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.


This homeschooling life – Our October

OK, so with more than half the month gone, this post is way overdue. Suffice to say, I’m finding life a bit overwhelming right now and whenever I sit down in front of a computer I just think about all the tough bits, stress out, then go watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix instead. Healthy. But Jess, Polly and I committed to this linkup a year ago and, darn it, I will keep going.

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Actually, as I sat down to write about what we got up to in October, my first thought was, “Asbolutely nothing! It was a chaotic month and there’s nothing to show for it.” But then I looked through my phone. We actually had a lot of fun together, even if it was mostly stopping to look at little ways the world changes at this time of year.

We had a lot of fun with leaves, printing, painting, sketching. We also read some poems about leaves changing colour in Autumn. It always amazes me when poetry is a hit, the words washing over the children even if they don’t totally understand what’s happening in the poems. I suppose that’s my experience of them too.

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Also, since October is basically pumpkin month, we used pumpkins as a canvas for painting and carved them on Halloween. I regret not letting the girls have a go for themselves. Certainly Talitha could have managed it but I was impatient to get it over with and risk averse, which meant they got less out of the experience than they could have done. Ah well.

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We spent a couple of weeks in Cornwall, housesitting for friends on their farm. The plan was to get to know Cornwall a bit more before we move but we wound up having to house hunt some more because we had to pull out of the house we were going to buy. We’re still looking, as it turns out.

Going there allowed us to visit National Trust properties. We met up with home ed friends Jess and her kids at Killerton on our way to Cornwall and went to Lanhydrock once we were down there. The older kids had fun doing a scavenger hunt around the house at Killerton and I wound up having an awkward conversation with someone there when he realised my eldest was school-aged but not in school. We’re bound to have more and more of these the older she gets so I’m trying to model courtesy and positivity but it was a reminder that sometimes the conversation is better off kept short.

Talitha went to a couple of home ed workshops without me this month. One was a fossil workshop at Bristol museum. She’s still mad on dinosaurs so it was a nice fit. The other was a mathematics day at At Bristol science centre. She had a brilliant time at both and I’m sure she learned lots but do you think she’d tell me much about what she did? Typical.

We also did lots of activities around Diwali in October, which was a fun opportunity to learn bits about India and about my home country, Trinidad and Tobago, too. We made air drying clay diyas, played with henna, coloured rangoli patterns, watched videos and photographs online and had a Diwali day at two different home ed groups, one in Bristol and one in Cornwall.

Our read aloud this month was My Naughty Little Sister. My mother bought the collection for the girls from a charity shop in the summer and I could not have predicted how much both of them would enjoy it. They found it hilarious, loved the pictures and Talitha asked lots about the era the book was set in because so many things were different. I think they strongly identified with the little sister too.

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Yet all these things are just details. I don’t feel that at their ages it really matters what they learn so long as they’re exposed to a reasonable range of things. Talitha is asking hundreds of questions a day. Learning is happening, whether I’m ready or not. I’m just trying to support that. And not go crazy when I feel like I can’t possibly take listening to another question. She’s reading everything or trying to, and she’s working out sums and subtractions in the things she sees – there is no stopping that. Even if she weren’t doing those things now, she’d do it eventually and what difference would that make in the long run?

This was a hard month, though. She and I clashed lots. I questioned a lot of my choices and felt like I had too much happening and not enough space to process it. Toddlers are hard work. Babies are hard work. I flitted back and forth on my educational philosophy. I wish I could be hardcore, radical and set on what I believe about family life or just about anything, really. But I’m not. I’m open to a lot of ideas and I probably think too much.

I look back on the month and I don’t know if I did it right. I just know I tried my best and we got through it and we will get through this month. When we do, I’ll hopefully remember how good it was more than how hard it was.

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Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess and Polly. If you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Beautiful Tribe
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up



This homeschooling life: Our September

I’m a bit late with this update but, hey, that’s life with a five year old, two and a half year old and very soon to be three month old. September was a busy month and, as ever, I’m glad I took pictures to remind me of some of what we got up to. Here are a few of the highlights.

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Aphablocks

Talitha finished the Alphablocks Reading Programme right at the beginning of the month. We hadn’t planned a break over the summer holidays as our routine wasn’t formal enough to warrant that but we ended up having a break nonetheless. The birth of a baby sister and an extended visit from my mother saw to that. When things started to return to normal, Talitha was super keen to finish the last couple of magazines in the series. On one hand, she was really pleased to get there (she has a thing about finishing things) but, on the other, it was all a bit, what now?

So we cracked out a Gold Stars Ready for School workbook that my mum picked up while she was over and Talitha is finding that a lot of fun. She’s continuing to read the Oxford Reading Tree books but, really, she’s having a go reading everything now. I think she enjoys the freedom it gives her, that she can get on with a lot of things on her own while I’m doing things with the other two. The Alphablocks Reading Programme has been a huge hit here and I’ll probably consider getting it again for Ophelia when her time comes. I’ll do a full review some time soon.

