as it’s corrosive.
  12. Listerine. It contains alcohol and is designed to kill things that live in your mouth. As a kid, my mother always used to make me gargle with Listerine if I had a sore throat and it really did help.

Remember these things alone will NOT prevent you getting sick, but they can reduce your chances dramatically if you follow proper hygiene practice and handwashing technique.

Out of toilet paper? Check out my alternatives here!

Grandma’s Blackberry Jam Recipe

So I made blackberry jam, and I canned it, which I’ll talk more about at the bottom of this post.

Blackberry jam.
Blackberry jam.

Here’s the recipe I used (it was very simple). This is a standard jam recipe but it’s vegan and gluten free:
1. Go pick some blackberries. I got 300g. Blackberries grow wild on brambles.
2. Weigh them (and wash them thoroughly, throw out any bad ones).
If you didn’t get many (you need at least 200g really – that does an 8oz jar of jam, when you subtract the stuff that will burn to the bottom, but for lots, preferably 500g-900g), freeze them and wait for more to ripen, then pick/wash more.
3. When you’re ready to make jam, weigh all your blackberries together.
4. Measure out the same amount of golden granulated sugar (it’s a 1:1 ratio blackberries to sugar). Maybe other sugar types also work, I used golden granulated.
5. Put the berries in a pan with a big tablespoon of lemon juice (this will help preserve the fruit) and about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to the boil.
6. Simmer straight away for 15 minutes.
7. Add the sugar. It will take a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting to get it all to dissolve.
8. Once it’s dissolved, turn the heat up as high as you can and boil for 10-12 minutes, until the blackberry gloop reaches 105 degrees C (220F) which is the setting point. Don’t stir, but if you smell burning, it’s done.

Blackberry jam.
This is what it looks like when its set after the white froth was scraped off.

9. Take off the heat, skim off any white froth from the top, and let it settle for a few minutes (you can put it straight in jars at this point but I wanted to check it had worked.
10. Put in (sterilized with HOT water) jars, seal them if you want to.

About canning, storage times and such:
I used these quattro stagioni jars in 8.5 ounce size, which I found for a good price on the shelf at Homesense (they’re one of those places that has different stuff each week), I liked them because they’re made to take the high temperature and they’re vacuum sealable for food safety (although one of mine didn’t seal) and they sell replacement lids (70mm or 2 3/4 inch is the size for the 8.5 oz jars, although that is NOT cheap for 2 jar lids, so I hope somewhere starts doing them cheaper). You can use any old jar for jam, but you should use a fresh lid each time because you can’t fully clean the lids, which is why I bought jars to use.
If you want to read about home canning in more depth to ensure you’re doing it safely, this free guide from the USDA is phenomenal (I’d start with this section). I highly recommend it for people thinking of canning (which means putting in jars – that confused me for a while) other garden produce, although I’m still undecided on what to do with my carrots when they’re fully grown.

If you vacuum seal the jar with the blackberry jam in it, and don’t open it again, it’s good for 1 year (the jars I linked to have specific instructions to seal them in hot water, I managed to follow them using a bucket as I didn’t have a big enough pot). If it doesn’t vacuum seal (the popper in the lid still pops up) it’s good for 1 month. When you open it, it’s good for 1 month.

Anyone else done any canning or jam making? Got a different recipe/method? Let me know in the comments!

blackberry jam
Sterilized jars.