Our homeschooling week

I’m toying with the idea of doing a weekly update on what we’re getting up to, partly to remind myself that we’re doing more than I think on days when I feel unsure about everything. Realistically, though, it’s impossible to record everything because home education encompasses all of living.

I’ve also omitted some stuff because this post would get insanely long if I included everything. If you have questions about anything we use or do, please drop me a comment and I’ll get into it in another post soon.

Learning happens as much through conversations and unstructured play as through anything any of us are reading.

In true January style, the kids wrote thank you cards this week. Even two year old Delilah had a go at writing her name, which meant adding a few dots. We may have got an insight into why she doesn’t tend to make marks or scribble often as we found out on Monday that she needs glasses. The eye test at the hospital and glasses fitting at the high street optometrists were definitely educational experiences – for all of us.

Writing isn’t something that comes up as a subject here. Talitha taught herself to write in cursive when she was six (she’s seven now) by asking me to write all the letters in a book that she then referred to and I give suggestions if I notice that something is a little hard to read as I know that matters to her.

Ophelia (almost five) has started asking me to write sentences so she can copy them but I allow her to be as avant garde as she likes about how the letters go unless she asks for help. She tires easily so after writing one of her thank you cards, we agreed that she’d dictate the others to me and sign her name. She doesn’t read yet so I imagine it’s exhausting from that perspective too.

Writing with a purpose, whether it’s a letter to a friend, an invitation to a pretend tea party is enough here. Writing also comes up in other things we do like history or science so practising it separately would feel like overkill.

I’m not really working on anything with Ophelia other than to go through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons which I’d abandoned last term but she pulled out again and asked to keep going.

It’s a simple, fairly enjoyable book to follow but as it went with Talitha, every now and then there’s a leap in her ability to bring things together, whether that’s recognising a letter or blending sounds and I’m not convinced that the lessons are contributing as much to her learning to read as her natural development and exposure to lots of books are. Yet she wants me to practise reading with her so we’re doing it at her pace, following her interest.

We finished Story of the World Book One last term so we’re reviewing ancient world history by putting together a timeline. The activity book that accompanied the last book contained review cards so we’re reading those and looking at an encyclopaedia to work out what are the most significant things to remember.

It’s been an opportunity for us to chat about other things one of us has learned about those events since through books, games or things we’ve watched. She’s been linking things she’s writing down with history workshops she did at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro last year, telling me more about what went on in those sessions than she did at the time.

We’ve just finished our read aloud, The Horse and His Boy, having put it down over Christmas and I had a few suggestions for what’s next but she’s asked for more Narnia. I was surprised because I thought she’d prefer to read them herself but then, I have fond memories of my mother reading them to us so I do get it.

Ophelia isn’t finding it that thrilling though so we started Pippi Longstocking as a separate read aloud for her (Talitha’s read it herself a few times) and she’s enjoying that a lot more, complete with images by Charlie and Lola illustrator Lauren Child.

For science we’ve been on separate tracks with Ophelia working through last month’s OKIDO magazine on homes and habitats, mostly doodling away at things like filling a tent or drawing the inside of a house but also finding out about what animals live in deserts, jungles and so on.

Talitha and I have been making time to read Whizz Pop Bang because she wants to keep the subscription but finds it more interesting to go through it together. She’s been thrilled that so much of it links with things she’s seen or heard elsewhere, from websites to other magazines to her Beavers meetings.

They’ve both been doing Mystery Science, catching up on all the short Mystery Doug episodes and working on a lesson on clouds. We were aiming it middle of the road in terms of age but we tried a lesson that fell in Talitha’s age group and Ophelia still enjoyed it, though only Talitha did the extension activities.

They’ve also worked together on a couple of experiments about colour mixing from a Horrible Science kit their uncle gave Ophelia for Christmas, sharing the super fun goggles and Talitha reading the instructions.

