Starting history with my six year old

We’ve changed a few things in our routines over the past couple of months and one of the things we’ve enjoyed adding in has been a history curriculum. Talitha’s at an age now where she’s really interested in different historical eras and can start holding onto and arranging this information. Following something just allows us to make sure to make time for it and keep it going.

So I’ve been reading her Story of the World and using the activity book that goes with it to give us ideas of how to take things further. She’s also started a monthly history workshop at the museum which lines up fairly well with the order of the book.

We’re on Ancient Egypt at the moment and she’s so intrigued by it all – the mythology, the pyramids, the mummies, the aesthetics. I aim to make time for history a couple of times a week but more Ancient Egypt is basically on request daily. Looking for a few more bits to help us explore, I gathered together other Children’s Books like this Usborne Activities Egyptian Things to Make and Do. I spotted a Flat Stanley goes to Egypt book so I may have to get a hold of that too.

Talitha was quite taken with the make and do book and disappeared for a while to re-emerge with this dancer paperchain, mixing men and women. It’s just a bit of fun but it’s really helped to cement the imagery in her mind.

Since we’ve been reading about the Ancient Egyptian gods and the pharaohs, she wanted to make a pectoral. They both got into this (I helped Ophelia with some of the cutting), while I read them Egyptian Myths by Jacqueline Morley.

By the way, I’m really, really not into using plastic for crafts unless it’s to reuse something before recycling it but we’ve had these straws from something or other for years so I figured they might as well get some use.

I love that they both looked at the pictures and decided to do their own thing.

Next, Talitha wants to make the mummy in a coffin craft further along in the book, to tie in with the story of Osiris who gets tricked into lying in a box and then fatally trapped in there by his brother Set (yes, these myths are dark!). On the subject of mummies, it really amuses me that with all the mummies we’re seeing around at the moment, they’re connecting them with Ancient Egypt rather than Halloween!

I’m really enjoying learning alongside them because I didn’t learn about the stone and iron age or the ancient Egyptians when I was in school. Certainly, we wouldn’t have had the resources to learn about it the way they are with all these books, videos and crafts. I’m looking forward to seeing them creating their own projects, inspired by all we’re coming across.

We may well pause here until Talitha has exhausted her interest in this era and older friends have done. It could be a while.


This post was brought to you by The Works


Beautiful reads for kids – Storytime magazine

I love a good print subscription. We have a few for the kids and they get such a rush opening the post and looking through new magazines when they arrive. Magazines often throw things up for us to explore further or new activities to try. In the past, we’ve mostly done science and nature ones but every now and then I’d eye up a fiction magazine. I finally got my chance to get a closer look when Storytime asked if we’d like to review their magazine.

The illustrations are fresh, colourful and quirky, in the style of modern storybooks. The pages are of a heavier paper stock, not card but not flimsy. These are magazines made for collecting. We certainly won’t be throwing them away.

The content is pretty timeless. My eye was drawn to this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, made more accessible for my kids by the illustrator’s keen sensibility. Talitha went ahead and read both issues we were sent but when I read them to her afterwards, we talked about the art of reading poetry, that it’s often transformed by reading aloud. Ophelia was taken by Gabriel Setoun’s “Jack Frost” poem, following the many pictures he paints on the windows at night, verse by verse.

The magazine brings together classic and original tales, myths and legends from around the world, fairy tales and rhymes. They are carefully curated, the tales thrilling and the standard high. My older two, at three and six are delighted with it but I imagine they would have been a good fit for me at ten or even older too.

Along with a fact or a themed activity to accompany each story, there’s a “storytime playbox” at the back with word searches, brainteasers, prompts for drawing, crafts, recipes – all offering a chance to take the stories further. There’s even a game to play. Springing you further into reading, each issue concludes with book recommendations for children too.

