How to Homeschool – A Few Ideas From Our 10 Years’ Experience

With the whole world suddenly homeschooling thanks to Covid-19, a few people have asked me to to share my experiences from our family’s 10 years’ homeschooling.

My aim is to offer you fun learning activities you can do with kids of most ages. And I’ll throw in a few tips for how to stay sane when everyone’s suddenly under one roof 24/7.

Homeschooling – Routine v Structure

If you suddenly have your kids home all day, you might be tempted to impose a strict timetable, but try to be as flexible as your work commitments allow.

Although a minute-by-minute schedule might make you feel safe, if you have actual human kids it’s not going to be sustainable, so save yourself some pain and opt for routine over regimented structure.

Creative science with ice, salt and colour

Working From Home While Homeschooling

How are you supposed to teach your kids from 8:30am till 3:30pm and still do a full day’s work from home? Don’t worry, you’re not!

Remember that kids only do focused, active learning for a fraction of the time they spend at school – the rest is taken up with transitions, sport, assemblies etc. So if you can dedicate just an hour or so to helping them learn, they’ll be fine.

Homeschool Routine Building Blocks

To avoid burnout, try choosing one or two blocks a day as the mainstay of your homeschool routine, leaving kids and adults to their own devices (digital or otherwise) for the rest of the time.

Here are some homeschool routine building blocks that stood the test of time for us:

Fun Homeschool Science Projects

You don’t need an expensive chemistry kit to enjoy hands-on science at home. During our homeschooling years we did stacks of experiments that were as fun as they were educational.

Fun with catalysts – How to make ‘Elephant Toothpaste’

Find dozens of homeschooling hands-on science experiments here. All have step-by-step instructions, photos, clear lists of what you need (often everyday household supplies. I don’t think any require toilet paper ?) and tips for avoiding the mistakes we made. (Though you’ll no doubt make your own, and you’ll learn from those too.)

Hands-on Homeschool Maths

Maths is the subject new homeschoolers worry about most, often at the cost of huge family tension.

My kids stubbornly refused to follow a maths curriculum, and I ended up truly grateful for that.

Thanks to inspiration from books like Let’s Play Math, we ended up learning maths together in a way that brought to life concepts I’d only ever learned by rote when I was at school.

And my child who refused point blank to learn their multiplication tables? They ended up, as a consequence, with such great number sense that when they entered school (at 14), the maths teacher described them – to my huge relief! – as ‘an extraordinarily gifted mathematician’.

So do yourself a favour and leave the drill-and-kill worksheets in favour of some fun hands-on maths that might well give your kids a lifelong insight into the joy of maths.

Hands-on Pythagoras

Dig into my maths archive for some ideas.

In particular, you might want to check out How To Make Your Kids Love Maths and our Living Maths Curriculum.

Lego multiplication tower

Cool Homeschool Art and Craft Projects

Art journaling is a lovely activity all ages (including grown ups) can enjoy together. As well as being fun, art journaling is a wonderful creative outlet for releasing anxiety and other negative emotions triggered by these unsettling times.

Art journaling

See How To Make An Art Journal Page.

Or just search Pinterest to find thousands of art projects that’ll happily engage kids of all ages for hours.

Remember you can make a fun craft project out of what you’re learning about in history or geography, for instance, but try not to overdo the educational aspect, or the kids will try to run a mile (and then have a meltdown when they remember they’re stuck indoors).

See: Hands-On Aztec History and Hands-On Ottoman History – Design Your Own Turkish Rug, and Hands-On Russian History, and Aboriginal Dot Painting For Kids for inspiration.

Russian History-inspired art project
Aboriginal dot art painting

Reading Aloud as a Family – Not Just For Little Ones

Most parents phase out reading aloud once their kids learn to read. But experienced homeschoolers know the joy of family read alouds, even to teenagers.

Sharing a book is a magical experience that can spark fascinating conversations. My family took seven years to read the four volumes of The Story of the World because we went off on so many (usually) educational tangents!

Once you’ve enjoyed the old favourites that already line your shelves, you can find thousands more free online, or borrow digital books from your local library.

For inspiration, see 6 Read Aloud Chapter Books I Loved Reading As Much As My Children Enjoyed Listening To, Audiobooks For All Our Family and What We’re Reading.

Poetry Teatime

Learning at home needn’t look like learning at school, with kids head down at their books or slogging through worksheets.

Much of my kids’ best learning happened over cocoa and cake at our kitchen table. One of our very favourite activities was poetry teatimes.

Dig out any poetry books you have, from A A Milne to Shakespeare, and ignite in your children what might turn out to be a lifelong love affair with poetry. And don’t worry if you don’t have any poetry at home – check out sites like PoemHunter where you’ll find bazillions for free.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to add an educational aspect by analysing or critiquing poetry (unless your kids want to) – my kids both adore poetry just because they have such happy memories of sharing their favourites in a fun, loving space.

See my How To Do Poetry Teatime posts.