They’re also having a lot of fun with Artventure. I toyed with the idea of it for ages then bought a subscription just before Christmas because I realised that in terms of art instruction, it just wasn’t going to happen unless we had a resource to follow that didn’t involve me and we can’t afford art lessons right now. They’ve watched other art videos in the past and I find it interesting seeing them incorporate ideas into other drawings or gaining perspective from the exercises.

Forest school resumed this week for Talitha and we managed a couple of beach and woodland outings too – beautiful outdoor spaces ever a bonus of home educating in Cornwall.

We’ve taken up Spanish again at the children’s request but I’m finding it difficult to do it with any consistency. Talitha likes Mango Languages but it’s too much for Ophelia. Both seem to learn better when I talk to them reviving the little A-level Spanish I remember. We’ve also been deciphering lyrics of the Coco soundtrack, which has been fun.

We’re trying to get back into a pattern of baking so I helped the younger two make chocolate cupcakes and Talitha made her own bread dough. I’m keen to encouraging her to continue to take on tasks in the kitchen independently.

Too often I feel like it’s easier if I just get on with whatever needs to get done but all three children love doing things that are genuinely useful and it’s not something I want to dampen by being too impatient or busy. That goes for just about everything they’re learning, really.


Duvets to freshen up your bedroom’s look

This post is sponsored by Yorkshire Linen

I think this may be the first year I’ve noticed that the pull I feel to reorder our home is shared by just about everybody else. We probably all have Marie Kondo to thank for that. That said, I only made it to episode three before I found it all a bit much for me. I think she comes across as so understanding and kind but I’d find her approach of doing everything at once overwhelming.

Instead, little steps work for me so I’m really enjoying listening to A Slob Comes Clean podcast whose book home educating parent and podcaster Katie recommended on Instagram recently.

In the vein of making little changes, I’m tackling our bedrooms bit by bit, conscious that we’re getting ready to do a big swap around. We’ll go into the room that’s been functioning as a guest room, the kids will all take ours and their current room will become a study/guest room. It’s probably the way we should have done it to begin with but their room has been fine for two kids thus far. We’re just aware that it’ll be too crowded once a third joins them.

As I mentally start swapping things around and considering what each room is going to look like, I’m putting together ideas for painting and potentially putting in new curtains or swapping duvets. Duvet covers are a really easy way of changing a room’s look or pulling a look together without spending too much, especially as in kids’ rooms with multiple beds. I’ve been looking through duvet covers at discount prices from Yorkshire linen, and there are a few that could really make a bedroom’s look.

The Origin Indigo set pictured above has an earthy look which makes me think of the seaside so a natural choice for our cottage here in Cornwall but could also be a great way of bringing the coast to you if you don’t live near the sea.

For a radically different look, this Catherine Lansfield Tropical Leaf set makes me smile and reminds me of summer holidays spent in Tobago when I lived in Trinidad growing up.

I have to admit I’m always drawn to the simplicity of a plain white duvet set like this Ashlea White set. It’s a way of making an instantly relaxing space.

As for kids options, both of my older two would be all over this Catherine Lansfield Folk Unicorn set.

And one of them, who lives, breathes and sleeps dancing would be made up with this Sabrina Ballerina duvet cover.

Anyone else feeling the pull to shift stuff around in their home?


Resetting my homeschooling intentions

The last couple of years, I’ve had to make the decision not to make New Year’s Resolutions. I can see how for some people the process of taking stock and putting together a “new year, new you” kind of plan is inspiring, hopeful, exciting even. I’ve felt that too when crossing into January. I have all the ideas and I want to put them into action now. Often, though, resolutions point out to me all the things I’m not.

“Read more books” reminds me that I don’t read enough and is too big and vague an idea for me to get a handle on. I find it easier to make small changes to my routine, like downloading a book to the Kindle app on my phone and reminding myself whenever I’m putting Delilah to bed to read instead of scroll Facebook.