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Art

Tie dye was a definite highlight of September. I was surprised at how well Talitha was able to cope with it on her own. I must admit it was a bit stressful helping Ophelia do it when she had no real understanding of why she needed to wear gloves and Delilah kept waking up in her sling. Still, we muddled and the results are above.

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Chapter Books

After we finished The Enchanted Wood, Talitha wanted to read Matilda for Roald Dahl Day. We managed to get it started before the big day. We’ve found it thrilling so far – still a few chapters to go. I’m trying to decide whether we’ll attempt the film. Talitha’s seen the DVD in a shop and is interested. For Roald Dahlm Day at our home ed co-op, Talitha went as Matilda and Ophelia was Mrs Fox from Fantastic Mr Fox.

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Calendar Time

We were doing a “daily learning notebook” from Confessions of a Homeschooler which Talitha loved for months but then got bored of so we forgot about it after a while. We’ve followed the same pattern in quicker succession this month by starting another one, this time by Homeschool Creations. I admit to feeling a bit annoyed about this as, although I was following a request, I printed it against my better judgement. After doing it most days, she declared that she didn’t want to do it anymore. So, I’ve just left it out. She may come back to it or not but if she mentions printing another one in the future we may have to discuss what it is about the idea that she likes.

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Spielgaben

The Spielgaben love is going strong here. The girls forgot about it for a while over the summer but are back into it in a big way now and both of them have had a huge leap in what they want and can do with it now. Usually, I just get one of the books out and choose something I’m going to make and inevitably they start joining me. Ophelia usually tries her own version of what I’m making. Talitha looks through and chooses her own. Then I suggest we try one of the activities in the learning resources and usually it’s a yes. Otherwise, I count things in ones, twos, fives or tens which both of them find interesting. They’ll often join in.

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365 Science Activities

Talitha was given the Usborne’s 365 Science Activities book for her birthday and usually asks to do something from it at a time when I had my hands full of baby or something else and couldn’t find any of the materials. So we agreed to make time for it and have actually scheduled in “science experiment time” two days a week where she and Ophelia choose an activity in advance so I can make sure we have what’s needed. So far, we’re all learning a lot!

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The Maritime Museum

We finished off September with a week in Cornwall. We’re moving out there so needed to spend some time getting to know the place. We met up with other home ed families and went along to a home ed group so that was really helpful in terms of visualising what our week might look like out there. We also spent a day and a half in the Maritime Museum in Falmouth because the girls really enjoyed it. They had a Viking exhibition on which I hoped might inspire as I’m a bit dinosaur-ed out. Of course, I pointed out something they’d made from amber only to jog Talitha’s memory of something she’d seen fossilised in amber in a dinosaur book she’d been reading!

They have actually become really interested in Vikings but that’s more thanks to Cressida Howell’s How to be a Viking, which we bought from the gift shop. It makes sense that fiction is a catalyst when I consider that my interest is piqued by The History Channel’s Vikings. They did enjoy the exhibition, though. In fact, our time at the museum warrants its own post, really, which I will also hopefully get to soon. Above, they’re checking out snow fox pelts and a walrus tusk a Norse woman is trading.

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Do you home educate? Please do consider linking up any post about something you’ve been up to below. All approaches welcome! x

Other posts in this series:

What I learned from our first year of home education
What I loved about our first “term” of home educating
Why we want to home educate

Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess and Polly. If you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Beautiful Tribe
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up



What I learned from our first year of home education

Talitha would be starting Year 1 today if she were in school. This is significant to her because she has friends in school and because it gets mentioned in her church group. We don’t follow the national curriculum so it doesn’t mean much to me other than we’ve talked about it because it matters to her. I am, however, keenly aware of her age. She turned five in June which means that we are now legally home educating. This doesn’t particularly change anything that we’re doing but it’s another big step, you know? Yes, we’re really doing this.

As we come to the end of what would have been her Reception year, our first year of officially home educating, I’ve taken a moment to reflect, not on what she’s learned but on what I have.

Stop comparing
Home educating, like all things parenting, is vulnerable to the beast that is comparison. It’s too easy to compare myself to other parents. I wish I were as organised, creative or relaxed as they are. Or worse, I could compare what my kid is doing to what others are, whether they’re schooled or not. Should she know that by now? Would she be if she were in school? Has she done that too soon? Have I pushed her without meaning to? Is this the right approach? Maybe they’ve got it right and I haven’t. It can go on and on.

At some point in the last year, I decided not to pay too much mind to what anyone else was doing. We just have to do what works for us and no one else is going to be able to work out what that is. As for what the kids are doing, they really are all different so that’s another reason to keep my eyes on what’s in front of me.