Poetry Teatime

English – Or, Fun With Words

When we began homeschooling, one of my biggest anxieties was how I was going to teach my 5 year old to read without the comprehensive reading book scheme he’d been using at school.

My homeschooling friends assured me that he’d learn to read when ‘in his own way, when he’s ready’. I was skeptical (what if my son turned out to be the exception to the rule?!) but they were right.

In fact, both my kids seem to have turned into quite articulate and literate teenagers. (I’d even go as far as to say that the one who had zero formal English language instruction is now something of a grammar pedant.)

Children will increase their vocabularies, communication skills and creativity enormously simply by being surrounded by good language in all its forms.

Do less – spelling tests, grammar books and formulaic writing assignments (unless your kids beg you for them)

Do more – fun activities like:

  • reading aloud (see above)
  • poetry teatime
  • word games like Mad Libs (we used to make up our own)

See also 5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love, A Writing Game For All Ages, and Unschooling Writing.

Writing Games

Mental Health Warning

This has been a whistle-stop tour of many years’ homeschooling fun, but please remember – these are our highlights!

It wasn’t all smiles every day – we had plenty of challenging moments along the way, even without the added stress of a global pandemic and lockdown.

My Single Best Tip For New Homeschoolers

My single biggest tip for new homeschoolers is this:

Prioritise relationships over schoolwork

Kids will survive missing a few months’ schoolwork. Yes, routine is important, especially during unsettled periods. But be gentle with them – offer activities, don’t force them.

It’s never worth getting into a battle with children over schoolwork, but in these uncharted, challenging times, love and compassion are needed more than ever. ❤

Finding What You Need In This Blog

I hope this has given you a basic road map for finding your way around. During our 10 years homeschooling we did so many fun activities, and I love the thought of our memories being of some use to you.

You can search this blog using the magnifying glass icon at the top, or browse by categories and tags. Categories include most school subjects and tags also include (US) grade levels (subtract a year from these to convert to UK school years).

Questions About Homeschooling?

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments. I can’t promise long replies – like you I’m trying to balance working at home with caring for my family. But I’ll be delighted to point you towards answers, either in this blog or elsewhere.

Lucinda is an Oxford-educated former lawyer who re-trained as a cognitive hypnotherapist in 2007. She lives in the south of England with her teenage children. Her oldest child (now 16) recently got almost all top grades (9’s) in his mock GCSE’s, and the younger (15) is studying for GCSE’s with an online high school. She’s telling you this not to brag, but to reassure you that you won’t ruin your kids’ lives by not doing formal lessons with them for 6 hours’ a day while they are off school.

Stay well, friends x

8 Things I Wish I’d Known When We Started Homeschooling

8 things I Wish I'd Known When We Started Homeschooling - Navigating By Joy

When we started homeschooling seven years ago, the only other homeschoolers I knew lived five thousand miles away.

My instinct told me that public school was the wrong environment for my son, who at four years old was already known as ‘the naughtiest boy in the class’. And my intense daughter (six), clearly needed more downtime than her busy schedule could provide.

I knew nothing of my son’s twice-exceptionality or my bright daughter’s intensity. Even after  we met other local homeschoolers, I felt out of my depth and wondered what I was doing wrong.

To add to my stress, my kids’ grandparents were vehemently anti-homeschooling. Even my husband thought I was crazy. I was anxious and second-guessed myself at every turn.

Here are 8 things I wish I’d known when we started homeschooling …

I’d love you to head over to my other blog, Laugh, Love, Learn, to continue reading. 🙂

Homeschooling Grade 6 – What We’re Learning This year

Homeschooling Grade 6

This post is about what my quirky, energetic, 11-year-old son is learning this homeschool year.

Jasper loves maths, science, audiobooks, Lego and video games. He prefers learning at home, ideally while cuddling our pets, and he keeps us all entertained with his off-the-wall humour.

Jasper’s goals

If Jasper were in public school here in the UK, he’d be in his first year of senior school. This has focused his mind on his goal of going to university one day, maybe to study maths. To help him with this goal, Jasper recently decided to reduce his video gaming, to make more time for other forms of learning.


Like his sister, Jasper’s enjoying working through the Art of Problem Solving Prealgebra with me. He’s set himself a goal of covering half the book by April, and so does extra problems on his own in the afternoons. He also has an unofficial goal of overtaking Cordie in the book, which is going to happen soon.  😉

We’ve also been using Creative Constructions as a fun way to learn how to use a compass and play with angles, and Jasper’s asked me to get the AoPS Geometry book, so we’ll probably mix in some of that soon.

From time to time we also dip into the Life of Fred prealgebra books.


Jasper still struggles with handwriting, so learning to touch-type has been a priority for him. He loves Nessy Fingers, and after several years using it he’s now a fast and accurate typist.

Recently we’ve added in Nessy Writing Beach (US version here) which is a fun, dyslexia-friendly way to learn grammar, spelling, punctuation and other writing skills.

Jasper also occasionally works through the English courses on Study Ladder.

