Our home education year – Looking back

We don’t follow the school terms here and now that we’re back from our month in Trinidad and Tobago and don’t have family staying with us, getting back to our usual routine makes sense. We’ve agreed that from next week we’ll be returning to the homeschooling rhythm that gently structures our lives. So I thought I’d do little catch up on the highlights of the last “homeschool year” before jumping into the new. Had Talitha been in school this would have been her Year 2 and it would have been Ophelia’s preschool year.

Talitha starting violin lessons last September was the biggest change to our homeschool routine. Unless we’re rushing out the door, we try to start the day with violin practice so that she’s fresh and we’re both motivated. This tends to flow straight into a pile of books or a planned activity so violin has become the main thing that structures our day. I hadn’t thought that she’d start an instrument at six but she asked and was super keen. A year later, she still loves it and is excited about working towards her grade one exam.

We also began a structured study of history with Story of the World this past year. This has been quite a hit. I loosely pull ideas from The Well Trained Mind, amongst other things, and this is one of the associated resources. However, we’re taking things very much at our own pace and spending lots of time on specific areas of interest. So we stayed for a long time with the ancient Egyptians and are still on the Romans with quite a long way to go before moving on to the next book.

I was surprised to find how into it Ophelia got. She was typically running in and out, playing with the toy kitchen or dressing up and generally seeming not to be at all paying attention to what we were doing but every now and then she’ll pull out something about the Greek gods or I’ll find a drawing of the Parthenon and I’ll wonder when she picked up on that.

Talitha’s also been doing history workshops once a month with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and Ophelia will be joining her for the last couple this coming term.

I’ve just put together all the drawings, photographs of crafts and written bits from Talitha’s history study into a folder, which she’s loved looking through. This year we’ve decided to do books instead of loose pages in folders for different “subjects”, just putting everything in one book until it’s done. It feels simpler and less artificial to do it that way.

Read alouds continue to feature as the main way we learn together and while I’m still reading lots of picture books, mostly to the younger two, Ophelia began to enjoy longer form stories in the middle of the year. So I began reading them separate chapter books. I’m not sure how sustainable this is going to be long term, though. We may have to up our audiobook consumption. Certainly, I’m thinking we might get next book of Story of the World on CD.

In terms of reading to herself, Talitha started the year with me still checking whether a book might suit her reading ability and finished it reading Harry Potter. A lot of our “school day” involves her disappearing with somewhere with the book.

This is also the year, she took up cursive handwriting. I hadn’t thought of introducing it yet but she insisted she wanted to write like me and asked me to write all the letters out in a book, which she then used as a reference for writing letters, signs, invitations to imaginary parties, menus and so on. She asked me to show her how to join them as she went along. Basically, she just kept going until she could write them comfortably. I can honestly say her cursive is completely self taught.


We loved following Exploring Nature with Children a bit more this year, though I definitely wasn’t as dedicated to it as I could have been. Mainly, it got us into the habit of nature journalling – so much so that the girls often ask me to take photos of things to sketch later on. Our animal encyclopaedia and various British wildlife reference books have been well used this year. We are so, so lucky to have all of Cornwall to explore in.

We’ve done a lot of projects inspired by magazines, especially OKIDO, Wildlife Watch and Whizz Pop Bang. This is the first year we’ve done so much of that sort of thing, probably because both of the older two have been pretty into it. It’s still been a huge balance with a toddler and I’m not sure that’s getting any easier now that Delilah’s two, with naps growing less reliable.

Talitha and Ophelia also work through the lessons on Mystery Science together, which they can do pretty much independently – a great help when my attention is elsewhere.

The girls asked to learn French so we were using Muzzy off and on and had an occasional French class with a native speaker but it just wasn’t really working. We switched to Spanish as a more regular class opened up (and with A-level Spanish I hoped I could support them more) but the timing was difficult and I realised we needed something that I was involved in. So we’ve got a few at home resources and we’re just going to DIY it for now. They’re still really keen on French so I’m trying to wrap my head around how to keep bringing that in as well.

Maths is interwoven into everything else we do, from music theory to cooking to Sudoku to working out what time something is happening. However, we have also been using Life of Fred, Spielgaben and Mathseeds. And Talitha loves asking me to write down things for her to work out too.