Storytime has clearly been carefully conceived and it’s certainly beautifully executed. We’ve had ours for a few weeks now and they’ve gone most places with us. Ophelia has her clear favourites that’s she’s asked me to read over and over. Talitha has so many questions about things we come across in there. I love that there are no adverts and that it raises discussions about geography, different cultures and the natural world. They just love getting lost in beautiful stories.

Storytime sent us two issues for review and have also given us a year’s subscription in exchange for this post. All gushing is entirely honest, though. I absolutely love this magazine and what they stand for as a social enterprise, working with schools, charities and councils to make high quality reading materials available at a low price.

You can also grab a 10% discount on your subscription here. Storytime even sends out educational resources to go alongside each month’s issue!


Our homeschooling month – September

September brought with it that predictable back-to-school feeling, even though we don’t particularly pay school terms much mind. Learning is woven into our living. A book is read while a baby is fed, French phrases are practised conversationally over meals, giving and spending pocket money sparks addition, subtraction and multiplication. We don’t do school at home.

Yet after a summer of disruption, with visitors coming through and home ed groups pausing, we’ve been craving routine again. The weeks are gradually taking a recognisable shape as we refine where to go and what to commit to.

We’re probably doing more groups than we need to but I feel like though we’ve made some great connections, we’re still building our community and it’s worth keeping the net wide, staying open to meeting new people and going deeper with those we’ve already connected with.

Talitha spent the summer counting down to Beavers starting again. She’s now invested which was a big deal for her. She’s also started violin lessons, practising every day. Ophelia started a fun dance class, something she’d set her heart on. She was so excited she wouldn’t even let us stay with her for the trial lesson.

We’re following Story of the World, an engaging read aloud history curriculum, supplementing with Usborne books, online videos and the accompanying activity book. Talitha also went to a history workshop at the local museum which will be running monthly and tying in with what we’re reading about. This time she learned about the Stone, Bronze and Iron Age, handled models of artefacts, ground wheat and made a clay pot.

For the last couple of years we’ve dipped in and out of Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum that weaves together science, art, literature and nature study. We’ve started keeping to it a bit more now that local friends are following it too. This month we covered seeds, mini beasts, the Autumn equinox and Autumn leaves.

Our read alouds have included finishing off Moominpapa by the Sea, flying through Milly Molly Mandy and digging into Heidi. Talitha read an adaptation of the last and asked if we could read the real thing. When we got started I worried that it would be too dense but she’s truly enjoying it, hungry for the next chapter and talking about it later in the day. Ophelia’s read alouds are Winnie the Pooh and Frog and Toad. She’s a bit obsessed with the latter! Both have fallen in love with the stories, illustrations and poems in Storytime magazine. Come back tomorrow for a review of it here on the blog. (Edited to add: you can read my review of Storytime here).

Maths, reading and writing naturally come up in our day to day lives whether in games, cooking, list making, letter writing or imaginative play. However, we’ve continued to enjoy Life of Fred, which explores maths concepts through funny stories. I’ll order the next book soon. Our Spielgaben set has seen some building and small world play but we’re finding it chaotic to get small parts out with a whirlwind toddler who wants to get into whatever her big sisters are doing. The older two have continued to enjoy Reading Eggs and Mathseeds. Talitha often pulls workbooks off the shelf for down time or disappears to curl up somewhere with a book. She’s reading Little House on the Prairie at the moment, which we’ll also read aloud soon.

The older two seem to have found a good flow of doing things independently and together now that Ophelia is happy to entertain herself with dress ups, duplo or the play kitchen and will seek out Delilah or me when her big sister doesn’t feel like playing. They also play well together and though they do fight, I’m grateful for all the time they get together. They’re also building on friendships outside the home and it’s exciting seeing Ophelia start to forge her own as she gets older.

Their big interest at the moment is ocean animals – unsurprising when you go to the beach every week. Serendipitously, this is also the theme one of the home ed groups we go to has been working on. Last week they did mammals and we visited the seal sanctuary as a little family field trip. As another happy coincidence, our first two issues of science magazine Whizz Pop Bang have covered seeds and the ocean, nicely tying in with stuff we’ve been exploring and helping them take it further. The kids have also been looking at ocean videos on The Kids Should See This and borrowed lots of ocean books from the library.