Even though he’ll be allowed to use a keyboard for his exams, Jasper knows he needs a basic level of handwriting in life, so he keeps up his habit of doing handwritten copywork from a favourite book several days a week.


Last term Jasper and I slowly made our way through Theodore Gray’s The Elements together, which we loved.

I’m often conscious of how slowly we make our way through books compared with other homeschooling families. This is partly because Jasper learns best in bite-sized chunks, and partly because we go off on so many tangents. In fact the better the book, the longer we take to read it, because it inspires so many lively conversations.

After The Elements, we moved onto Molecules by the same author. Jasper finds some of the explanations in Molecules  more detailed than he needs right now, so we’re sticking to the main body text for now while I read the small print for fun on my own.

homeschooling grade 6
Theodore Gray’s ‘Molecules’

This term Jasper’s also asked to study ‘the kind of science people in school learn’. I’m terrible at following curricula, but fortunately we have a friend who’s a whizz at bringing ‘school science’ to life.

One of my goals is for Jasper to interact with more people to improve his social confidence, so I suggested he have a weekly Skype session with Kate. He loves running up to me in the middle of a session with Kate and saying things like, ‘We’re doing an experiment! I need a glass of cordial, salty water, vegetable oil and deodorant!’ 🙂

Meanwhile, of course, we’re still doing fun experiments together. One resource we’re really looking forward to diving into is MEL Chemistry. I’ve been looking for something like MEL for years – a proper, professional chemistry kit for young scientists instead of the over-priced, over-packaged toys shops sell as ‘chemistry sets’.

So far with MEL we’ve explored redox reactions by using electrolysis to grow cool tin dendrites. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this brilliant resource.

homeschooling grade 6: making tin dendrites
Using electrolysis to make tin dendrites with a MEL Chemistry kit

Economics, politics and history

Jasper got quite interested in politics last year with the US election and Brexit, so we’ve been reading a few of the Uncle Eric politics and economics books, starting with Whatever Happened To Penny Candy. I’m not sure how I feel about some of the author’s political opinions, but I appreciate very much that he’s created living books aimed at young people. The books are a great starting place for conversations.

Meanwhile, both children and I are still enjoying The Story of the World as our jumping-off place for history. We’ve been reading this series regularly for about five years now and we’re only a quarter through the final (fourth) volume!

Yesterday I had to ask the kids if I could at least please get to the end of a sentence before replying to a question or comment. While I read aloud, the children played catch with our inflatable globe as they discussed whether or not Bolivia ought to have some of Chile or Peru’s coastline. I wonder if this happens in other families?

Jasper loves history and still listens regularly to Tony Robinson’s and John O’Farrell’s books.


Despite having a month of language classes in Spain two years ago, Jasper’s never shown much interest in foreign languages and I’ve never pushed him. But recently we were chatting about what five GCSEs he might like to do to ease his path to university (maths, English, physics, chemistry + ?) and he asked if I could teach him some Spanish.

We’re using Compañeros, which I chose because the student book comes with a CD. (You can only get the audio companions for most languages books with the expensive teachers’ edition.)

There are masses of free resources available online to supplement our book work, although we have to be careful to select those that teach European Spanish. We especially like the lessons and games at Spanish Games.

If Jasper’s interest in Spanish continues, I’ll probably also invest in Mira!, the textbook English schoolchildren Jasper’s age use.


Everyone in our family is doing a Udemy course at the moment.

Jasper’s is Learn to Code by Making Games – The Complete Unity Developer, which is teaching him the programming language C# using the Unity game development engine. He’s hoping that by the end of the course he’ll be able to design 2D and 3D games for web and mobile. (Confession: I don’t understand much of what I just wrote.)

Jasper’s main task in the course so far has been to copy lengthy chunks of code which (I know from the WordPress coding course I’m doing) is hard. A single misplaced curly bracket or missed comma causes the whole programme to fail, and trying to discover where you went wrong is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

But the intense focus and attention to detail the course  requires is great for Jasper’s development. I’m also really impressed by the fact that he works hard to find his own errors before he asks his techy dad for help.


Finding outlets for Jasper’s intense energy has been an ongoing challenge during the years we’ve been home-educating. His sensory issues have prevented him taking part in activities like scouts that his sister enjoys. Team sports don’t work for the same reason.

Because it takes a huge amount of focus and emotional energy for Jasper to join in any group activity, I’m incredibly proud of him for what he does achieve. For instance, he’s been doing group homeschool figure skating lessons for over two years now and recently completed the final level (eight) of the Basic Skills Programme. He’s now working towards his Bronze award.

Jasper’s also been going to a gymnastics class for 18 months, and recently started a martial arts tricking class (a fun cross between parkour, gymnastics and martial arts), which both he and Cordie love.

I’m also very proud of Jasper for sticking with piano lessons for over a year. He even started practising a bit between lessons recently!