Any resolution bigger than that (one that hit my inbox this week was “resolve to regulate your own emotions” and that was one of five in a single email) just isn’t something I can respond to without some measure of self defeat. As useful as I know it is to reflect and make some choices, I know how careful I need to be not to self sabotage unless I’m firmly in a glass-half-full place.

That said, I do want to reset my homeschooling intentions at the start of this new term. We don’t need to follow the terms but activities and groups stop in the holidays and we tend to take that time to see friends and family who we can’t see during the term. So it’s a natural time for me to think about what I want to take into our next season.

I really feel like I need to reset my intentions because last term was hard. I think it was a combination of the family’s needs changing and me taking on more paid work. Delilah turned two in the summer and I’m finding she needs so much interaction, attention and occupation.

She really isn’t happy with us doing something that doesn’t actively involve her, like reading chapter books or building things. I am generally finding things challenging with her and I need to keep reminding myself that she’s finding the situation challenging too. Nap time has offered a time out but she doesn’t need a nap anymore!

We muddle through with play dough and taking things outdoors, alternating activities and being flexible about when things happen but it’s hard. Often things the older two want to do don’t get done and I wind up feeling like everything is out of balance. With Ophelia’s needs also changing and with her wanting to do things that require more one-to-one focused attention, I have never felt the needs of three (four, including me) so acutely.

And then with also trying to work more, which needs to happen, the house has got messier, I’ve had less sleep and have relied on screens more to give me space when feeling frazzled. I’ve felt more overwhelmed by day to day tasks like having to pack lunch and get out the door and try to get to things on time. I’ve responded by making my to do lists more and more unrealistic, leaving me with a perpetual feeling of underachievement. These are all things I have always struggled with anyway but last term I felt like I was constantly being launched into a ball pit with too many other people in it.

So, having had the breather of Christmas (ie other adults around and not as much to do, having opted out of most of the Christmas fuss), I am setting five, hopefully simple, intentions. Or resetting, as I’ve been here before. I realise that these aren’t necessarily homeschooling specific but I’m thinking about it through the lens of my context. Perhaps some of you find these useful to consider too, whether or not you home educate.

1. Say “no” more
One of the reasons last term was hard was that I overscheduled. I said yes to too many home education opportunities and committed to too many things. We had weeks where we were out of the house every day, which doesn’t give any of us down time or time to do the things we need to do at home.

We were tired, spent too much money and I had the stress of constantly having to pack our bags and plan ahead. It also meant struggling to fit in seeing people outside of set activities, which isn’t ideal as group settings bring their own stress. So I’m realising I need to be firmer with myself about not making too many plans and ring fencing our time at home.

2. Ask for help
I want to keep talking to the kids about what’s going on in our home and how they can help. Sometimes Talitha makes our packed lunch or Ophelia empties the dishwasher and I’m amazed at how much those small tasks help. I want to talk about how we can simplify what we all own so we don’t struggle to put things away.

And I’m willing to accept now that Laurence and I both chose homeschooling as a lifestyle and that my freelance work is a part of that so why not allow him to help me work out whether my timeframes on tasks are realistic and to suggest apps or systems which might help me to organise.

3. Stop looking around
I need to be careful about researching new programmes or books or resources or whatever. We have plenty stuff to play with. If a need for something new genuinely arises we can review but I find that when I’m stressed I can wind up wasting hours looking around for more interesting “things” to offer my kids when actually they’re perfectly happy with what we have and what we do. And that in turn can stress me out more.

4. Recognise what we’ve achieved
I fell out of the habit of recording everything we were doing, whether by taking photographs or jotting them down. It meant that at the end of the week, I looked back and the days looked shapeless. I couldn’t at all remember what had happened.

And so much happens without any initiation on my part. I used to write down their questions, our conversations, what I noticed them making, reading, playing. I’ve bought a notebook specifically for writing down what I notice in our days.

5. Accept my limitations and press into my strengths
My limitations mean that sometimes some things won’t get done. Getting to that workshop on time might mean that we’ve left the house a bomb site and there isn’t anything planned for supper. Finishing that writing project might mean that I don’t have much energy for a while.