This year, I’m not sure what we’re going to carry on with. I have to really watch costs so we may give Fred a rest and I’m thinking that we won’t renew Mathseeds and Reading Eggs. Talitha has finished the main Reading Eggs game but uses all the other language arts resources in there and Ophelia has been using it as well. It’s a bit pricey for two kids, even with discounts and I don’t really want to get it just for one of them. So, I don’t know. I also find that the Spielgaben learning resources require more parent input than I can give right now. At the same time, Talitha is hungry for more in this area so I’m thinking to suggest she try Khan Academy again and see how she likes it.

Our approach to “preschool” has been to let Ophelia play and dip in what we’re doing as she likes, attempting an experiment or craft if she asks to and showing her how to write something if she asks. She’s picked up loads of writing this way and she’s started recognising sounds but her reading is emerging in a very different way than it did for Talitha. She constantly surprises us with addition or subtraction that she’s simply worked out in her head. None of this has been taught. In many ways, I think she benefits from me being more hands off because I’m busier and more laid back than I was when Talitha was four.

My big takeaways from this year have been to make time for my own learning and creating, schedule lots of time at home where we’re not doing anything in particular and make the most of what we already have. And as I look forward into the coming year, my big words are simplicity, patience and trust.

What about you? Have you taken a break over the summer holidays or have continued as they usually do?


This Homeschooling Life – What January looked like

January has been a strange month. I say that, but with regard to home education, all of our months have been different anyway. I spent half of it still feeling the heavy weight of pregnancy symptoms and the second half being stuck down with what I can only assume actually was the flu, because its still lingering. It’s meant that we haven’t been up to as much as we usually are and after the chaos of Christmas, I admit that I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty about that.

I especially felt it last week when we got back into a routine of practising phonics using the Alphablocks Reading Programme we’d set aside for a while. Talitha’s mind is so absorbent and she picks up and retains more complex sound combinations easily now. That should have delighted me but instead I felt guilty for not being more consistent with following the programme. Her reading is coming along so well but there’s always that irrational niggle that says, “Would she be further along by now if she were at school?” And then I remember, she is only four, for goodness sake. There is absolutely no rush. And there’s no need for me to compare her time at home with what happens in a system we’ve chosen to opt out of.

Mostly we’ve just been reading. We’ve been loving Little House in the Big Woods
, which we gave Talitha for Christmas. Nothing really “happens” yet we are both transfixed by it. For me, I’m intrigued by their self-sufficient lifestyle. For her, it’s all about a little girl who lived in a world of bears and panthers and got to make things (even if these things are bullets and butter!). I planned lots of fun activities to go with reading it, like making paper dolls and smoking meat but we haven’t got around to any of it yet! We’re not done reading it yet, though so maybe this month.

Where I haven’t been able to offer more input at times, she’s enjoyed playing, on her own, with her sister and with friends. Indoors and out. She’s gone ahead with creating. Always making something with paper and scissors, glue, tape and junk. Always drawing. Always asking questions. Always wanting to help me with whatever I’m doing.

The other day she suggested we do face painting while Ophelia was sleeping. I painted a butterfly on her face and she painted flowers on mine. Then she wanted to create a story about a butterfly and some flowers for us to act out. We each added parts of the story for “our show”, involving one of the cats as a character. She then suggested that she’d draw the story and write it down. With help, that’s exactly what she did, though we had a bit of brainstorm figuring out how to summarise it in a sentence.

On the weekends and on his days off, Laurence has been doing lots with the girls, whether it’s taking them outdoors somewhere new or just pottering around in the garden. He and Talitha took photographs of a nearby beach the other day and I came downstairs to find them each sketching from one of their shots. This Saturday, they spent a lot of time with a map, checking out the beach we were going to cook lunch on and when we got there, they referred to it again and it was exciting how much she understood from it.

This is something we’ve been talking more about, recently. How can each of us bring our skills and experience to the table with home educating? Something like looking at a map or creating one wouldn’t thrill me. I also wouldn’t find it particularly easy. If we did it, it would be purely for her benefit. On the other hand, it’s a natural thing for him to do with her.

We’ve been doing some bits around Chinese New Year more recently. We’ll be going to a big celebration at a local Chinese supermarket (complete with dragon dance) so in preparation, we’ve been reading books about Chinese New Year, crafts, watching videos and putting up our display.