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I think this is the most comprehensive post I’ve ever written about Jasper’s learning. There’s always so much to say about my busy, extroverted daughter who loves to chat about her passions and dreams. Jasper, meanwhile, is my child who quietly taught himself to read, write and spell by playing video games, who astounds us all with what he learns from YouTube videos, and who recently set about reducing his screen time with a sense of commitment and self-discipline that left me with no concerns about his ability to achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

I don’t know what Jasper’s future has in store, but I’m looking forward to watching it unfold. In the meantime I’ll keep doing what I’ve done for the last six years: chatting with him about what he enjoys and where he wants to go, and offering resources and activities I think he’ll enjoy.

What are you and your learning this year?

I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to follow along with the second half of our unschooling journey, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box below. You can also like Navigating By Joy on Facebook.

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I’m appreciatively linking up with Kris at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

The 5 Best Homeschooling Decisions We’ve Made

homeschooling stops being fun

This week I’m delighted to be guest-posting over at My Little Poppies.

I first met My Little Poppies blogger and podcaster Cait through the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. Her children are a bit younger than mine, but we have very similar homeschooling styles and her blog is wonderfully relatable and inspiring.

I’ve also used Cait’s comprehensive book and game review lists many  times when buying gifts for young friends and relations.

My post at MLP is a look back on what’s worked best over the six years we’ve been homeschooling. I hope you’ll head over there to read The Best 5 Homeschooling Decisions We’ve Made!

When homeschooling stops being fun

I’ve also written about homeschooling recently on my other blog, Laugh, Love, Learn. The title of that post is: 3 Reasons Why Homeschooling Kids With Overexcitabilities Can Stop Being Fun – And How To Fix It.

Spoiler: the reasons are anxiety, boredom, and a clash in learning styles – all of which can strike any homeschooling family, even those who don’t have intensity and sensitivity. Again, I’d love you to head over and read my tips. 🙂

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Finally, my post about what my grade 6 son is learning this year is very nearly done – watch this space!

homeschooling year 7

What We’re Learning This Homeschool Year (Grade 7)

homeschool year grade 7 - girl listening to kitten's heart

How’s your 2017 going?  Despite my best intentions, my other blog has been taking up all my energy for the last few months. But the new year seemed like a good opportunity to share what we’re up to, starting with my busy 13-year-old.

My 13-year-old’s goals

Cordie wants to go to university when she’s 18. Here in England the most straightforward route to uni is to sit GCSEs, which are the exams schoolchildren take at 16.

Although schoolchildren commonly sit eight or nine GCSEs,  most homeschoolers only take about five, spread over several years. At the moment Cordie plans to take maths, English (both compulsory), French, physics, Spanish and/or chemistry.


At the start of this academic year we started working through a GCSE textbook, but after years of hands-on maths we found that approach far too dull. So we switched to the Art of Problem Solving, which we’re  loving.

I’m happy to say that what I wrote here on this blog four years ago has more than come true:

Let’s Play Maths [the wonderful book that inspired our maths play] suggests different approaches for the teen years depending on whether a child has had a good taste of the “Aha!” factor during the elementary years.  Once a teen is ready for textbooks:

“Don’t be fooled by your own experience of dry or tedious math classes: textbook mathematics is still math the mathematician’s way, as mental play.  But it is no longer the play of a child dabbling in the shallows… No, this is the play of the athlete, who works hard at training and enjoys seeing his muscles grow firm, who can’t wait to test himself against a new and challenging opponent.”

Denise Gaskins’

We’re using the Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra (plus the free accompanying videos). AoPS Prealgebra covers topics Cordie learned a while ago, but to a depth neither of us has ever explored.

Although AoPSPreAlgebra doesn’t cover  the entire GCSE syllabus,  we’re confident that after Cordie’s worked through it she’ll have such a thorough understanding of mathematical concepts that she won’t have any trouble picking up the extra topics she’ll need for GCSE.


English language GCSE is required for university entrance. Cordie’s preparing for it by taking this correspondence course.

She’s had top marks for all her assignments so far, although the tutor has warned that she writes far too much for every question so it looks like her main challenge is going to be containing herself!


As with maths, our years of hands-on science combined with Cordie’s voracious appetite for watching science videos on YouTube has prepared her well for the challenge of covering the rather dry GCSE syllabus.

Fortunately we have a homeschooling teacher friend who’s a genius at bringing the syllabus to life.  Cordie’s twice-weekly Skype sessions with Kate are the highlight of her week. Last term they explored science generally. They’ve decided to focus on physics this year so that Cordie can sit her GCSE in January 2018.

Cordie’s also learning environmental science at her weekly homeschool group. The teacher is another experienced and inspiring former homeschooler who brings the topic to life with hands-on activities, project work and presentation opportunities. She’s covering the environmental science GCSE syllabus so Cordie may sit the exam at some point, although she’s not relying on it as a core subject for uni entrance.


Cordie loves languages. She’s listened to her hero John McWhorter’s  books on language  dozens of times and she talks about studying linguistics at uni one day, although of course there’s plenty of time for another passion to prevail.

She’s learning French and Spanish in very different but complementary ways.