Respond positively to criticism
I’ve been surprised by how sensitive I can be to perceived criticism. I’m putting this down partly to this having been a stressful year with being pregnant and hideously tired and Laurence’s job situation changing all the time, often taking him away. I think it’s also to do with there being no concrete measure of success to what I’m doing and I don’t cope so well with that. No one is coming along with a red ink pen to tick my life decisions. The fact that I even want that hugely exposes the lasting impact of my own schooling.

I am trying to remember that what looks like criticism is often curiosity or a well-intended suggestion. I’m also trying to invest less in what others think of me and to avoid getting in too deep with people who leave me feeling negative.

Don’t buy everything
One of the amazing things about home educating today is the sheer number of resources available. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy enough to find something for everything – and possibly get ridiculously overwhelmed. I confess I have a habit of shopping around – Ooh, that looks good – but realistically, my five-year-old doesn’t need that much. A lot of the time we can make do with what we have or there’s something free online or at the library. So, I’m trying to be more disciplined about using what we’ve got and only looking for something else if the need arises. Mostly, I’m the one who needs to do more reading and thinking – for my own benefit!

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It’s all learning

I knew this before but I’m even more aware of it now. Whether she’s in the garden, playing dress up with her little sister or drawing alongside friends – it’s all learning. Education isn’t something that starts when I say – in fact, most learning happens when she says. She’s often doing her thing and working things out quietly while she plays, stops to ask a big question all of a sudden or debates something with a friend.

Learning happens regardless
This has been such a lightbulb. This year has ended up being a lot less structured than I planned, mostly because I was exhausted with the pregnancy and then, more recently, busy with a newborn. I felt awful about the fact that I was often having to say “not now” to things Talitha wanted to do together and I am looking forward to being able to make more plans with her now that I’m feeling loads better.

But learning has happened regardless. Periods when we hadn’t done anything to do with maths or reading for weeks, we’d come back to it and she’d got there on her own, either by looking at books quietly or just things clicking as she played. She can read enough to do a lot of things independently now and though she may have got there faster if she were in school or if I’d spent more time on it with her (she showed all the signs of reading early) I’m happy that she’s got to where she’s got in a way that hasn’t been stressful for either of us and that she can really take ownership of the process.

This is about all of us
More than ever, I’m convinced that home education for us is a family-led pursuit. It’s not just about my agenda or theirs, it’s about figuring out what works for all of us as a family. We are all happier when we have some plans in place but we must not be inflexibly ruled by them. Sometimes one child’s needs must be attended more urgently. And in the excitement of trying the latest thing with the eldest child, the younger ones must not be neglected. My own needs, too, matter. Having a childcare day once a week massively helps with that.

What I learned from our first year of home education

We don’t have to go out all the time
The final thing I’ve learned is that we don’t have to have a routine packed with groups, workshops, outings and even play dates. We can mix it up. Sometimes we thrive on being out loads. Sometimes none of us want to leave the house for a while. Most weeks are a happy mix of both. This is a relief for me, especially with a new baby who needs quiet time at home. I’m sure it would be different if my children didn’t have each other but even though they do fight, they get so much from playing together. It’s alleviated Talitha’s manic need to have somewhere we were going and someone we were seeing every day back when she was three.

We all need order
I’ve never been very good at the whole tidying thing but this has been the year we’ve started to crack it. We still have a way to go but high usage items now vaguely have their place and the kids (and I) are getting better at putting things away before moving on to the next thing. Investing time and energy into this means that I am much happier and they are able to play more creatively because they know where to find things and remember what’s available.

Watch the child

I’ve been reminded again and again that one of the reasons we’re home educating is to give our children the opportunity to learn at their own pace. Sometimes we’ve hit pause on something (like an online maths game) because it just wasn’t clicking and then Talitha’s suddenly wanted to give it a go at a later date and suddenly found she’s able to do it.

I’ve also realised that she and her little sister are very different people. Talitha was writing her name before the age of two and knew all her alphabet sounds. Ophelia isn’t doing any of that but she could count accurately earlier than her big sister could, understanding the correlation between objects and numbers. One drew earlier and the other built earlier. And none of this is any predictor of their future abilities, education or career paths – just as the earlier walker isn’t necessarily the one pegged for athletic prowess. Being home educated simply means that they can progress to wherever they’re going just as they’re meant to.

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Do you home educate? Please do consider linking up any post about something you’ve been up to below. All approaches welcome! x

Other posts in this series:

July
June
What I loved about our first “term” of home educating
This Homeschooling Life – the very beginning

Every month, I’ll give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a new linky I’m hosting with blogger friends Jess, Polly and Laura. If you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Beautiful Tribe
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie
FACEBOOK / TWITTER / PINTEREST / INSTAGRAM

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up