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.


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.