She learns French with three other homeschooled girls in a weekly class taught by a former schoolteacher. Rachel is super-organised and well-versed in GCSE requirements, so Cordie’s getting lots of practice writing the endless postcards about her holidays that GCSE seems to consist of.

In contrast Cordie learns Spanish via a combination of intensive courses in Spain (we go about twice a year), weekly Skype conversation classes with a native speaker friend, and grammar with me.

This contrast in the ways she’s learning is really opening Cordie’s eyes to the different ways we can learn languages, which is helping fuel her interest in linguistics.


Music is Cordie’s current passion. After going to five rock concerts last year she’s switched from classical guitar, which she’d been learning for six years, to acoustic and electric.

She’s having lessons with a teacher who used to front his own band, although mostly she teaches herself via free websites and apps.  She’s also doing this course in songwriting and music production on Udemy. (NB Udemy has regular sales, when even their £200 courses cost £10.)

As often as she can, Cordie gets together to jam and compose with her guitar and bass-playing BFF, and when they can’t meet in person they’re making music over Facetime. Hearing the house filled with music and seeing the way it lights Cordie up is such a joy.

Sport and social

Exercise and physical fitness are really important to Cordie. She’s continuing gymnastics and ice-skating and is training towards getting her black belt at karate in the spring.

This term she’s also starting a martial arts tricking class which will bring together her karate and gymastics skills. (Her dad and I are looking forward to seeing some Matrix-style moves, although hopefully not off the top of any tall buildings.)

Cordie’s recently become a Scout patrol leader and she’s looking forward to another full year of expeditions and activities with her busy troop, including several days hiking along the Jurassic Coast later this month, and a week in Austria in March.

This will be her last term at Stagecoach, where for the last ten years she’s learned singing, acting and dance. She wants to continue singing lessons and she’s considering joining another drama group, but I’m in no hurry to fill up the space in her diary!

Are we still unschooling?

Just writing about Cordie’s busy week leaves me feeling rather exhausted, but my whirlwind of a teenager thrives on it.

If she was my only child, I might worry that I’d somehow pressured her into taking on all these activities.  But as I’ve often said here, the opposite is actually true – my role is usually to gently reason with Cordie about whether she really has time to take on yet more commitments!

For me, unschooling means supporting my children in whatever ways they want to learn. As you’ll see when I write next time about what Jasper (11) is up to, unschooling can look very different even within the same family. I take that as a sign that I’m doing it right. 🙂

How’s your homeschooling year going? I’d love to hear from you!

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I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Snaps From Our Unschooling Week

Throughout this post you’ll see snaps of our unschooling week that I recorded using the app Snapchat.

Unschooling on Snapchat - 3D drawing

Unschooling on Snapchat - learning lines

My daughter’s scout troop leaders are a whizz on social media. When the scouts are off on camps we enjoy vicarious adventures thanks to a stream of messages and photos they send on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

When Cordie joined Scouts I didn’t know how to use any of those apps. Scouts gave me a reason to learn. (Though I confess I still don’t really understand what Tumblr’s all about.)

On their last summer camp the scout leaders branched into Snapchat stories. Their tongue-in-cheek blog warned us:

“The scouts are absolutely appalled that their parents have set up Snapchat accounts in order to see our stories there. The last thing they need is you on their social media of choice. They’re demanding that we tell you not to friend them on there. Just view our stories from the camp and then delete your account, delete the app, and throw away your phone.”

(I tweeted back, “Tell Cordie she’s safe. Every time I open Snapchat I’m convinced I’m going to send the world a picture of my nostrils.”)

Unschooling on Snapchat - Spanish pairs

Unschooling on Snapchat - playing Monopoly Empire

Snapchat lets you annotate, filter and share photos and video clips (snaps) over a 24-hour rolling period.

If you’ve ever looked over a teen’s shoulder and wondered in bafflement why she looks like a dog in all her smartphone photos, you’ve seen Snapchat in action.

Unschooling on Snapchat - trigonometry

Unschooling on Snapchat - blowing into red cabbage water
“What happens when I blow carbon dioxide into red cabbage indicator water?”

Photos and videos are deleted from your Snapchat story after 24 hours, so your story’s always up to date. You can choose to save your snaps to memories, though.

Unschooling on Snapchat - Creative Constructions with Geometry

Unschooling on Snapchat - balancing equations with polymods

These days I can safely navigate my around Snapchat (there were a few nostril shots on the way). And – with a bit of tween help – I’ve even made some Snapchat stories of my own.

Unschooling on Snapchat - Reading Harry Potter

Cordie and Jasper were left to their own devices for much of this week while I recovered from a headache. Thanks to Snapchat I was able to record some of what was going on around me. Looking back over my snaps, I was reminded that unschooled kids can not only cope with a little benign neglect now and then – they can thrive on it.

Unschooling on Snapchat - Hama Bead maths
Jasper explaining the maths of his Hama bead design

I know most of you don’t use Snapchat, so I thought I’d share a few of our Snaps here.