It’s impossible to pin down everything they’ve been working on. I find Talitha’s crafty creations and Ophelia’s many knots tied everywhere. Ophelia is working at writing her name. Talitha is teaching herself cursive. Delilah has worked out how to climb up slides (not ladders).

I oscillate between loving this life we have together and wanting to escape it, mainly because I worry that I’m not good at it. I am too often controlling and am working at letting go, apologising to my children and forgiving myself so I can change. I worry that we do too much. I worry that we don’t do enough. I worry that I don’t know how to just be with my children. I need to see other adults. I need to stay home and recover from putting myself out there. My kids need time and space to rest, process and create. They need to be out seeing other children and trying new things. Balance is a rare find. Yet moving into October, it feels like everything is slowly settling.


Why give children “real” art supplies

Moving into another year of home education, I’ve been reevaluating our approach to the way I offer the kids art opportunities. It’s changed so many times. I’d set up an art station with everything available so they could help themselves then move things in sight but out of reach so they needed to ask me to reach them. Then I’d totally revert. There’s been paint on cushions and glitter embedded in carpet. There’ve been times when I’ve needed to ask a baby to give me a pair of scissors left on the floor by a preschooler who’s moved on to something else. There’s been a lot of frustration around the whole thing.

Lately, we’ve reached a pretty happy place with it. We have two art stations, one in the dining room and one in the playroom. Only a few things are out so the kids aren’t overwhelmed by the options and we can see clearly where everything should go when it’s time to tidy up.

Something else has changed along the way. Bit by bit I’ve been upgrading the materials they use, trading in the “kid” options for real artist quality materials. Drawing pads to paints to sketchbooks to pencils they’ve all taken a step up and we’re really seeing the benefits.

I really think giving kids real tools and materials to work with respects their artistic efforts. It sends the message that we think what they’re up to is important and worth more than throwaway materials. The artist sketchbook my six year old uses for her nature journal has become a prized possession. Given the choice between that and a notebook with lighter weight pages, the choice was easily made. And I think it told her that I felt the observations and efforts making their way into that book mattered.

Unsurprisingly, this seems to motivate children to create. Real materials yield a greater reward, the colours more vibrant and the effects more pleasurable. As adults, we know the difference a pen that writes beautifully makes so why wouldn’t children feel the same.

Related, this then helps them to focus their artwork, spending more time on their pieces, really getting into the details, experimenting and mastering the materials they’re working with. This seems to create less waste as a result, too.

It inspires them to try new things, whether it’s thinking bigger or smaller, experimenting with different tools on a different kind of paper or attempting a totally new subject.

The end result also tends to better last and I’m inspired to take greater care in storing or displaying their work, which surely reinforces the cycle of respect and encouragement.

In collaboration with Office Stationery


How our third baby changed the way we home educate

Talitha takes books out into the garden on a sunny day. She’s reading about famous artists here.

When I was pregnant with Delilah, I fielded a lot of questions about how I’d cope with home educating then five year old Talitha when she was born. It’s amusing that they considered the new baby more disruptive to our set up than my wildly busy then two year old! How I’d respond depended on how well I knew the person asking and whether I felt energetic enough to explain that we weren’t in fact doing “school at home”, as they probably imagined. People asked out of interest and, to be honest, I also wondered how I’d cope, not just with homeschooling but with three children, in general.

Delilah turned one last week, neatly coinciding with the end of the school year. While we don’t really observe term dates, I took it as a marker of the time we’ve survived and in which we’ve even thrived. Looking back on this crazy year, my approach to home education has developed and changed in ways I couldn’t have expected.

I started the year holding tightly to the idea of structure. I had lists and plans, things I put together mostly with the children and while I never forced Talitha to do anything, I was very much the driving force in getting them done. I strongly encouraged her to do the things I thought she should be doing and found it difficult to let go emotionally when this inevitably became a battle of wills. It was frustrating for both of us.

