Unschooling Plans for English and Maths

Unschooling Plans for English and Math

Unschooling plans? Is that an oxymoron? I was going to say “unschooling ideas” but that sounded too vague. Call them what you will – over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting with the children about what they want to learn this term and jotting down ideas in Evernote, and that’s what this post and the next are about.

Today, I’ll share our plans for maths and English. Next time I’ll talk about history, science, projects and extras.


Fourth grade maths

Without a maths curriculum, how do I know what to cover with C(10)?

One place I look for ideas is past SATs papers taken by 11 year-old English schoolchildren. (These are actually quite fun, would you believe.)

When I come across a topic I think C(10) will enjoy learning about (or revisiting) I look it up in our collection of maths books. We especially like the Murderous Maths series at the moment. I usually read aloud, pausing while C(10) – beside me on the sofa –  works through problems on a mini-whiteboard.

I also scan our favourite maths websites for games and hands-on activities relating to the topic. Two new (to me) resources I’m looking forward to exploring this term are Mathtrain.TV (loads of short maths videos, mostly made by children) and MathForum (hundreds of links to maths websites and activities).

Third grade maths

For the moment J(8) wants to continue working through Life of Fred. As we progress with the elementary series I’m inclined to agree with Hwee that this series has a few flaws. This has particularly struck me in our current book, Life of Fred: Ice Cream, which focuses heavily on learning the times tables by rote and introduces concepts like perimeter and graphing in a dry and confusing way.

However J(8) loves the Fred story and as it doesn’t form our entire un-curriculum, I’m happy to stick with it for now.  He prefers his maths a bit less seat-of-your-pants than C(10), so it works for me to try out new things with her, knowing I can do them with J(8) later when I’ve ironed out the wrinkles. In the meantime we include J(8) in any games, stories and fun hands-on activities we do.

unschooling maths and english


English (language arts and literature) is the subject I feel most relaxed about leaving to the children. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the single thing that makes the most difference to their proficiency in the English language is books. Not spelling and grammar workbooks, or learning how to construct a paragraph, but books with stories they love.

Books improve my children’s vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing voice and style, not to mention their debating skills, critical thinking and general knowledge. There’s plenty of time for them to learn to write essays; for now I want to give them time to develop their own voices, inspired by the books they read and listen to. As a former lawyer I’m also a stickler for accurate punctuation; however I believe this, too, will come easily and naturally when the time is right.

What we’re reading/listening to

Audiobooks  unschooling english

As usual we have many audiobooks on the go. Together we’ve just started the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series,  So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (warning: contains some scenes between a man and woman you may not want your kids hearing. J(8) drifts off during the “sappy bits” which in any case are general enough to go over his head, and C(10) is mature enough to handle them, so this doesn’t bother me personally).  J(8) has asked to learn about the world wars this term, so I’ve got The Silver Sword lined up for us to listen to together next.

C(10) and I are listening to I, Coriander (historical fiction/fantasy set in the days of Oliver Cromwell).  J(8) and I are listening to The Once and Future King (a charming classic re-telling of the King Arthur legend). I love finding myself in the car with just one child and being able to flick on our special audiobook (on the Audible app on my phone). (We do talk sometimes too, honest.)

Meanwhile, on their own, J(8) is re-listening to the Kane Chronicles and C(10) has just started reading The Underland Chronicles series (by Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins) while she waits for the fourth Heroes of Olympus book to arrive at the library.

Over the Christmas break we finished an excellent trilogy which prompted some very stimulating discussions about human nature, war and politics. I’m not going to mention the title (it’s not The Hunger Games) because I don’t want you to think I’m recommending it for eight-year-olds, but once I’ve formulated my thoughts I might be brave and write a post about it. Both my kids loved the books, and the listening experience really brought home to me how valuable fiction can be for deepening children’s (and adults’) understanding of complex real-world issues.

Brave Writer Lifestyle

I’m intending to use Brave Writer’s Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 for inspiration, especially as a springboard to write alongside J(8) who has suddenly taught himself to spell (two years after we gave up spelling lessons and six months after we stopped his phonics programme. There’s a lesson for me there).

It’s a joy witnessing J(8)’s emerging written self-expression, not just for its own sake but because his writing is just so funny. Last week I was sitting alongside C(10) as she wrote Christmas thank-you emails. Her messages were polite, well-spelt and punctuated, and followed all the usual thank-you note conventions. Then J(8) joined us. I started out typing for him but he soon seized the computer to stop me editing what he wanted to say. We were soon all snorting with laughter at J(8)’s idea of appropriate greetings and thank-you sentiments. I’m not sure what J(8)’s kind relations and godparents will make of his thank-you notes, but I can be sure they won’t be receiving many others like his!

