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.
September would have seen Ophelia start reception had she been in school. Talitha would have started Year 3. Our fourth year homeschooling, we’re continuing to join the gentle flow of me offering activities and them telling me what they’d like to do (or just going off and doing it). Here are a few highlights from the month just gone by. I must start writing these down as we go along as I struggle to remember!
First up, when we read about Qin Shi Huang in Story of the World, China’s first emperor, Talitha gasped when she heard that he burned books he considered dangerous. She even said: “I’m horrified! I love books!” Never mind all the people he executed… 😉 We’ve just finished up the Julius Caesar chapters, which she’d been looking forward to. She especially wanted to hear about Cleopatra. We’re also listening to Our Island Story on audiobook in the car and both kids were thrilled to spot Stonehenge on our drive back to Cornwall from London this weekend as they’d just listened to the Merlin legend.
A few people have asked me what a reception year looks like in our home. I did a lot more planned activities with Talitha but this second time around I’m a lot more relaxed. Ophelia mostly spends her home days dressing up, dancing, drawing and requesting picture books. She’ll drift in and out of what Talitha’s doing if she’s interested and I’m often surprised by how much she takes in. Lately, she drops very random facts about Space and ancient Rome just to keep us on our toes. I can’t say what I’d do differently if she were a first child. Probably just go out more to play with other children.
Speaking of which, we’ve met up with friends a lot but our two favourite days out were trips to the Flicka Foundation donkey sanctuary, a home education workshop at Falmouth Art Gallery and the incredibly quirky Moseley toy museum. Look at all the Meccano!
They are loving doing Mystery Science together. They watch the videos and do the experiments together and Talitha reads aloud any bits that need reading to Ophelia. They often come away with their own questions – which reminds me that we need to do some reading about floating soon. Lots of questions about floating came up when we were reading about astronauts moving in space.
We finally finished Swallows and Amazons! It took us rather a long time to read because we just didn’t reach for it in the summer months. The upside of that was that Ophelia was actually following it in the end. When we started it, I think it was quite hefty for her but she took a sail with Laurence the other day and announced that she was “able seaman Titty”. We much enjoyed the book on the whole but I’m looking forward to starting something new. I might suggest to the kids we choose an audiobook as I feel like I’m doing a bit too much reading aloud these days (and I like being read to too!).
Oh and I loved reading Anna Hibiscus to Ophelia. I bought it for Talitha, who’s now read a few of them, on the recommendation of an online friend whose son loved it but I finally took the opportunity to read it aloud and Ophelia kept asking for more and more. I think for now we’ll keep doing separate chapter books if we can.
We’ve been following Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons when Ophelia feels like it. Sometimes she loves it but sometimes she’s not interested. Talitha pointed out that where we’re at is actually way below Ophelia’s reading level and started writing sounds and simple words for her to read. So I’m going to see whether she wants to skip ahead, keep playing Teach Your Monster to Read (an off and on favourite) or continue as she is because she’s clearly learning to read, albeit in a completely different pattern to her big sister.
We signed up for the British Red Cross’ #milesforrefugees, setting ourselves the challenge of 108 miles. This was pretty unrealistic as we can’t really walk to places in the countryside, it needs to be a set walk which couldn’t always happen with needing to make the most of the boat and people getting ill. I realise I should have just mapped the miles spent walking around the places we were at as we probably did do quite a bit of walking! Anyway, we changed to the more achievable goal of 22 miles (a lesson in itself!) and got there in the end, raising £100 and learning about the charity’s work and refugee experiences along the way.
Talitha has started doing a few bits on Easy Peasy Homeschool, which I wasn’t sure about before as it’s free then decided to try it at least for maths – as it’s free. It’s turned out to be quite a hit as she can navigate it independently. She asks to do the language arts, maths and Bible lessons most days and is really enjoying it.
Violin practice continues to structure our mornings. It’s been a bit of a slog recently so I suggested Talitha look for a song tutorial on YouTube. Learning to play Happy Birthday was just the treat she needed to help her keep going. I’m finding it all a bit much at the moment, though. It helps to remember that she loves it when she gets going but I sometimes wish we weren’t doing the Suzuki method so I could just leave her to it.
In terms of “extra curricular” activities we’ve switched everything to after school as daytime commitments were making our weeks feel too busy. We are at capacity, though, and it’ll likely be a case of swapping if they decided to take on something else. They’re both doing dance and swimming and Talitha does Beavers and violin.
And not to be left out, I’m enjoying seeing two-year-old Delilah’s fascination with the names of colours and count with great certainty: “2, 6, 8!”
I probably err on the side of talking about our homeschooling life as if there’s more rhythm and flow than frustration, and most of the time that’s true. But I’ve reached the end of a couple of weeks where I’ve really struggled to find peace.
