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.


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.