It won’t take long for J(8) to learn how to formulate his written thoughts into exam-ready paragraphs when he needs to do so. J(8)’s written voice is just beginning to emerge as the perfect expression of his exuberant, off-the-wall personality. To attempt to squash it into a rubric-constrained framework, before it’s had time to fully develop, would be a tragedy.

C(10) will continue her writing sessions with her tutor, the homeschooling mum friend who first introduced me to Brave Writer. C(10)  thoroughly enjoys these sessions and I’ve seen wonderful developments in her writing style since she began them.  I’ve also noticed that she’s been writing more often spontaneously recently – stories, notes and a very detailed dream journal.

Unschooling English and maths

We’ll also continue daily(ish) copywork, poetry teatimes, word and writing games and our read-aloud chapter book. We might read Puddles in the Lane next. I remember loving this story of evacuated children when I was ten, and it will fit well with J(8)’s request to learn about the World Wars.

More on that, and our project plans, next time!


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16 thoughts on “Unschooling Plans for English and Maths

  1. I’ve not come across the resources you mentioned here, so thank you for sharing them! It has been very interesting for me to see both yours and Claire’s plans for this term. Your plans are so different yet so very appropriate for each of your children.

    It’s so encouraging to read about J(8)’s leap in spelling and writing. While most of us intuitively know and have read volumes about the value of applying patience to our children’s learning, the lesson becomes real only when we have actually lived through it by witnessing our own children’s unique growth in their own time. I can feel both your joy and relief from this post. Thank you sharing these inspiring moments! 🙂

    1. What a kind comment, Hwee – thank you so much. You’re so right – no matter how much we’re told of how children’s innate ability to learn (and love of learning), it feels nothing short of miraculous when one actually experiences it first hand in a child of one’s own! I detect a similar sense of joy when I read your posts about Tiger’s learning. 🙂

  2. Hello! I have been learning from your & Hwee’s website for several months now. I intended to summarize some great resources on my blog & directing you two there, but at my current rate, your kids will be at University before I ever finish. Like both of you, we utilize a good bit of games and “real books” in our homeschool & I am so thankful for the wonderful titles and ideas I have gotten from your blogs. I thought you might enjoy the following books/resources that are favorites of my kids but may not be known in the UK–you should be able to explore them on amazon. Would love to hear from you by email sometime, if you ever have a free moment. Here are the titles I think you guys would love: Family Math Series (published by UC Berkley’s Lawrence Hall of Science); Games for Writing & Games for Math (both by Peggy Kaye) and Math Mysteries, Fabulous Fraction Stories, Funny Fairy Tale Math (all published by Scholastic). My kids want me to also mention videos by Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Magic School Bus. I’m not a big fan of these, but both series provide lots of science information in a fun way. Hope these resources are 1/10 as helpful as the ones you have provided me. Best, Dana

    1. Hi Dana, LOL at your comment about the blog post you are planning! I have a few like that. 😀

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share those resources! We have a few of them, like Family Math – but haven’t pulled them out in a while, so thank you for the reminder. (One of my draft posts is a list of all the maths books on our shelf… I need to do it for my own benefit!)

      I have mixed feelings about Peggy Kaye’s writing games book (I don’t have the maths one). Most people rave about it, I know, but I’ve found some of the “games” to be a bit artificial and more like exercises. (Like, it would be a better game done orally rather than using writing, if you know what I mean.) Having said that I haven’t looked at it for a while so perhaps I’m throwing out the baby with the bathwater and I should have another look. Are there any games in particular that you like?

      I shall definitely investigate the Scholastic maths books you mention, I haven’t heard of them (exciting!). LOL about Bill Nye and Magic School Bus. We love MSB (I learned so much about electro-magnetism from the Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip!) I fear that C(10) is starting to consider herself too old for Bill Nye but J(8) gives me the excuse to keep watching for a wee while longer. 😉

      Thanks again for taking the time to say hello and put all that together. I’ll let you know how we get on!

      (Emailing you a copy of this – feel free to keep in touch!)


  3. I’m doing something similar for L11, using CIMT maths to guide me, hopefully ensuring I’m heading in the right direction with her.
    This is a post full a fabulous resources that I’m sure I’ll look into more thoroughly when I have time (quite possibly when I’m in my eighties!!)
    Looking forward to your next post!