The kids are fine. They’re learning lots and generally content with their days but I have not been well. Usually, I would choose radio silence until I’m in a happier place, feeling more in control but actually, I think we learn a lot from difficult days. This time has allowed me to reflect on how I regain my balance when home education doesn’t allow a lot of time or space.
When I’m feeling negative, it’s not only difficult to get things done (the current state of my house attests to this) but I perpetuate that cycle by not noticing all that’s gone right in the day. Yes we wound up eating eggs on toast for supper but we read some great books earlier. OK, so we didn’t do that art project I’ve been promising the kids all week but we got to swimming lessons on time.
Sometimes the achievements are relatively small: a conversation about something a child is interested in or making it out to see friends or even just clearing the table so we can eat supper. I need to get back into journalling so I can remember that good stuff is happening – all the time.
That said, there are definitely things that make our lives easier when we’re back in the habit of doing them. Having a plan for getting stuff done in the morning is one of them. The kids and I worked out a routine for them which is on their wall. It means that I can ask them to get on with their routine and not have to remember whether four people have brushed their teeth, etc, every morning.
The idea is also to get more challenging tasks done in the morning. So my seven-year-old practices her violin then as we both recognise that we have more energy to enjoy it when we’re not overtired and it gets pushed to the end of the day otherwise.
Ideally, I try to get a load of laundry on and do a few small chores before we get stuck into the day’s activities. I just don’t have the motivation when the kids have gone to bed. On my superhero days I’ll also put a meal in the slow cooker. I’m realising increasingly, though, that this or bulk cooking has to become the norm because we’re either out at afternoon activities or I’m just too tired in the evening to cook anything.
Find quiet amongst the noise
Kind of related to this, because I usually manage it in the mornings if at all, I’ve learned to take advantage of times when the kids are doing their own thing, playing in their rooms, dancing in the kitchen or making something out of the recycling.
I used to feel that time to read, meditate or pray was only worthwhile if there was a lot of it, in silence and without distraction, but now I recognise that even in the small snatches of time, surrounded by chaos, even if it’s as simple as focusing my mind in the shower or listening to a podcast while I chop vegetables, that even these small things are potent.
However, if I do need a longer period of time then I’m not at all averse to suggesting a movie during the two year old’s nap time or an emergency TV session for all three because I just need to do something not child-related, uninterrupted for an hour or two. I just need to make sure we’re not resorting this too much on days when I’m struggling to engage as we all end up grumpy with each other.
Focus on life skills
On recognising learning where it’s happening, I’ve found that focusing on helping the kids develop their life skills makes things run so much more smoothly for all of us. Their emptying the dishwasher or putting away laundry genuinely eases my load.
Even when asking them to help means doing it with them and breaking it down into step by step tasks, we are spending time together. I’d rather just get on with baking bread on my own but involving my four-year-old means she gets better at measuring things, cracking eggs and throws up good conversations about yeast and carbon dioxide.
They don’t always want to help but that too throws up learning opportunities in the form of talking and listening to each other’s feelings. Even when I wind up doing things on my own, I remind myself that I am modelling what it looks like to follow through on tasks you don’t necessarily want to do yourself.
More often than not, though, we’re able to find solutions that everyone is comfortable with. The kids currently have a thing about setting the egg timer when they’re cleaning up the playroom or their bedroom to see whether they can beat the time. And I have The Greatest Showman soundtrack to thank for making boring jobs more palatable.
I’m also trying to delegate more tasks to them that they naturally enjoy. My seven-year-old loves cooking and baking and she’s increasingly doing more of it on her own. She and my four year old both enjoy washing up and though I do need to go over the odd pot, I’m more than happy to leave that task to them while their zest for it lasts! Even my two year old gets a kick out of putting the fruit and vegetables away when the food shop arrives or helping me load and unload the laundry.
If all is going wrong (and by this, I generally mean if I’m losing my temper or the kids are fighting), getting outdoors often proves an easy fix. Many a den building session in the woods or a run around on a beach or even mud play in our garden has helped restore calm or at least offer temporary respite from whatever I’m finding hard to cope with.
Granted, it can be difficult getting ready to even get outside. All I can say is that I have totally taken kids to the park in pyjamas and wellies.
And actually, as an extension of that, I know that I need the endorphin hit of exercising, preferably outdoors, to help me feel in any way normal.
Get one thing done
Another quick pick-me-up is give myself an easy win by getting one achievable thing done. This could be making a phone call to make or cancel an appointment, cleaning the sink or getting a postcard out for a child to write to a friend. Sometimes I’ll even write it on a to-do list retrospectively just so I can tick it!
