Questions for Channel 4’s Dispatches episode on Home Education

Like so many home educators in England, I watched the much discussed episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids” earlier this week. The episode itself I didn’t find compelling viewing – a bizarre soup of tenuously related issues thrown together, overwritten with repetitive commentary, meant both to get the audience worked up and force some meaning on this mess. However, I know that many watching the programme won’t see it this way.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report referenced in this documentary is part of a bigger conversation around home education that has become difficult, and even dangerous, for home educators like me to ignore. The rally cry for home educated children to submit to compulsory registration and monitoring may well carry.

And so, in an attempt to engage with this a little, I want to ask a few questions of Dispatches, which will likely form the basis of my feedback to Channel 4.

Was the brief to slap on the most incendiary title?

To be fair, they didn’t have to try. They used the title of the Children’s Commissioner’s publication. Did no one at any point stop to ask whether the phrase “Skipping School” was likely to paint the children it was discussing both inaccurately and in a dim light as truants?

And yes “Britain’s Invisible Kids” echoes the report’s “Invisible Children” but that they chose to adopt it without evidence that any of the children discussed (yes even in the desperately tragic case of Dylan Seabridge) were invisible to authorities smacks of propaganda.

If children are indeed getting lost in the cracks between services and professionals when processes to avoid this are already in place, how is a compulsory register and monitoring going to help?

Why are we even looking at home educators here?

Both the Children’s Commissioner’s report and the programme reflect the enormous failings on the part of schools, local authorities and the system at large. Yet the show unwaveringly focuses on home educators, insisting that we must get children back into schools.

Certainly, many of the parents interviewed say that they’re not home educating by choice and one child makes a list of what her ideal school would look like since she wants to go to school.

So surely Dispatches should take a look at what the government needs to do to properly support schools? But it doesn’t really. A quick look at an inclusive school struggling under the strain of decreased budget and unrealistic standards acts as a set up for another fraught look at the menacing alternative: education outside of school.

If schools are “off rolling” children at GCSE level, pressuring parents into deregistering so their children aren’t formally excluded, shouldn’t we discuss how this unethical practice is dealt with? When children are deregistered from schools, school are legally bound to inform the local authority so wouldn’t questions around the circumstances at least identify where it’s happening? And apart from preventing schools from absconding their own responsibilities to students and supporting schools so it doesn’t come to this, why not look at providing more alternatives to GCSEs for students for whom they’re not a fit?

And seriously, why are you even including an OFSTED inspection of an illegal school here?

By the way, WHERE are all the long term home educators?

All the families we meet in this episode are in their first weeks and months of home education. We meet two families just four weeks after deregistration – that’s not a long time to settle into things, work out what’s out there, find who’s around or discover how your child learns. I realise a month sounds like a long time if school is what you’re used to but the move to home education is a lifestyle shift.

I’d have loved to meet families whose children were grown or who had at least home educated for a few years, perhaps even from the start. How different the picture could have been. And I imagine it would not have fit the show’s overarching message.

Why is education continuously conflated with safeguarding?

We’re constantly told that home visits and monitoring should be allowed. But why? When children are under the age of four we don’t invite supervision and inspection of our own homes. What happens at school age that suddenly puts a child at higher risk of abuse or neglect?

Councils may well feel that they don’t have the powers to ensure safety but safeguarding is not a home education issue. If a suspicion is raised then Social Services have the authority to investigate the home life of any child, regardless of where they are educated or how old they are.

The argument goes that the visibility of children in school allows vulnerable children to be identified. Yet schools too often miss children at risk. There have been some devastating cases of child mistreatment where children were not in school. However, these children were known to professionals.

Compulsory registration seems unlikely to prevent these cases where existing procedures did not. The call for it may even distract from finding effective solutions.

Meanwhile, insisting that home educators should all accept home visits recommends an invasion of privacy that the average person would find violating. Yet we’re meant to welcome inspection if we have “nothing to hide”?

Why assume that schools are better at educating children?
I felt for mother Sam when she struggled to pronounce the word “cataclysmic” and admits that she didn’t feel confident in her ability to home educate. Honestly, I regularly Google the pronunciations of words and I have a Masters degree in English Literature. If school is the option families feel happier with, they absolutely should have access to settings that meet the needs of their children.

Yet the underpinning assumption in this segment is that if you have gaps in your own education or are neurodivergent, you’re not fit to educate your own child, even if you want to.

This simply isn’t so. For a start, you probably went to school. So, if you feel unable to help your child gather the tools and develop the curiosity to do the things you want and need to do then school may not have been the most effective teacher.

Parents who want help should have the option of support. Making contact with a local authority rep with a holistic understanding of home education and a wealth of information could be an incentive of voluntary registration. Sadly, this often isn’t the scenario parents are met with.

Beyond that, there are so many online resources, many of them free, and Facebook makes it easy to find real, live home educators in your area with whom you can discuss your options or discover what workshops and activities are available locally.

And children do find what they need with parents who are engaged, even if it takes a while. In fact, despite her concerns about being able to educate her son, Sam helps him learn to tell the time, which he’d never managed in all his years at school.

Is academic achievement the most important thing and is home education incapable of achieving it?

I felt the segment with Sam was positive overall but Anne Longfield keeps us on message, asking whether he’ll achieve GCSEs. Why is the focus on GCSEs at this point, when he’s just learning to tell the time?

And why isn’t his happiness deemed an important part of his future? Throughout the programme, school is presented as the norm that home educators are potentially robbing their children of and yet school is not a happy place for so many children. Repeatedly, the parents interviewed tell the camera that their children are more confident and happier since leaving school. This is never commented on.

Why assume that qualifications are necessary to achieve employment? What kind of last-century thinking are we reverting to here in a world that is rapidly changing? A survey of unschoolers in America showed that many respondents were self-employed and considered themselves polymaths.

Certainly, we can’t know what careers our children will want to pursue later on but there are other ways of achieving qualifications if they need them or even accessing higher education without following the standard pathway. People who have learned how to learn and have not lost their love for learning may well find creative ways to get to where they need to go.

Did they intend to make all home educators appear isolated?

Obviously, there would have been issues around filming home educated children in group settings with other children but could they not have included quotes about what they get up to with others or what’s available in their area?

Again, if they’d interviewed long term home educators it would have inevitably come up somewhere. But who knows if it would have been included as it didn’t fit the programme’s agenda? Is that really cynical of me to wonder?

The one almost entirely positive depiction a home educating family – whom Anne Longfield admits is delivering home education well – includes a line from the child saying that he misses not seeing his friends every day at school.

Fair enough, that’s how he feels but to choose not to follow that up with a look at how he socialises or indeed how any of the children in the programme mix with others seems a deliberate choice.

Perhaps if we knew too much about who they see and where they go outside the home, we’d know that they aren’t, in fact, “invisible”.


Our homeschooling week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Storytime Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September highlights: our home educating month

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!”

Other home education reflections you might enjoy:
Our home education year – looking back
Eight reasons we home educate
Finding peace on hard days home educating

I tend to do lots of stories on Instagram about what we get up to, homeschooling in Cornwall, so do come join me there.


Finding peace on hard days home educating

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.

Recognise achievements
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.

Morning routine
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.

Get outside
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?

Want to read more about our home ed journey? Here are a few other posts I’ve written over the years:
Eight reasons we home educate
How having a baby changed the way we home educate
What I learned from our first year of home education


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?


Our homeschool term: Spring

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.

Last term, I read them adaptations of The Trojan Horse, The Odyssey and Shanhameh: The Persian Book of Kings (still going on this one and she’s read it to herself a couple of times too).

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.