I’m trying to stop holding so much in my head by writing anything I need to remember down, somewhere where I’m unlikely to lose it (already managed to lose the list of who we need to send Christmas thank you cards, mind). And I’m trying to get into a habit of putting reminders on my phone when I tell someone I’ll get back to them about something.

I realise I need to counter the constant stream of negative self talk I bombard myself with. I’m not good at everything but I’m also pretty brilliant at some things. That means that the way I home educate my kids will look different to the way someone else does it. That’s OK. That’s fine, actually, because my kids also aren’t theirs.

There is no perfection or even standard we’re all meant to be living up to. Perhaps the biggest part of this for me, is reflecting on a resolution antidote: reminding myself of all the things I already am.


Getting started on gift shopping – 50 Days of Christmas with Boots

In collaboration with Boots
Despite my best intentions, I am generally a last minute shopper at Christmas time. Yes, I’ve been known to hit the shops and even the supermarket one year on Christmas Eve and I can’t tell you how dissatisfying I find doing things that way. Buying for the sake of buying sucks any spirit that’s meant to reside the experience of gifting.

Not only that, but it’s a surefire way to spend more money than I intend and to wind up going with less ethical options than I would otherwise. Every year I have been getting better at planning ahead and simplifying Christmas and this year, with us hosting for the first time, I’m dead set on sorting out all our gifts well in advance to open up headspace for other things.

Thinking about gifts at a more leisurely pace has given me time to think about what we really want to do in terms of gifts. I’m in the process of decluttering at the moment and so I’m keenly aware that we are often overwhelmed by stuff, so much of it unused. So I’m focusing this year on ensuring that the gifts we give are either genuinely useful or focus on experiences.

Boots invited me to check out their Christmas gifts range and I was impressed to find options there that fit our criteria for this year and that I would have never expected to find there. While there are the bath and beauty gift sets one expects (though a few surprised me with high quality items like hats or gloves included), they also offer electronics, books and even experiences. We were invited to choose products to review and I was sorely tempted by vouchers for an archery taster or a spa card.

In the end, I chose a recipe book for Laurence, Deliciously Ella With Friends. It fits the bill as something useful and an experience facilitator. Laurence loves to cook and, when he’s around, he does most of the cooking. He’s actually not at all familiar with Deliciously Ella (I know, where has he been?!) but I know he’s going to get on with her recipes famously as he’s both wheat and dairy intolerant and the recipes in the book avoid both. They’re also vegan and avoid refined sugar which fits well with the way we mostly eat. They’re also simple to follow and, as the name insists, delicious! OK, this may actually be a gift for me too as I get to enjoy the results. A gift that keeps giving.

I also chose a Harry Potter notebook for Talitha with a wand-shaped pen from the Christmas gifts for her section. She’s fallen head over heels for the world of Hogwarts, having read the first book, a gift for her birthday. We also listened to it on audiobook because she kept referring to it and I realised I didn’t at all remember it. Oh, it’s so much deeper and more thrilling than I remember. This is an interest I’ll happily feed. She’s also into journalling in a big way so a notebook certainly ticks the useful and experience boxes.

Have any of you made a start on your Christmas shopping? Are you thinking along similar lines in terms of the kinds of gifts you’re going for this year?

This post is in conjunction with Boots but all thoughts are my own


What I learned from Instagramming my menstrual cycle

Last month Lucy from Lulastic and the Hippyshake documented her daily menstrual cycle experiences on her Instagram and encouraged others to do the same. I’ve charted my cycle for heading towards a decade now (minus a few years period-free thanks to breastfeeding), mainly for natural family planning. But I began to notice trends in the way I felt and the things I thought about, accompanying the physical changes I was recording month after month.