Unschooling on Snapchat - vegan pancakes and The Elements book
No eggs? Make vegan pancakes!

Instagram recently released an alternative to Snapchat – Instagram Stories. I think a few more homeschooling parents are probably on Instagram so I’m going to have a play with that next.

Unschooling on Snapchat - reading the Angles of Gum Tree Road
An exciting new book arrived this week 🙂

Do you unschool on Snapchat or Instagram?

Do you share your homeschooling life using Snapchat or Instagram stories? If you do, leave a comment with your username – I’d love to follow you. Find me on Snapchat and Instagram as lucindaleo.

I’ll leave you with a 10 second video snap of Cordie singing and playing a song she taught herself. You can see the full version over on YouTube.

Have a great weekend!


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap Up.

Enzyme Science Fun – Inflate a Balloon With Liver & Hydrogen Peroxide

liver and hydrogen peroxide enzyme experiment

Last week Cordie thought up a fun  liver and hydrogen peroxide enzyme experiment. The idea is an interesting extension of elephant toothpaste. And it extends the chemistry learning into biology (useful for homeschool records).

When we make elephant toothpaste we use yeast as a catalyst in the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas. By adding soap and food dye, we get oodles of colourful foam that make for a fun and memorable science lesson.

Cordie recently discovered that liver also contains a catalyst which breaks down hydrogen peroxide. She decided to try to inflate a balloon with the gas produced and to test it for oxygen.  (Is it just my kids that love experiments where they get to play with fire?)

You can watch Cordie demonstrating her experiment in the video [4:39] below (with crumpet cameo from Jasper).

What you need

Liver (we used about 200g)

Hydrogen peroxide (we used about 75ml / 1/3 cup of 9% / 30 vol)


Small plastic water bottle


Peg or clip


If you want to test for oxygen you’ll also need:

Splint (thin piece of wood)


What you do

1. Chop the liver and put it into the bottle

2. Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the balloon via the funnel

3. Carefully put the neck of the balloon over the bottle so that the hydrogen peroxide pours onto the liver

4. Hold the balloon in place as it inflates with gas, then clip it closed

5. If you want to test the gas, light the splint then extinguish the flame. Immediately insert the still-glowing splint into the bottle


What happens

As soon as the hydrogen peroxide touches the liver, foam appears and the bottle gets warm. After a few seconds the balloon begins to inflate.

When you lower the glowing splint into the bottle, the flame rekindles. (My kids’ favourite bit!) There should be enough oxygen to do this over and over again.

What’s happening?

Just as with elephant toothpaste, the hydrogen peroxide is broken down into water and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst. (A catalyst speeds up chemical reactions without being changed itself.) The reaction is exothermic – it produces heat.

2H2O2 —-> 2H2O + O2


Liver contains a biological catalyst, the enzyme catalase.

Just as the liver in our experiment breaks down a poisonous chemical into harmless substances, an animal’s liver breaks down toxins and renders them harmless.

Take it further

Heat and cold affect how enzymes work.  In Cordie’s science class she timed her experiments using boiled and frozen liver alongside liver at room temperature.

Further resources

BBC Bitesize – Webpage and video about liver, hydrogen peroxide and enzymes

How to make elephant toothpaste

* * *

Do let me know if you try this. I love hearing from you. 🙂

If you liked this experiment I’d love you to share it on Facebook or Pinterest. For more about how we homeschool, subscribe to my YouTube channel or like Navigating By Joy on Facebook.


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

An Unschooling Science Video

Unschooling Science Video

Science is one of the easiest and most enjoyable subjects to learn without a curriculum. Science experiments are also surprisingly easy to strew.

What kid – big or small – can resist the temptation to find out what will happen when we add this liquid to that powder, or when we connect a battery to this strange contraption?

What’s in my unschooling science video?

In my video this week I talk about – and show you – a fun afternoon we spent experimenting. As you’ll see, my children each took the initial idea to make red cabbage indicator in a completely different direction.

And you’ll hear about the shocking discovery I made when I recently browsed a science curriculum for KS3 children (aged 11-14).

My son would (approvingly) call the previous sentence ‘click bait’. Sorry about that. I first wrote ‘surprising discovery’ but  I went back and changed it because my jaw really did drop at what I saw!

I plan to compile two more mini videos from the footage of our afternoon’s science:

(1) Our demonstration of how to make red cabbage indicator, and

(2) Cordie’s liver and hydrogen peroxide experiment that I talk about in this video.

Unschooling science – Show notes

Fun With Catalysts – How to Make Elephant Toothpaste

Fun With Acids and Bases – How to Use Red Cabbage as an Indicator (my original post)

You might also like to look at my science page for other fun experiments we’ve done.

* * *

Thank you so much for all your lovely comments about my first video, and for your inspiring ideas for future videos. I did record another last week in which I talked about how we decide what to learn, but I’m not sure about it. (Perfectionism? Or fear of not being seen as a ‘proper’ unschooler? Maybe I’ll quietly put it up on YouTube anyway.)