A friend had suggested that in the new baby haze, I might want to consider unschooling, following the child’s lead and allowing her to learn through living, rather than keeping any rigid plans. Since my plans were pretty relaxed, I felt we could keep to a discernible schedule regardless and so I didn’t take the advice much to heart.

But. I’d forgot what having a newborn was like. I’d forgot what having a newborn who woke a lot in the night was like. I’d forgot what juggling the needs of a newborn and a two and a half year old was like, never mind throwing in the five year old who, though independent and rather helpful, still had needs too.

And I didn’t factor in that our lives would be majorly disrupted by Laurence staying over in Cornwall for part of every week or by going back and forth to Cornwall to house hunt or by the trip to Thailand. And I certainly could not have appreciated how thrown we would be, picking up our lives and moving from one part of the country to another.

A lot more than “just” a new baby made this a chaotic year. I think that’s why I clung for control. I felt so overwhelmed.

I began to be at war with myself, feeling we needed to keep to this arbitrary schedule and beating myself up because I couldn’t make it work for us. And I really wasn’t even attempting to sit us around a table with workbooks and a white board, honest.

Finally, I began to face up to the fact that I needed to work with things as they were and learn to live well in the present rather than daydream about what I’d do when we weren’t working around naps or when I had more sleep or when my three year old was more independent or even when my baby was a three year old (talk about wishing your life away!).

I totally appreciate that for some people, coping with disruption means holding onto more routine but for me, I needed to think smaller than that and seek to change myself rather than impose my will on my family – something I hadn’t even realised I was doing.

So, I got down to basics. What was really important in a day? What was the minimum I could leave on that list of things to do. Just as when Talitha was a baby I had to learn that there were seasons where I’d only get one or two household tasks done, I needed to pare the home education to-do list back too.

I arrived at “read books to them” and “get outdoors”. That’s all I was aiming to offer in a day. Anything else was an extra and the girls could autonomously find plenty to fill their time. Sometimes time outdoors would just mean a picnic in our garden, others it would be running about on a rainy winter beach. Sometimes it didn’t happen at all. I had to learn to be at peace with that too.


Above, Talitha decided to fill a calendar with important dates and both were using prompt cards to write and draw in their journals

I channelled my limited energy into making the various spaces we’ve been in as accessible as possible so the kids can create, explore and play without needing too much input from me when I might be stuck under a baby. I still view this as my primary responsibility in home educating – creating an environment that is child friendly and not overwhelming.

As the year went on, I began to relax more and more because I could see that they really were learning. After a couple of months of refusing to read aloud, Talitha was suddenly absorbed in chapter books, understanding what she was reading. She even started reading aloud again with a fluency that no one trained her into. Ophelia’s numeracy and dexterity took huge leaps. Both love books, are full of questions and are always making or experimenting. We haven’t done much crafting together this year but I’m often finding their creations, surprised by the thought that’s gone into it and what it says about what they’ve been exploring.

I began to appreciate learning where it was happening. Talitha might write a letter to a friend or a to-do list or invitations to her teddies, inviting them to a party. They might count for fun or try to logically work something out or play games and put together puzzles. Sometimes they get workbooks out for fun. Every day they’re making connections between experiences and conversations, things we’ve read or seen in a video and answers they’ve been collecting along the way.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at the national curriculum for Year One. Many things we’ve covered by accident or Talitha’s discovered through things she’s doing anyway. Other things I figure she’ll get to when and if she needs them. We’ve delved into yet others that aren’t on the curriculum, mostly guided by their interests though I do also throw things in the way.


Baking is so often a great basis for both learning and reconnecting

I’m not totally sure what this means for the year ahead. I suspect we will, bit by bit, bring in a little more gentle routine to make sure we’re making the time for the things everybody wants to do. But I’m more aware of the need to keep taking the temperature of our family and working out where we’re at.