When my period returned after Talitha, I didn’t give it much thought. I was completely focused on having another baby. All my period signalled to me was that conceiving wasn’t happening as quickly as I’d like. After Ophelia, I began to notice it more, probably because I wasn’t sure we’d have another baby. I began then to deeply long for a sisterhood of women around me and I felt like the two were connected somehow, wanting to explore more of this important part of what it meant to be me and wanting to connect with others who were on a similar journey.

I’d read somewhere about journalling about the experiences of your menstrual cycle and began to write a word or two at the top of my daily planner at the end of the day, to reflect what my dominant mood had been that day. I didn’t take it further than that but even the monosyllabic records began to show up when my memory was at its worst and when I was at my most articulate, when I felt anxious and when I craved company. So I was intrigued to see what would happen if I began to dwell on it that bit longer, in full-on captions on my Instagram.

For me, the public nature of the project was important in helping to shift some of the shame I still carry around menstruation and, by extension, around being a woman. At first, I felt a bit odd about male friends and relatives who follow me knowing that I was on my period. Recently in conversation with my friend Kath who’s written about what she’s uncovering about her menstrual cycle on her blog The Long Walk Home, I realised that Instagramming my last menstrual cycle has convinced me that the negativity we’ve developed around our menstrual cycles is both a form of internalised misogyny and a direct result of not living in a world that values women’s experiences enough to accommodate and make use of the changes we go through month to month.

It was also interesting to look at what how other people described their days tagged #mcaday1, 6, 12, 23, etc. Were the variations because of other things going on in my life or were they down to personality differences? Did I have fewer days of wanting to be surrounded by people because I tend towards introversion? I’m aware that the high energy, high mood phase of my cycle is shorter than it potentially could be and I’ve wondered if that’s because I often don’t give my body and mind the things they need in terms of nourishment, sleep and processing, which could be affecting the length of my menstrual “summer”.

At the same time, I’ve realised that, on the whole, I have a much more pleasurable experience of my menstrual cycle since spending more time outdoors in recent years and committing to opening up more, initiating more friendships and putting more effort into sustaining older friendships. There is an idea that having intimate friendships can actually regularise of menstrual cycles and make them shorter and I wonder if this has been happening for me. Being outside, especially in the woods or by the water, gives me open spaces to absorb any frenetic energy. These are also places to rest when I feel spent. And sunshine is no doubt chemically improving my overall health with fresh air and gentle movement offering some pain relief too. I hadn’t spotted that I’ve been enjoying my menstrual cycle more until writing about it each day on Instagram.

And while I was aware of the things I normally worry about in my premenstrual phase, committing to observing it like this brought me face to face with things I couldn’t ignore. Like what I really believe about myself and the people around me. Like the background noise I’m able to mute some days but not others. Like what I really, actually want as opposed to what I think I should want.

I feel like I want to spend a lot more time exploring my menstrual cycle. Possibly I’m tuned into it because I’m moving on from the all-encompassing baby phase. Or maybe it’s just that I’m in my 30s and I’m now in a place where I want to know myself and I’m no longer afraid of what I’ll find. There’s also a spiritual dimension of this quest for me, knowing that my cycling must reflect something of God’s image and that it quite likely has the potential to help me find where I’m meant to go.


Frankensnakes – an engineering-inspired Halloween trick

This post is sponsored by The Year of Engineering

You may remember Talitha tried one of the activities developed by the Year of Engineering’s Holiday Makers in the summer. They’re back again with more engineering-inspired activities for children aged 7-16 over the October half term. My kids always light up when they hear anything about engineering because one of their aunts is an engineer but the reality in this country is that only 12% of those working in engineering are women and only 8% come from ethnic minority backgrounds. The Holiday Makers are aiming to help families get making and inventing to discover what engineers do and find out why the field is a really exciting one to get into.

So we were asked to try out one of the Halloween-themed activities that The Holiday Makers have designed for October half term. The one we gave a go was called “Frankensnakes” and the idea was to make gummy snakes “come alive” using a simple chemical reaction like the ones engineers use to protect our environment and generate energy. Check out our three-minute video of the engineering-inspired Halloween trick.

