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.


Home education review: Reading Chest

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.

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Reading Chest gave us a subscription in exchange for an honest review.


Eight reasons we home educate

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.

Time outdoors
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.

Socialisation opportunities
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.

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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.


Our homeschooling month – October

November is well underway but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to look back on what we got up to in October. Reflecting helps me to make sense of what our lives look like right now. Yet I’m also cautious because I would hate for someone to misconstrue this as any kind of “how to”. The shape of our home education mirrors the shape of our family in whatever season we happen to be in. For this reason, comparison is unhelpful. That said, I like seeing what other people get up to and perhaps the same is true for you.

Talitha got seriously into cursive handwriting this month. She asked me to write out an alphabet of lowercase and uppercase letters in cursive and religiously traced and copied them. She kept it for reference and checked with me if she wasn’t sure how letters joined together. Now almost everything she writes is in cursive as she wants to practise. I hadn’t intended to suggest cursive to her anytime soon so it’s one of those things that’s been led entirely by her, which is probably also why she’s got the hang of it quickly and finds it fun.

Ophelia is also writing lots of letters (mostly not in any particular order) and can now identify a lot of their sounds. She’s also suddenly started picking out the beginning sounds of words and points to words in books to ask what they are. She’s enjoying longer stories now, often asking questions or making surprising observations as we read to her.

The month’s big read aloud was Heidi. Talitha requested it, having read an adaptation. We’ve really enjoyed it though it’s a lot heavier than I remember! We’re still going, actually! Laurence has also started reading her Tarka the Otter.

We’ve continued to follow Story of the World, which I’ve mentioned before. We’ve spent the month on Ancient Egypt. The curriculum moves on to other things soon but we may stay here for a while as it’s really captured both girls’ imaginations. Talitha particularly enjoyed making a cuneiform tablet and a hieroglyphic scroll and listening to me read Jacqueline Morley’s Egyptian Myths.

We missed the monthly French lesson as it fell in half term when we were in the Isle of Wight with friends but they’ve been learning French on an online programme called Muzzy. I got a huge discount on it earlier this year but was a bit confused by it. Now that the baby fog has lifted a bit, I took another look and it’s actually pretty impressive. Talitha needs some support to do the written games but she’s getting a lot out of it and Ophelia enjoys the videos.

Violin practice has naturally added a little structure to our day. We hit a wall with it this month with Talitha not wanting to practice and I reminded her that she didn’t have to do it. This freed us to talk about what she was finding difficult and what we could change to make practice more enjoyable. I needed to recognise that it is a tiring instrument to learn. I think she’s benefited from knowing that she’s in charge of the process, and that it is a process – it sometimes takes time to learn things.

We’ve vaguely continued using Lynn Seddon’s Exploring Nature with Children, if only for ideas of what to look out for on our walks and read aloud suggestions. The harvest moon so captured both of their imaginations. We tried looking at it from the woods opposite our house but the kids weren’t keen so we viewed it from our top floor instead. I wish we’d taken them to the beach to see it rise as friends had done. Next year. We also made leaf crowns, did a spot of pond dipping and had fun sketching pumpkins in our nature journal as well as learning about their seeds.

This month also threw up a fun opportunity to learn about Diwali, India and Trinidad & Tobago – where I’m from and where the Hindu festival is a big deal. We made diya inspired lamps from air drying clay and had a go with henna.

They’ve been gardening with Laurence as he gets into micro greens and continues his challenge to keep our salad going through the winter. They also planted some bulbs in the front garden bed. We may be getting an allotment so they may be getting into that too. I’d like to say I would too but I’ve got out of practice with gardening and I think I may have lost interest! Is that bad?

The girls asked if we could do a “theme” and they suggested sea creatures. They used to have themed days at their childminder’s in Bristol. To be honest, I was really daunted by the idea. Anything I have to prepare is still really tricky when Delilah is often in arms in the evenings.

As it turned out, they were happy to come up with their own crafts and asked to do activities and experiments from the aquatic issue of Whizz Pop Bang. We still have a few more to do and they’re not ready to move on yet so we’ll be continuing with this theme too.

We’ve read pages they’ve chosen from our animal encyclopedia, looked at books from our collection and the library and checked out videos online. I’m trying to weigh up whether Blue Planet 2 would be a bit scary. Talitha has been sketching various animals and writing down her favourite facts about them.

Serendipitously, this all tied in with a field trip to Plymouth Aquarium with a home education group for a workshop day. I’d love to take the girls back for a day where they could just wander and spend more time on whatever they find most fascinating, though.

The trip made me realise that we really don’t need to be travelling long distances and doing lots of activities. While that stuff is fun, it’s tiring and maybe not the best way to spend our resources. So I’m trying to focus instead on slowing down, keeping it local and making the most of what’s free. Education is not a sprint. We don’t have to do it all now. We hopefully have lots of time to explore different things at the ages when they’re the most meaningful.


Our homeschooling month – September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How our third baby changed the way we home educate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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