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.


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.

———

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.