Make time for my own learning
I’ve found that whenever the personal cost of home education feels too high, I’m generally not pursuing my own passions. I wind up feeling like I’m pouring myself out for everyone else, pointlessly. At the same time, I find it difficult to prioritise spending time this way when there’s so little of it to go around. For me there seem to be two ways of approaching this problem.
One is to remind myself that seeing me learning, reading, working or otherwise doing my own thing that’s critical to my children’s learning and their own development as lifelong learners. Sometimes this means letting the kids run riot while I write a blog post or ignoring a messy room while I get my guitar out and sing in the middle of it.
The other is that I cannot do everything alone and seriously don’t think I’m meant to. Despite giving a lot of thought to how work is shared in our home, Laurence and I still sometimes fall into thinking about home education and domestic tasks as primarily my responsibility.
We are making this choice together and if one of us is finding it hard then both of us need to work at achieving balance. As it stands, our roles are defined by him working full time and me being with the kids full time but we’ve worked more this year at freeing up more time for me to do other things. I am getting better at putting the SOS out when I need it and we have an ongoing conversation about the mental load and things we both want to change.
Choose empathy over self-flagellation
This is so key I kind of wonder whether I should have led with it. I realise when I reach the end of the day, berating myself about how rubbish I am at doing this parenting thing and picking my life apart, what I’m actually doing is punishing myself because I believe I deserve punishment.
This just makes me feel worse, trapping me in a cycle of repeating all the things I don’t want to repeat, like being easily irritated and struggling to organise my time productively. It’s as if I think that if I’m hard enough on myself, I’ll learn from my mistakes when actually, the opposite is true.
Instead, I need to treat myself with kindness, to extend empathy to the woman who’s having a bad week, who’s wearing her hurts on the outside. I want to know where she’s coming from and what’s really going on inside her today. And I want her to know that perfection really isn’t a thing. She may have measured her accomplishments for most of her life but it really isn’t a thing anymore.
And so I probably need to let go of things, to return to the first point in this post. But also, to choose to be less busy. Now that we have one car we stay local a bit more and I’m finding not having anything planned on a Friday quite freeing.
I’ve also released myself from feeling that we have to take on lots of activities and groups or even to meet up with people every day. For me, this is self-empathy in action, especially as my kids are quite young and are happy with not being too busy.
I appreciate that others might well need the opposite! In fact, I’d love to hear from other home ed families, what helps when you feel overwhelmed?
“You could drive over on your own.”
I’d been agonising over how to see friends in Bristol I’d promised to see before the summer holidays were up – friends I hadn’t managed to see the last few times we’d been back. Our weekends were all booked up. When Laurence suggested that I just take the kids over midweek, I was surprised that I felt OK about that. I’d never driven three hours completely on my own. When we moved from Bristol to Cornwall with two cars, we drove in convoy. But OK. This was another plaster to rip off.
In many ways, I think living in Cornwall has massively improved my driving. I used to always stick to the familiar, usually relatively close destinations when I lived in a city. Things are more sprawling here and I was keen to get out and really plug into the home educating community. Living in the countryside means I’ve had to get used to reversing down narrow roads to let others pass and not driving at 20 or 30 all the time. Generally, I’m a far more confident driver, which accounts for why I did take that Bristol trip but also for the fact that I now drive a van, something 28-year-old me would never have thought possible when she passed her driving test four and half years ago.
In truth, I find driving the van easier than any car we’ve owned. Parking can be a pain sometimes and it’s a lot more to clean but I love being high up and able to see more of what’s around me when I’m driving. It’s locking is actually better than a couple of the others I’ve driven, certainly impressive for something of that size. Having a sensor for reversing is a dream for someone who definitely finds spatial awareness challenging. And the space! Two weeks ago we went on a camping trip with my family and it was the first time we’ve done a camping trip and not had to load up every possible gap in the car.
When I made back to home after our big trip upcountry, I felt like my world had opened up a little bit more. Not that I intend to do lots of road trips now (in fact, we want to stay local as much as possible) but I didn’t feel as cut off as I did before. I realised that I’d felt dependent on Laurence to be able to get to the rest of the country.
I think the next step is to keep improving my driving, for my confidence, for my passengers’ comfort and even for my Car Insurance. The Aviva Drive app makes that pretty easy. You download the app, which now includes an integrated dash cam feature, and it monitors your driving skills. So safer drivers can get a discount on their insurance and you even have evidence should you ever get into an accident.
Driving at all honestly felt unattainable for me a few years ago. I don’t take it for granted. We wouldn’t have moved to somewhere rural if I couldn’t drive and I probably would find home educating a lot more daunting, living here without a car. I still feel like learning to drive and continuing to learn has opened me up to a lot of possibilities. So often I default to learned helplessness and I need to keep pushing to break out of it, not just for my sake but so that my kids grow up knowing that they are capable.
