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?
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?
We’ve been following Story of the World since September. It’s our first year consistently checking out history. I very loosely look to The Well Trained Mind for ideas of what to offer when so we’ve been hanging out in the ancient world.
Six-year-old Talitha has been drinking it all in and was especially enthralled with ancient Egypt. I suggested we pick up the pace quite a bit more this past term because I imagined she would love arriving in ancient Greece (we have and she is) but we found lots to capture the imagination along the way, especially in ancient China and Persia.
In all this, I’m amazed at how interested Ophelia is. She often wanders in and out doing her own thing, not appearing to be listening at all and then will ask a poignant question or later muse about something we’d been reading or talking about. I don’t think she’s even aware that we’re reading these things primarily for Talitha’s benefit. To her there’s no demarcation. She may only have just turned four but she regards herself as home educated. All the things we do are, to her, just another part of how we live together.
And so she expects to participate. She’s been asking me to write words for her, which she copies, and she now knows most of the letter sounds and can sound out very simple words. She recognises a lot of numbers and works out simple sums without realising that’s what she’s doing.
I’m so laid back with her, partly because in the end Talitha became a fluent reader on her own. Apart from occasionally offering her Reading Eggs or, more recently, Teach your monster to read so she can play alongside Talitha, I just let Ophelia be. As she fills pages with random numbers and letters, three-letter words and her own name, as she sits and recites books to herself and her baby sister telling me she’s reading, it’s such a pleasure seeing her develop in her own way, a constant surprise.
This last term saw her suddenly shift to longer books so although we have a steady stream of picture books, she devoured James Herriot and was suddenly all about Beatrix Potter – we need to get some more of the latter. She also listened to her first chapter book, My Father’s Dragon, which is also the first chapter book I read to Talitha when she was four.
Talitha has read it a few times since so I read her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We’d been putting it off for ages because I tried reading it to her about a year ago and she was too worried about what would happen when they got to the witch so we shelved it. With a lot of discussion and the promise that we’d stop if it became too much, we approached it again. This time, the book was a delight from start to finish. This was absolutely the right time for her to encounter it. I’m glad I didn’t try to push through with it when she was five.
At the moment we’re halfway through Charlotte’s Web. Talitha’s already read it but she’s finding that listening to it is quite a different experience. We found the same with Little House on the Prairie. She flew through it on her own, enjoyed it and clearly understood it because she kept accidentally giving us spoilers when I read it aloud but she was still super keen for me to read it.
I’m finding that she’s begun to prefer to read fiction to herself than to be read to. Recently I’ve been wondering how to navigate this and I found the transcript of The Read Aloud Revival’s recent podcast on reading aloud to 8-12 year olds helpful on this point. Sarah McKenzie explains why we stop reading to children when they become proficient readers and value of continuing to read to them. For one thing, their listening comprehension is generally a lot higher than their reading comprehension so it exposes them to richer language and prompts discussion. Reading aloud also keeps a relationship around books open, which I’m keen to sustain. Anyway, do check that out if it’s something you’re interested in. It’s given me lots to consider.
We started using Mystery Science this last term which both of the girls are loving. The lessons are videos with open and go activities, set by grade. If there’s any writing required, Ophelia just draws instead. Again, there’s no expectation that she’ll join in but she expects to join in! We spent the term mostly on the human body, driven mostly by Ophelia’s many questions. So we looked for “mysteries” on body systems, dug out a Whizz Pop Bang magazine on bones and an OKIDO magazine on lungs and read the human body books we have here at home.
We once again moved a lot of our home ed stuff to the dining room. We have a playroom but I think I need to stop insisting that all this stuff has to live there when the kitchen/dining room is the natural hub of our home. This included putting rehoming the Spielgaben (a collection of open ended wooden toys we managed to get second hand a few years ago) in our diningroom shelf which has been brilliant for encouraging me to use it.
They’re always creating with it but it was a bit out of sight out of mind for me in the playroom so moving it here got me looking at the resources that came with it and I asked Talitha whether she’d like to try out the maths games. So that’s been fun to do alongside Life of Fred and Mathseeds and I’ve had a new appreciation for the precision the collection is made with in terms of how the sets all fit together. I’ve also started offering Delilah sets to play with. She loves hiding the knitted balls, posting pieces or threading beads on a stick.
The older two are also heavily into boardgames now that Ophelia can (with support) hold her own. That’s even led to them inventing games of their own. Talitha’s also started using Scratch, which is one of her favourite things right now, a fun free programme which teaches kids to code by allowing them to create games and animations.