Spielgaben

Another January highlight has been finally getting our hands on a Spielgaben set. It’s essentially a huge set of beautifully made, non-toxic, environmentally sustainable wooden toys which are divided into sets and come with activity guides for play, creativity and mathematics. They’re “manipulatives” in Maths speak. The set appealed to me because I wanted a system with everything in one place to help us approach maths in a physical, practical way and this looked like a lot of fun.

So far, they girls have played with the sets freely and Talitha has done a few of the activities. We’ve started doing them “in order” but before I read the guides, we were just dipping in and out and she came across these 3D shapes she wanted to build. Naturally we got talking about the different between cubes and cuboids and how many faces a pyramid has. The great thing so far is that it’s something that Ophelia can do alongside us, even though she’s not doing anything structured with the pieces. I’m looking forward to delving more into it.

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This Homeschooling Life

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Milk bottle cap hot air balloons

With hot air balloons fresh in our minds from the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, I wanted to do a craft with Talitha featuring them. We always have lots of recycling objects around so I grabbed a few milk bottle caps and we got going.

Milk bottle cap hot air balloons-3
Milk bottle cap hot air balloons

We used:
Blue card
Milk bottle caps
PVA glue
Glitter glue pens
A toilet roll tube
A dark felt tip pen
Polystyrene packaging chips

Milk bottle cap hot air balloons-2

Milk bottle cap hot air balloons-5

What we did:
Spread LOADS of glue on the bottle caps and stick them to your card. Talitha did her own, I helped Ophelia. Cut the tube into little rectangles for the basket and stick them on. Decorate the balloons with glitter pens. Stick on the chips for clouds and draw in some details with your pen.

Milk bottle cap hot air balloons-4

Talitha wanted to do another scene using green card to show hot air balloons that haven’t taken off yet so she drew some people too.

Milk bottle cap hot air balloons-2-2

Even Ophelia had a go. I put glue on the paper and gave her stuff to stick on it. I’d have let her do the glue herself but I could only find one spreader and it was causing a bit of a sharing issue! Once distracted with sticking the clouds she was OK.


Raising butterflies

This was such a good bit of fun, I just have to share it here even though we did it a few months ago. The girls were given money for Christmas so we used it to buy an Insectlore Butterfly Garden. The netted butterfly enclosure was delivered with instructions and a voucher code to order the caterpillars.

Raising butterflies from eggs - observing metamorphosis

Here are the caterpillars when they arrived. One hadn’t hatched yet. They grew scarily big rather quickly. I wish I’d taken a picture of the massive caterpillars. Definitely a real-life illustration of The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

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Eventually, they crawled to the top of the cup and hung in “J” shapes, growing cocoons. I’ve made this image black and white to spare you the caterpillar poo.

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Giving all the caterpillars time to go into cocoons and for their cocoons to harden, we transferred the disc at the top of the cup to the butterfly garden, pinning it to the netting.

Raising butterflies from eggs - observing metamorphosis-4

It was hard to believe that something was actually going to happen to be honest. I was so paranoid that somehow it wouldn’t “work”! But then one morning, we came down and there was fully formed butterfly, drying its wings.

Talitha, then 3 going on 4, was absolutely mesmerised by the whole thing but so was I. How could our caterpillars have become something so different? It was like observing a miracle.

Raising butterflies from eggs - observing metamorphosis-10

We gave our butterflies fruit and sugar water to eat.

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The only thing I would have done differently is line the bottom of the enclosure with kitchen roll as the instructions suggested because the new butterflies expel a lot of red meconium and it’s sticky stuff.

Raising butterflies from eggs - observing metamorphosis-8
Raising butterflies from eggs - observing metamorphosis-9

We kept a magnifying glass next to the cup and the garden to observe the caterpillars/butterflies through the entire process. When they’d all emerged, Talitha decided to draw them. We also printed and laminated a life cycle poster from Twinkl to refer to while we talked about what was happening.

Finally, it was time to release our butterflies since I didn’t want to have to care for LOTS of new caterpillars.

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We’ll definitely do this again. We can keep the butterfly garden and keep ordering new cups of caterpillars or we might even just try bringing some in from the garden (along with whatever plant we find them on).

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