I am so grateful to have home educated this year. I’m relieved not to have had to do the school run with a baby and with a preschooler who has her own ideas about transitions. I also love that the girls have all had masses of time together. The older two gain a lot from being around a baby and learning that we slow down and adapt in times of great change.

Check out what we get up to day-to-day over on Instagram, especially in my stories.


Ten Charlie and the Chocolate Factory activities for younger children

This post was originally published in November 2015. It reappears here in collaboration with million eyez.

We’ve just finished a happy romp through the wonderfully bizarre world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Having realised from page one that this chapter book was going to be a hit, I gathered a few ideas for activities we could try alongside it. For my four-year-old, it was delightful to dig deeper into the experience of the story. For my 21-month-old, it meant she didn’t keep trying to pull the book out of my hand or take me some place else.

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Make a family tree
The book opens by orderly naming the people in Charlie Bucket’s family. I’d been wanting to do a family tree for a while so we took the opportunity to print out photos, cut and stick them and draw lines to show relationships. I helped Talitha with ours but she went on later on to draw Charlie Bucket’s family tree on her own.

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Sweetie Swoop game
We’ve been having fun with the whole sweetie theme by playing a board game called Sweetie Swoop which Talitha got for her birthday this year. It nicely accompanies chapter 11 where he goes into the sweet shop. It’s such fun. In general board games and card games are a brilliantly easy way to develop maths skills while doing something together that we both enjoy.

Drink hot chocolate
When you finally make it inside the chocolate factory, meeting the chocolate river calls for a drink. Preferably one offered in a cup by Mr Willy Wonka and not risking falling in!

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Make playdough sweets
Most of the time we read, we got out the playdough. Talitha made playdough sweets and both girls generally had fun squishing and making while listening to the story.

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The Inventing Room
This was an idea I came across on The Imagination Tree when looking for birthday party ideas. I put together an “inventing room” the night before which was the source of much excitement and creativity. I wish I’d taken more pictures because she got the stapler out and put together some 3D sweets later in the day.

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Make real sweets
Of course, who can read about all these amazing sweets and not want to munch something sweet. Better yet, make some! We tied this in with learning about Diwali by making coconut barfi. They were too sweet for the girls, though, so I wonder if we should have gone for biscuits in sweetie shapes instead.

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Play with fizz
All the experimentation you observe in the Mr Willy Wonka’s factory certainly tickles the imagination. The science fiction elements of this book are the bits that shine brightest. Talitha was quite taken with the fizzy lifting drinks that make you float upwards unless you burp to come down again. Inspired by this fizzy fun experiment, we got the muffin tin out and had a messy go (should have put a tray underneath as suggested in that post, mind!).

Here are few more ideas I came across but we didn’t get around to:

Make lickable wallpaper
Pipe cleaner lollipop craft
Chocolate play dough recipe

Do follow my Learning to Love Words board on Pinterest:

Follow Adele’s board Learning to Love Words on Pinterest.

I’d love if we could share our ideas on how to help kids get into books and this million eyez Photobox offers the perfect medium. With million eyez you can start a photo box in a topic to receive authentic photos you can’t find, just as I’m hoping to do here, curating, communicating and organising to cleverly crowd source what you need. Just upload your photo of your literary kids activity, whether it’s a dress up, craft, baking, creative writing prompt or invitation to play. Let’s inspire each other!

via million eyez

If you’re a blogger, you can also enter million eyez’s amazing giveaway to win your own Olypus PEN camera here!


100 ways to home educate – How we do it

I volunteered to join in with the 100 Ways to Home Educate blog hop with gusto but now that I’m sitting in front of my computer, I’m left thinking, “But how do we do it?”

I’ve been really reluctant to talk much about this in anything but vague terms, partly because it’s ever evolving. As the girls develop, as I read and learn more, as our circumstances change, home education looks different in our family. So I suppose that openness to change is a defining characteristic of our approach. Talitha is five and a half, Ophelia is three years old and Delilah seven months old. Obviously, Talitha is the only one who’s of compulsory school age.