If you enjoy watching the video I’d love you to share it on Facebook. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel and like my Navigating By Joy Facebook page.

Have you done any fun science experiments recently? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂



I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-Up.

A Video About Our Unschooling Day


Who are your heroes – the everyday folk or world-famous icons – that you admire most?

How we can learn from our heroes

What is it about these people that you especially respect? Do they have anything in common? You don’t have to admire every single thing about your heroes – it might be just one or two qualities.

The qualities we admire in others can give us useful clues about strengths we’d like to cultivate in ourselves.

I first did this exercise a few years ago after reading the book Do More Great Work. My heroes included Steve Jobs and Sue Elvis (the unschooling mum behind the blog Stories of An Unschooling Family).

Making a difference means taking risks

What all my heroes had in common was that they were each, in their own ways, out there making a difference in the world. They didn’t wait until they had a perfect product before they put themselves out there. They knew that, if they waited, their ideas might never see the light of day.

In Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull advises:

‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there but it won’t be pretty along the way, and that’s as it should be.’

Sue Elvis – now a friend, I’m happy to say – continues to inspire me in the way she’s never afraid to publicly try new things. When I woke up yesterday morning to a new video Sue had made I thought, ‘Why not make a video of my own?’ So here it is – my first Navigating By Joy video!

My non-pretty video about our unschooling day

I recorded my video at the end of a lovely day with Cordie and Jasper. I didn’t do anything special to prepare. The little bit of make-up I’d put on in the morning had disappeared with the tears of laughter I’d cried during the day. But . . . ‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect…’!

In the video I talk about our day and the different ways my children learn.

Cordie showed me how to trim the ends of the film, but other than that it’s unedited.

Would you be kind enough to watch and let me know what you think? (Kind feedback appreciated!)


Perhaps I could make a short video every now and then, sharing what we’re doing. I could record the audio separately as a podcast for people who prefer to listen as they get on with other things. What do you think?

Show Notes

Here are links to the resources I mention in the video. Let me know if I’ve missed anything. 🙂

Periodic Table of the Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray


Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It by Denise Gaskins

Let’s Play Math (blog)

Ken Ken logic maths puzzles app (find out more about KenKen on wikipedia)

Study Ladder UK educational website for children up to year 7 (grade 6). Access a limited number of activities for free, or payfor unlimited access.

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR by Susan Wise Bauer


Tony Robinson’s history books, engagingly read by the author as audiobooks. Jasper learned about the Charge of the Light Brigade in Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders British

Florence Nightingale Museum in London. If you can’t visit in person, you can still learn how this extraordinary woman’s ideas transformed modern healthcare by visiting the museum’s website.



Disclosure: I’m an Amazon affiliate, which means I may receive a small Amazon credit if you buy anything from Amazon after clicking through from this page. {Yay! More books!}

How to Make Your Kids Love Maths

How to Make Your Kids Love Maths

I once wrote a post called How to help your child fall in love with maths (even if they hate it) in which I talked about how my children learn maths without a curriculum.

That was three years ago now. I’m pleased to say our approach is still going strong and that Cordie (12) and Jasper (11) love maths more than ever.

Today I thought I’d reflect on what aspects of our maths approach have been most successful, then in my next post I’ll share in more detail what each of my kids are doing for maths right now and what our maths plans are for their senior school years.

1. Let them ask questions

When I learned maths at school my goal was only ever to get the right answers. I would watch the teacher do an example, memorise the procedure and obediently do my sums. It never once occurred to me to ask why a particular maths method worked. (Or perhaps I just learned to suppress that curiosity very early on.)

When it came to exams, I crammed a bunch of procedures into my head, passed with A grades, then promptly forgot everything.  For the next 20 years I had nightmares about going into a maths exam unprepared and not being able to answer a single question.

In contrast, my kids have always been allowed – encouraged – to ask questions. To be honest, by this point there’s no stopping them. In maths, as in life, they don’t accept anything unless they know why. Yes, sometimes regret this. 😉

Over the years I’ve learned to anticipate their questions by encouraging them to work things out for themselves in the first place.

A few examples

So when Cordie wanted to know how the long division algorithm worked, we went in search of answers (thank you, Denise’s Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division).

In geometry, most textbooks just present formulae for the area of shapes. But I knew that my children would want to know why these worked, so we figured them out for ourselves (see below for more details).

How to make your kids love maths

And when we recently came upon trigonometry, Cordie not only wanted to know what this branch of maths was used for but also what all those strange words actually meant. Which was possibly the first time it had occurred to me that sin, cos and tan were anything other than magic buttons on a calculator that when pressed while reciting the appropriate incantation – ‘SohCahToa!’ – spewed out the correct answer.

Of course when your kids ask questions, you need to . . .

2.  Be willing to go off on tangents

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that you’re never tempted steamroll over your child’s curiosity in an effort to finish a bunch of material by the end of term.