We used baking soda and wine vinegar to make the gummy worms wriggle, which was both mesmerising to watch and raised questions about all of the different things involved in engineering. We found that the first set of worms we used didn’t move that much, despite being cut lengthways to make them lighter so we tried the experiment a second time with a smaller set and found it exciting to see what a difference it made. The chemical reaction forms carbon dioxide gas bubbles which float to the surface, pulling the worms with them and making them wriggle but clearly, factors like the size of the worms can affect the results. You can find out instructions for this activity and more about the science behind it on The Holiday Makers hub.

There’s so much fun stuff on The Holiday Makers website to get kids age 7-16 thinking about engineering and feed their curiosity As a parent of a child who loves to keep track of her progress, I found their Holiday journal a fun touch. You colour in sections to show how many of the activities and events you’ve been to and there’s another page at the back where you can write about your discoveries. The idea is that you can take it back to your class to share what you’ve been up to with them, or, in Talitha’s case, we can store in a folder for our own memories as she’s home educated.


The website also has lots of ideas for events across the country to help kids take a closer look at engineering. We love the look of the Fireworks and Fairgrounds event at Winchester Science Centre. With bonfire night coming up, it’s the perfect time to ask questions like “what gives fireworks their different colours?” and “why do they go whizz and bang?” There’s a lot on over the next couple of weeks so I highly recommend you take a look and find an engineering-inspired event near you.

For now, we’re just focused on working our way through the rest of The Holiday Makers Halloween themed activities like making green slime and causing ghastly ghosts to dance.


Storytime Magazine

About a year ago I reviewed beautiful Storytime magazine and gushed about it because we genuinely loved it. In fact, our whole family has wound up recommending it to loads of friends. We’ve even bought copies as gifts. I was getting ready to buy a subscription before the one I was given for last year’s review ended when the magazine got in touch again and asked if I’d be interested in running a catch up. Since we’ve kept every single copy we received this year? Well, yes, I would.

Stories are at the heart of the way we’ve chosen to home educate. We see our children learn through stories whether through play, observing the natural world, conversation or books. We all learn through stories. So a magazine bringing high quality fiction and poetry through our door every month is totally welcome. We’re as excited to read the latest issue as the kids are, welcoming known authors like J.M. Barrie or Oscar Wilde alongside new stories. Storytime magazine carefully strikes the balance between historical and modern, mythological and relatable, humorous and intriguing, drawing from every part of the globe.

When Talitha was six and Ophelia three, Talitha would read the whole magazine to herself then ask me to read aloud the ones that were more complex. Ophelia needed me to go for the shorter stories. At first, Talitha shunned the poems, insisting that they were boring, though she liked the illustrations. When I began to read those aloud, she was surprised by how much more sense they made. One of the things I love about Storytime magazine is that it brings a wider range of poetry into our home than we’d likely have come across otherwise, accessible because of the wonderful illustrations.

Nowadays, Ophelia wants the whole magazine read to her, from start to finish and then again. Whenever a new issue arrives, that’s bedtime, morning basket and poetry tea time sorted for a good while. And neither Laurence nor I mind. The stories are well curated and genuinely enjoyable to read. Talitha can take on all the stories comfortably now, though she still prefers that I read the poems and will often join us if I’m reading aloud to the younger two. Oh and, yes, Delilah is getting in on the action now at two. The stories are too complex for her but she delights in the pictures – the poems and rhymes are pretty much picture books for her.

Both the older two are now into the activities that run alongside many of the stories and offer a chance to jump deeper at the back of the magazine. The competitions to win prizes such as books have peaked Talitha’s interest. At seven she’s in the zone for that sort of thing. And they’re both likely to go through the back issues on any given day. Since they’re printed on quality paper, we’ve been able (and have wanted) to keep all the issues so far.

Get 10% off the subscription price here.
Read my first review of Storytime Magazine here.

I received a year’s subscription to Storytime magazine for the purposes of this review.