I can’t claim that we are unschoolers. I do offer activities using resources I’ve assembled and often have a plan for our days, even if loose and flexible. At the same time, I don’t force anything (though I might encourage) and I’m not particularly bothered if the day takes an entirely different shape to the one I imagined. The majority of my children’s time is taken up in free play and independent creating. Some would probably call us eclectic or maybe semi autonomous.

Certainly there’s been no typical week here for quite some time. Between Delilah’s birth seven months ago,  Laurence splitting his weeks between our home in Bristol and his work in Cornwall two weeks after, our trip to Thailand in December, packing up the house and moving in January and the last six weeks of getting to know Cornwall but staying in temporary accommodation a fair way from where we’ll be – well, the rhythms are all over the place.

Still, a few things remain constant. We spend some time each day reading. I read to them a mix of books I’ve chosen and books they have. There’s always a chapter book in there for Talitha (we’re reading Finn Family Moomintroll), picture books for Ophelia and Delilah and a Bible story. Everything else is ever changing. They might ask me to read a few pages from a Wildlife Trust magazine or an Usborne non-fiction book (space, volcanoes and Ancient Rome are current favourites), for instance.

We’ve come to really enjoy this dedicated time reading together. Though I do most of the reading, Talitha will sometimes ask to read to us. Ophelia also “reads” to us, keen to attempt anything her sister is doing.

The other constant in our days is time outdoors. Wanting our children to have masses of  outdoor play was a big motivator in choosing to home educate so we try to get outside every day, no matter what the weather is doing. We loosely follow a Charlotte Mason inspired nature curriculum mainly to give me ideas of things to notice since, having only lived in the UK for just over a decade and having a rather indoors childhood myself, British seasons, flora and fauna are all still new discoveries to me.

Some days Talitha might do workbooks or play Mathseeds or Reading Eggs on the computer. We play card games or she builds structures with various manipulatives (we have a Spielgaben set and cuisenaire rods) or Duplo and we talk about patterns, numbers and how to work stuff out. She loves writing out sums and testing me on them. If she has a question I don’t feel I’m answering well enough, we sometimes look at Khan Academy online to see how they’ve explained it. We were using a free maths curriculum for a while but, though she enjoyed it, I found it too labour intensive. At the moment, this interest-led approach is working well for us. Numbers naturally pop up everywhere in life, whether it’s telling the time or working out how much pocket money she has left. It’s amazing how much kids learn just by having an attentive adult on hand to chat things through with and the time to work on problems at their own pace.

Similarly, writing is child led. She loves to write lists and letters. I often find pictures and sentences related to something we’ve been reading about or something happening in her life. She’s been asking to learn cursive so I’ve started to introduce it using a printable from Twinkl and I can see that it might help her grow more confident with her spelling since she’ll be able to follow the shape of the word. Neither spelling nor cursive are things I’d be inclined to even mention right now so it’s interesting that she’s taken such an interest in them.

In terms of topics, we tend to be led by what either of the girls are showing an interest in. I jot down questions in the notes on my phone and remind them about them when it makes sense. Often something will emerge from an experience or a TV show. We went to a planetarium show back at half term and we had a book about space so we’ve wound up looking at videos and reading stuff off websites about the solar system. We talked about the recently discovered solar system with planets similar to Earth when the news broke.

We’re still finding our way with groups here in Cornwall but so far we’ve done one or two home ed groups a week and met up with friends outside of that, which is pretty much what we did in Bristol too. Talitha was doing ballet and swimming in Bristol and she’s asking to get something similar started again but I’m conscious that we need to move into our new house first and just get a bit settled. Also, at three, Ophelia might like to try something low structure too.

No doubt our approach will morph with time. They are so little yet. And I’m sure Ophelia’s path will look quite different from Talitha’s as we can already see that they’re quite different people. For now, this is a little look at how we’re gently dancing together.

Check out the days and ways covered so far on 100 ways to home ed and see the linky below for new ones added in the month of March.