As always it was a term of special days with Candlemas Day, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Chinese New Year and, of course, Easter. And Talitha and Laurence went to see a touring First Experiences version of Julius Caesar by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Newquay. I’m still gutted I was too ill too go but it was a good experience for them to share. AND it snowed and settled! TWICE! Thrice?! I actually can’t remember. In Cornwall where it NEVER snows! I know that’s more a life thing than a home ed thing but actually, it all flows into each other, doesn’t it?
Talitha’s continuing with the violin and Beavers and both she and Ophelia took up capoeira last term and have just started with a Spanish class. We’ve also continued with our community art group. I’m conscious that we’re probably too busy (and it all adds up!) and Talitha has been asking about swimming lessons so we’ll have to make some changes this term.
The takeaway for me, as always, is that a lot happens without me noticing or needing to cause it happen. We don’t have any plans for the term ahead but I’m going to try to chat about what we’re up to a bit more regularly here on the blog. I tend to share a lot on my Instagram stories if that’s more your jam. We’re likely going to continue using the resources I mentioned here but the changes I expect we’ll slow down a lot, spend more time up at the allotment and once the boat gets in the water, that’ll become a focus too.
Talitha’s been trying out and thoroughly enjoying a levelled book subscription service called Reading Chest. The idea is that your child receives books in the post and when they finished reading them, they put them in supplied envelopes and pop them in a post box to receive more.
She’s actually a proficient reader now so she doesn’t need levelled readers. She’s just finished reading The Railway Children, borrowed from the library, for instance. However, she’s enjoying the Reading Chest’s “Extended Readers Book Band”. They’re fun, quick reads and I like that they often raise interesting points for conversation, especially if she’s reading aloud, as she likes to do with non-fiction books, generally.
I know a lot of home educators aren’t keen on levelled readers, feeling that they can often be quite dry and that children should practise reading on “real” books. However, when Talitha was learning to read, she really liked having books that she had a good chance of being able to read independently. We struggled to find books that suited her ability at the library so I wound up buying Oxford Reading Tree’s Biff, Chip and Kipper, the levelled reading series that people love to hate. I actually found them pretty dull but she loved them and quickly worked her way through them.
With Reading Chest, you can choose books across many different reading schemes or opt for a random mix, which we’ve been doing. You also have to option of choosing fiction, non-fiction or a mix. Talitha changes this almost every time she returns a set of books then looks forward to the next delivery, which has been consistently prompt, meaning we have a regular flow of new books coming through. I can see that being particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to get to a library or find that their local library has a limited selection. Their schemes span Collins Big Cat, Oxford Reading Tree, Treetops, Bug Club, Project X and more and they stock an up-to-date, extensive collection.
From our point of view, it’s great having lots of new, quality reading material which doesn’t then become more clutter in our home. It’s an opportunity to borrow lots of levelled readers without having to buy them, trying out varied styles and trying books that you or your kids might not normally choose. There are also no return dates or late fees and you can cancel at any time.
There are few different options in terms of how many books you borrow and it’s really easy to swap levels if you need to. For our first delivery, we had a look at the books for one of the younger reading bands online, reading excerpts on the website. When they came, Talitha found the books to easy so we moved her up to the final stage for the next delivery and we’ve stayed there. We also took the option of requesting “no scary books” – pretty important in this house!
Multiple children can be added to the subscription so I have thought that if Ophelia were reading, we might get quite a lot of use out of that option but she’s not there yet. I think we’d probably get the most use out of a subscription like this with a four or five year old who was learning to read, which might be Ophelia later this year as she’s very interested in letters and is starting to pick out the sounds in words, of her own accord.
There are some fun options thrown in like sticker reward charts which we don’t use unless decides she wants to track her reading that way for fun. The books initially came with a bag which is useful for keeping them in one place between delivery and return. She’s also been enjoying reviewing the odd book for the Reading Chest website, which is another fun feature.
———- Reading Chest gave us a subscription in exchange for an honest review.
I started this post on a day that took it out of me. I’d texted a friend earlier admitting that I was finding everything too hard, that school looked like an attractive option. And actually, come September, I could have two kids in school since Ophelia would be reception-aged.
Almost as soon as I’d offloaded and she’d empathised, though, I knew that I didn’t mean it, as is often the way. The reasons we homeschool run deep, our third year in.
Every now and then someone asks why we home educate. I wrote a little bit about it back when we were just starting out. With some real life experience under our belts and a lot more thinking time, the reasons have expanded and gathered more weight so I thought I’d share some of them with you.
I am so mindful we are privileged to be able to home educate and that it just isn’t possible for everyone. Perhaps this list is partly an attempt to remember not to take this opportunity for granted.
The chance to grow together
We never liked the idea of sending our kids to spend most of their waking hours away from their family. Childhood lasts a few short years. We just want to enjoy being together. And actually, it turns out that they’re not keen on the idea either. I asked Talitha tonight whether she’d like to go to school at some point and she essentially said that she wouldn’t mind going some of the time but would rather spend most of her time with us. I kind of think, at six and a half, fair enough.