So there’s always time for games…

How to make your kids love maths - Playing yahtzee
… like yahtzee to play with probability

And you have time to investigate questions, like ‘What’s the area of a non right-angled triangle?’ Which leads to several weeks of playing with shapes as you figure out the relationships between rectangles, parallelograms, triangles, trapeziums and even circles. Which means your kids never panic about forgetting a formula, because they know everything follows from cutting up a rectangle.

Having time to follow rabbit trails means you have time to explore questions like, ‘What’s trigonometry used for?’ Which leads you to research the history of trigonometry, from right back when ancient astronomers used it to calculate the positions of the stars, to how triangulation is used today in everything from MRI scanners to animation software.

And when your daughter who’s passionate about linguistics asks where the words sine, cosine and tangent come from, you can spend a pleasant half hour discovering how ‘sine’, like the word used to describe our facial cavities (sinuses) comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘bowstring’.

How to make your child love mathsOf course, your child may not be as interested as mine in the etymology of maths terms, but by following whatever it is they are interested in, you’ll deepen their understanding of what they’re learning and make it more memorable.

3. Do buddy maths

Since the early days of homeschooling right up until now when they’re 11 and 12, I’ve done maths alongside my children.

In this way I’ve been able to share my passion for maths, clear up any confusion as soon as it occurs, and head off boredom by moving on as soon as I can see a concept’s been mastered. (Plus of course I’m there to help navigate rabbit trails and answer ‘why’ questions.)

How to make your kids love maths Pythagoras
Pythagoras Lego proof – click image for details

4. Don’t drill them on maths facts (unless they ask you to)

This is a controversial one, and I won’t pretend I’ve never casually suggested to my kids how useful it might be for them to rote-learn their multiplication tables, but they were having none of it.

Jasper couldn’t see the point of memorising something he can quickly work out every time, and (like a lot of bright people) Cordie gets stressed by time pressure.

So I decided I may as well trust mathematicians like Jo Boaler who says that not drilling kids on maths facts is a sure way to increase both their maths confidence and their number sense.

“Drilling without understanding is harmful … I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Jo Boaler

Guess what? It worked! After years of having fun with numbers, neither of my children has a problem with doing rapid mental calculations – for numbers both below and above 12.

5. Do maths anywhere that works for your child

In an ideal world I’d teach my kids sitting down nicely at the table as they write neatly using pencil and paper. I’m easily distracted and repetitive movement in my peripheral vision drives me crazy.

However… as the adult I’ve had to adapt myself to accommodate how my kids learn best – on any given day.

So if my son wakes up with the wiggles and wants to do maths while he leaps  around on a giant ball, I take deep breaths, read problems aloud, and hold up a whiteboard for him.

IMG 2862w
We all learn best when we’re comfortable

I used to worry that Jasper would never be able to be still enough to write out his answers, but I’ve noticed that when his mind is sufficiently engaged he’s quick to grab a whiteboard to draw a diagram or scribble some notes to help him figure out a problem. As maths gets more complex (and interesting) I anticipate him naturally doing this more and more.

How to make your child love maths

* * *

How do you do maths in your house?

What approach to maths works best for your children?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

* * *

PS   Bonus maths story – For a behind-the-scenes story about what maths is really like in our house, hop over to my blog about life in a family that embraces its quirkiness, Laugh, Love, Learn.

PPS   Remember my maths nightmares? I haven’t had a single one since I started learning maths this way alongside my children!



Let’s Play Math  Denise Gaskins. A wonderful book all homeschoolers should read. See my review here.

What’s Math Got to Do with It?  (UK title The Elephant in the Classroom) Jo Boaler

Living maths activities we’ve done04

How to make a multiplication tower

How to make your child love maths - Multiplication towers

Fun with tessellations

Pythagoras for kids

How to make your child love maths - Pythagoras for kids


5 Days of maths playtime

How to make your kids love maths

How to teach maths without a curriculum

Let’s Play Math – My review of the book that has acted as our guidebook through our years of learning maths without a curriculum

When every day is maths playtime – Our living maths approach when my children were 8 and 9 years old

Living maths curriculum 2013-14

How to help your child fall in love with maths (even if they hate it)

How my autodidactic 9 year old is learning maths without a curriculum

How we do maths without a curriculum

How to make your child love maths - Maths without curriculum

Why we love Edward Zaccaro more than Khan Academy – About my 9 and 10 year olds’ favourite maths books

Maths – Why Faster Isn’t Smarter

Teaching trigonometry

Teaching trigonometry Resourceaholic. When you introduce your child to trig, I highly recommend printing off a set of logarithmic ratios in table form before you reach for the calculator, and that you start out with the kind of  approach outlined in this article.

Applications of trigonometry Dave’s short trig course

Origin of the terms Sine, Cosine, Tangent The Math Forum

How to use trigonometry to measure the height of a tree The Math Dude


Animated explanations for area of basic shapes I can’t find the one we used, but this is very similar. We cut the various shapes out of coloured card.

Times tables

Fluency Without Fear Jo Boaler, Fluency Without Fear



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