  4. Now I’m truly curious what book it was. We’ve restarted with a new math this semester. I think in general the kids will enjoy the change, but I’m a little scared.

    1. Ok it’s probably safe to say down here in the comments … it’s the Chaos Walking trilogy. Recommended for 15 years and up (ahem).
      Looking forward to reading about your new maths – good luck.

  5. Lucinda….
    This post is so full!!! I’ve had the window open for a day now and keep clicking back to it when I have down time!I just can’t get through it…so much here.
    Thanks for the tips and the whole general peek into your unschooling lifestyle. You cover so much ground through these methods……

    We LOVE shut the box also! love it. It’s great to sneak math in there when they ask for a game…..love it.
    I will be back to check out the Brve Wr series. Never heard of it and rd the com too….Seems lots of great ideas there between your readers and you as well.

    “See” you soon.:)


    1. Hi Chris! I love Shut the Box too. In fact sometimes I beg the kids for a game! Perhaps it’s because it’s so satisfyingly short. 😀
      I have lots of blog posts like that open in my browser. So many great things to read, so little time…! (It’s a good life :-))

  6. Hi!

    You’re blog has been such an inspiration! I really want to thank you for breathing new life into our homeschooling.

    Do you happen to have a book list of good literature you’ve read? Especially historical fiction as my son (same age as C) really enjoys them and I’m always on the hunt for ideas. I’ve just ordered all the titles you listed in this post!

    The other question I had was how do you use the edexcel GCSE books to help with your math planning? I saw you were using it with J and wondered how you approached that in a living math way.

    Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi and thank you so much for your lovely comment!

      I’ve recently handwritten a comprehensive literature list, funnily enough. I’ll put it into a blog post as soon as I can. Is your son 12/13? (as in Cordie’s age now, rather than when I wrote this post?) Just looking over my list for historical fiction … has your son read I Am David by Anne Holm? We also liked Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and Private Peaceful. And The Shakespeare Stealer by Guy Blackwood (just noticed there are sequels to this which we must check out).

      Re maths, Jasper and I have actually put aside the GCSE book for now. We worked through it (‘buddy-style’) for a few months last year, but then he asked to go back to Life of Fred so we’re now using Life of Fred Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics (another subject he’d asked to study, so that worked well). I am using the Edexcel book with Cordie, though, because she’d like to take her GCSE in the next few years. We just work through a section until she feels she’s learned enough for now, then move onto a different topic. I was interested to look back recently on a post I wrote just after reading Denise Gaskins’ Let’s Play Maths:

      ‘The book 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.”’

      Lovely to ‘chat’ with you! 🙂

      1. Hi

        My son is about the same age as Cordie now, he’s 12. Thanks for the suggestions, we haven’t read those. I’ve just ordered them 🙂 Funny enough he doesn’t like Michael Morpurgo- he doesn’t like sad books.

        I’ve been reading The Elephant in the Classroom and Denise Gaskins books. They are excellent! It’s put my search for the perfect KS3 math textbook on hold (might revisit that now that I read that Gaskin quote!). I initially bought him a GCSE math book thinking he’d just work through that and not bother with KS3 books but now I’ve been revisiting some topics with living maths activities and my son is loving them. (It’s been really good for me too!!) Your idea of working on it side by side has been a big help. I’m still nervous about approaching puzzles and problems. I wish there was a guide for that!

        Thanks again!

        1. Hi again,

          We’re mostly with your son on Michael Morpurgo – not huge fans. We only read Private Peaceful because Cordie did it for her book group. And I’d avoided the film of War Horse when it came out because I thought it would be too sad, but decided to risk the book together when Jasper wanted to learn about the World Wars. It surprised me by being really quite uplifting, after all my anxiety!

          I’m glad you’ve been enjoying Jo Boaler’s and Denise Gaskins’ books, and that living maths with your son is going well. (I agree, it’s so fun to re-learn this way as an adult, too, isn’t it?)

          I’d love to help a bit more re puzzles and problems. (Maybe I could write a blog post about it?) Would you be willing to share a bit more, either here or via email?

          Talking of puzzles, have you ever seen those grid logic problems that used to come in puzzle books? You can get them free online these days. I’ve done a few with Cordie and Jasper. I never realised how much I was learning when I did them as a kid!

          It’s lovely chatting with you. 🙂

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