All posts by Lucinda

How being a productivity ninja is making me a more relaxed homeschooler

Productivity ninjaa

Last week when I was pondering the problem of having too many fun things to do, I came across the best titled book ever, How To Be A Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More And Love What You Do.

I knew the author and I were going to get along when I read this description of his natural style of work:

“Flaky, ideas-based, more comfortable at the strategic level than the ‘doing’ level, allergic to detail, instinctive, crazy-making and ridiculously unrealistic about what’s achievable in a given time period.”

(Naturally organised people don’t need productivity systems.)

What a productivity ninja looks like

Here’s the fantasy future-me I was imagining about after I’d zipped through the opening chapters:

–  I glide through my days with Zen-like calm and clarity

–  I am mindful of my energy and attention levels and use them wisely

– I can focus with serene efficiency because I find it easy to stay either in boss mode or worker mode at any given time

– because I always know the most important things I want to do,  I enjoy a sense of completion each day when I’ve achieved them

– I reach Inbox Zero at least once a day.  (I’ve missed several payment deadlines recently because of an email inbox that ran to many screens, so this one was very appealing.)

How to become a productivity ninja

The backbone of the productivity ninja system is your list of projects and your master task list.

A project is any ‘to do’ item that requires more than one physical action (task) to achieve.  If you’re not able to commit to doing at least one task on a project in the near future, you need to either scrap the project or move it to your good ideas list.

Once a week, wearing your boss hat, you review your list of projects. This means that when you’re in worker (doing) mode, you need only refer to your master task list, which will show you with ninja-clarity what you need to do –  you don’t get distracted by having to do any high-level thinking about what the next step is.

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All images by productivity ninja Graham Allcott

Example:  I’m in the process of making various photo products – a wall calendar, desk calendar and various Christmas albums as gifts for family members. I tend to procrastinate about working on my photos, mainly because I can never remember where I left each project. Have I put my selected pictures into an iPhoto album yet? Do I need to edit any photos?  Have I uploaded them to PhotoBox?  But by spending a few minutes once a week noting exactly what needs doing on each photo product, when I have a spare moment I can go straight to my computer and get editing, sorting or uploading.

How can being a productivity ninja make you a more relaxed homeschooler?

You’re probably wondering how all this ninja talk relates to relaxed homeschooling.

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Thanks to the  ninja-productivity process,  my master task list contains every homeschool-related activity I want to do, as well as all my other upcoming responsibilities and hobby-related goals.

I have sub-lists of the activities I need to do with my children – buddy maths, writing games and science experiments, for example – and what I can do without them, like research, planning, or setting up an experiment.  I can also see what non-homeschooling activities or jobs I want to get done that day.

I use Toodledo to sort these lists because I find automated lists thrilling (it’s a geek thing), but you could just as easily use a pen and paper.

The reason the productivity ninja system is such a powerful tool for child-led homeschooling is that I’m not dependent on getting anything specific done with my kids in order to feel a sense of completion.

Thanks to my master task list, I find it much easier to respect how my children choose to spend their time and resist pressuring them into fulfilling my agenda.  My daily list might include ‘do copywork with J, do buddy maths with C, read aloud from Waves’ – but my kids get to choose which, if any, of those activities get done.

So if C(11) wakes up inspired to take photos for her Arts Award project or record herself singing, or J(9) wants to spend the morning making a stop-motion animation film, I can save my ideas for another time. Meanwhile I can easily see from my daily checklist how I can make best use my time without that child or alone.

Thanks to my master task list, even on rare days when both my kids want to spend the whole day doing their own thing, I still end the day with a sense of achievement because I know I’ve spent my time doing tasks which take me closer to my goals.

And if the children invite me to join them on one of their projects or in a game, I can shuffle my list with ninja-like flexibility and go and play.

You can get a free kindle sampler of How To Be A Productivity Ninja here.


I think I'd buy this book just for the cute graphics
I’d buy this book just for the cute graphics


*This post contains affiliate links but I bought my own copy of the book and wrote this because when I love something I want to share it with all my friends and my husband says he’s heard enough Productivity Ninja talk for now thank you very much. 🙂 


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Finishing Strong

The Problem of Having Too Many Fun Things to Do


C(11) recently went through a phase of peppering her conversation with the phrase, “Hashtag First World Problems”. She would say it while struggling to open an orange juice carton, deliberating over what colour T-shirt to wear, or considering whether to charge her laptop or her tablet in a single free electric socket.

This post definitely falls within that category. Stop reading now if you don’t like thinking about ways to make a good life even more wonderful.

The “problem” is that there always seem to be more fun things to do than I have time to do them. Over the Christmas break while my children have (mostly) been happily playing together in that delightful way home-educated kids do, I’ve been reflecting on my priorities.