I also see great value in the time our children spend together. My mind is regularly blown by the thought that, had she gone to school, Talitha and Delilah would never have had time at home together apart from weekends and holidays. Who knows whether that might have altered the dynamic between them? And yes, the three don’t always get along perfectly but it’s interesting to observe them develop in their negotiation with and empathy for one another. I’m certain that having an abundance of time to connect with each other and work through these processes helps.
Freedom for our family
We are grateful that school does not dictate the way we spend our time, structure our day or define our values. And I don’t just mean we want to avoid the stress of school runs and take holidays in term time. Actually, we’re trying hard to make decisions democratically as a family and this is far easier to achieve without school. If we need to take a slow day at home, we can. If we need to spend hours outdoors, we can. If we need more time to play or snuggle or have bigger conversations, we have it. If we need to take a few months to totally change our rhythm we can – and we did this both when Delilah was born and when we moved from Bristol to Cornwall.
Autonomy for our children
Directly related, we want our children to be able to make real decisions about their lives, right now. That means we actively choose discussion over dictation and try not to impose arbitrary rules. We’re on a real journey with this, so sometimes we catch ourselves slipping into familiar authoritarian patterns but on the whole, we’re aiming to model self-control and create a consensual environment where everyone’s voice is heard.
Even when we lived in a city, we prioritised time outdoors, even if it meant hanging out in our garden or going to the park around the corner. We may have more access to natural beauty spots now but the aim has always been to spend a lot of our time outside, giving all of us the opportunity to become familiar with local fauna and flora, align our bodies and minds with the changing seasons and move as much as possible. Admittedly, we go out less in deepest winter but, generally, the kids are spending most of their childhood out in nature, which has always been a priority for us.
Time to pursue interests
Most of these reasons centre on time because that’s the gift home education gives us. I appreciate the time our children have to work on the things that matter to them. For Talitha, that’s mainly time to read books and play with her sisters. She also has time to practise her violin in the mornings, when she’s feeling fresh and motivated. For Ophelia it means making things, dancing and having me read to her.
Both get to spend time on life skills because we are unhurried. So I can say yes when they ask to help me cook and clean or to make their own breakfast or try to fix something that’s fallen out of place or torn. Not that they always want to do these things, obviously, but their desire for independence often drives them to work out how to do things for themselves and they have time for that process. It’s interesting to see what this abundance gives them the time to do at every stage.
A tailored education
With three children with varying temperaments and timelines, I have a small sample confirming to me what most of us know, that children are all different. Yes, it’s possible that a nurturing school would be mindful of their needs but I severely doubt that any classroom could match the attentiveness of our adult-child ratio. We have spent far more time with dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt than the national curriculum would allow, for instance.
Learning is unhurried and driven by delight. We’ve been loosely keeping nature journals and for weeks the kids vetoed every topic I suggested, insisting that they wanted to keep finding out about birds, drawing birds, setting up bird feeders, looking at videos, reading books, identifying them in our garden and listening to them on our walks.
They’re also free to learn the way they want to. At the moment that looks like lots of read alouds, trying things out from magazines, listening to podcasts, drawing and roleplay. I’m mostly interested in them developing positive associations with learning and with learning how to learn.
Independence by choice
This may come as a surprise to some but one of the reasons we home educate is to allow our children to develop their independence on their own terms. Just as the goal of attachment parenting is to give babies a secure base to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, our hope is that our children will move into new environments with confidence and optimism.
In addition to this, we want them to be settled in their values and sense of self and to trust themselves so that when they do separate from us, they’re able to think critically, make sound decisions and relate to others compassionately. At the moment they have small opportunities to separate, whether that’s going to a friend’s house, playing that bit further away, going to a class or a group. As they ask for more, we’ll work out what that looks like.
I thought I’d include this because one of the most frequently asked questions about home education is how children socialise and yet this is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to do this. We love that the children have time to play extensively with friends and that we can be on hand to help them navigate challenging social situations, should they need it.
They also get to play and develop friendships, more often that not, with children and adults of varying ages, getting the chance to explore lots of different roles in their interactions and to develop their social confidence in an atmosphere that looks a lot more like real life, because it is.
I have a workshop airing today (23/02/2018) at the online Start Homeschooling Summit. I’m speaking on how to homeschool older children with a baby. The summit has been going for a few days and finishes tomorrow and you can access it for free until then. There’s an opportunity to buy lifetime access to the workshops afterwards and they cover all styles of homeschooling from classical to unschooling. Do check it out. The links I’ve included here are affiliate links so I get a percentage if you decide to upgrade to the paid bundle but I really think it’s worth having a look even if you just take in a few videos for free today and tomorrow.