Sometimes I forget we are cat people. Back when I was pregnant with Talitha I was absolutely desperate to get a kitten. I was living in a new city, working from home and struggling with my mobility due to SPD brought on by the pregnancy, and I think all my hormones were crying out for a pet. So I talked us into believing it wouldn’t add much work to the responsibility of the first baby we were about to have. So we walked out of that friend of a friend’s house with not only the tabby cat we’d agreed on but with the little black runt of the litter too. Just two months before Talitha was born, Bojangles and Hero joined our family.
Then we had Talitha. The night before she was born, Bojangles perched on my bump while I laboured. He was a lot more smaller back then, mind. He’s officially a big cat these days. In fact I remember thinking as I lay there that he was so little. When we eventually brought our baby home, both kittens seemed to have grown overnight. That was also the end of their having our undivided attention.
Yet as we’d hoped, the kids have grown pretty attached to our furry friends. So they’ve had more hands to cuddle them, even if those hands have sometimes needed to be taught how to cuddle gently. Unsurprisingly, the kids missed our cats terribly the month that we were away and kept asking me what I thought they might be doing. I hadn’t expected that I’d miss them quite as much as I did. I kept imagining them sitting in the corner of my eye.
We talked about all the ways we’d treat them when we got home. So when WHISKAS® asked me to imagine my ideal date night with my cat, I suggested to the kids that we think about what a welcome home party for the cats might look like. They came up with lots of extra stroking and brushing, playing with home made cat toys (they’re forever making pompoms for the cats) and a special treat to eat. So, we made it all happen this weekend with Whiskas cat casseroles, possibly the cats’ favourite part of the celebration.
And of course we needed to eat too to make it a real party. I’m expecting treating the cats for Christmas to be next on the children’s agenda.
This post is in conjunction with WHISKAS® but all thoughts are my own
I’ve generally seen kids television as an opportunity for me to get something else done. Lately, though, the girls have made sounds about wanting me to watch with them. I’ve taken this as a cue to introduce them to some of my childhood favourites but they’ve also enjoyed sharing what they love with me. Recently, this has included a show on Pop – on air now, Dreamworks’ Spirit Riding Free.
As big horse lovers, I’m not surprised my kids are drawn to the story of Spirit, an untameable stallion who befriends a young girl called Lucky. Lucky has recently moved from a city to a town in the American West and struggles to fit in but soon finds friendship in two of her horse riding classmates and in Spirit. The show is definitely a current favourite here.
For my kids, it’s all about the winning combination of horses and friendship. The story is cute and fun, and while this might not consciously register with them, the animation is pretty high quality too. I love that Lucky is a strong heroine, fully in touch with her sense of adventure and that the show carries positive messages about forgiveness and determination. I genuinely well up in at soft moments (I’m a bit prone to that) and there’s plenty in there to make us all laugh.
At the moment, Spirit has a competition running, offering kids to a chance to win entry to the Spirit Riding Free Stable Sleepover. Three winners will stay in a converted stable with a friend and enjoy a weekend full of all things Spirit, from horse riding to crafts to treasure hunts and lots more. Basically, it’s a dream for kids who love horses or, better yet, love Spirit.
Click here to check out the competition hosted on POP. The episodes are available to watch now – weekends at 12.30pm.
While lots of our friends are currently fielding questions about getting a pet someday and making that “someday” sooner, our kids are pretty settled that our cats are where it’s at with pets. They do bring up the idea of chickens every now and then but I think the smallness of our garden answers that for now. I also wonder if even they can see that we are at mental capacity with the two furry friends already in our care. For now, they’ll have to dream of anything extra.
Ophelia recently got the chance to do just that. Pet insurance provider Petplan invited her to draw her dream pet, promising to turn her design into a bespoke soft toy. So I asked her, “If you could have any pet in the world, what would it be?” And, of course, it only took her seconds to settle on a unicorn. While I loved her drawing (naturally, I would), I couldn’t imagine how someone would turn it into a cuddly 3D object. It defied my imagination, anyhow.
The end product arrived while we were away and Laurence laid it on her bed, ready to greet her when we got home. Her name is Twirly-leg and she proved the perfect welcome home. I love that even her patterns were included and that she arrived in a matching bag. I’m thinking that it might be a really good project for Talitha to try designing and making her own toy as she was intrigued with the process too.
Whenever we do talk about the prospect of new pets in the future, we talk about all that pet ownership involves, from food to grooming to pet insurance. Petplan’s Pet Insurance stands out amongst the options for the latter as one of the few insurance providers that offer genuine “lifetime” policies and by working with more animal rehoming charities than any other provider. This post is brought to you by Petplan but all thoughts are my own