As an (unstructured) homeschooler with more hobbies than I probably have a right to, I know that I will never get everything finished. There will always be another writing game to play, a photo album to create, an exciting book to devour, a kitchen drawer to declutter, a guitar piece to improve, an funny blog post to read, a new recipe to try…

Why we need to feel complete

But if we never get everything finished, how do we experience the satisfaction of completion – of having achieved something? Everyone needs the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve done what’s most important. Conversely, never feeling complete leaves us feeling stressed.

“Completion … naturally gives way to clear space… helps provide perspective, a brief recovery from the frenetic pace of life and time to re-evaluate our priorities.”

Graham Allcott,  How To Be A Productivity Ninja

What’s important?

Before we can be sure we’re doing what’s most important, we need to identify what’s most important.

Where should we be focusing our precious attention, if we want to experience the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve spent our time on what matters most to us?

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Our around-the-world New Year balloon countdown. We celebrated from 10am (New Zealand) to 10pm (Greece) then cheated and popped our pink 12am (Great Britain) balloon before going to bed!

Since I became a mother, I’ve made an effort to enjoy my own hobbies alongside parenting (and later homeschooling). It helps my mental and emotional wellbeing, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for my kids to see me still creating and learning.

As my children have become older and more independent, I’ve had more and more time for my hobbies. In fact, there are times lately when I’ve felt overwhelmed at the thought of choosing what to do! {#First World Problems}


Here’s what I realised when I reflected on this recently.  I have a maximum of nine or ten years left as a homeschooling mum. When my children are at uni or working, I’ll be in my early 50’s and all those hobbies (and homemaking chores) will still be there. But homeschooling won’t be! Until then, I want to enjoy every day of being involved in my children’s learning lives.

New Year’s Eve mocktails (okay, there was a teensy dash of rum in my ‘virgin’ pina colada)

My focus for 2015 is to be the best homeschooling mum I can be, and have the most fun I can with my kids. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of what to do, I will try to choose whatever is most closely aligned with my goal of creating a loving, fun, learning-rich home.

I’m still going to blog, because I love being part of the wonderful, supportive homeschooling blogging community. But I’m going to pay less attention to subscriber numbers and page views, and try to worry less about writing perfect posts. (Not that they’ve ever lived up to perfection, but you wouldn’t believe the hours I’ve put in trying.)

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With my brother, sister and mum on Christmas Day

My word for 2015 is “Love”.

I wish you all the happiest 2015 you could possibly have.

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We hosted 19 of our lovely family for Christmas!

What’s most important to you in 2015?

Do you have a word for the year?


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up and Homegrown Learners’ Collage Friday.

Us-Schooling Snippets

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You know how we homeschoolers are always looking for the best label to describe ourselves? I recently came across my favourite one yet at Ed Snap Shots: Us-Schoolers. I love her story of how she thought up the phrase.

Us-schooling perfectly describes our homeschooling style.

During November we visited Seville and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. (El Puerto is the town near Cádiz where we’ll be spending February learning Spanish.)

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November in Seville and on the beaches of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain

Two weeks later we we slid down rapids, biked through the forest, and zip-lined through tree tops at Center Parcs with my mum and nephew.

Tree top adventuring at CenterParcs

How is Us-Schooling going?

Since we got back I’ve managed to rein in any schoolish “We’ve got to get back into the swing of things!” tendencies (yay me). As a consequence we’ve had a really happy week, full of spontaneous learning. The best thing about having a routine rather than a schedule is that we have plenty of time to follow our interests.

1. Snowflake symmetry

I haven’t posted much about maths lately, mainly because our buddy maths routine is continuing to work so well.

The best thing about not following a curriculum is that we have plenty of time to do any other maths activities catch our interest. This week we were inspired by the An Ordinary Life‘s exploration of symmetry when they made snowflakes using isometric grid paper.

Instead of drawing straight onto our grid paper, I stapled clear binder covers on top. When we detached the paper, we were left with pretty Christmas decorations to put on the windows.

Mathematical snowflakes

We found that creating symmetrical designs requires a lot more concentration than we’d expected. (My spatial skills were certainly challenged!)

2. Skating at a 16th century house

On Monday we skated at Somerset House, a beautiful neoclassical building on the north bank of the River Thames. On the journey into London we learned some interesting facts about the history of the house:

– Somerset House was built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, who was the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife, and mother of Edward VI).

– After Henry VIII’s death, Edward Seymour manoeuvred himself into the position of Lord Protector, ruling England during the reign of the boy king Edward VI. During this time Seymour bestowed on himself the title “Duke of Somerset”.

– Lord Somerset’s power was not to last, however. In 1549, before he could finish his magnificent house, he was overthrown by a coup d’état.

–  Somerset met a gruesome end in 1552 when he had his head chopped off at the Tower of London. Somerset House was then seized by the Crown. Its most famous resident was the future Queen Elizabeth I, who lived at Somerset House during the reign of her half-sister Mary I.

– During the English Civil War, Parliament tried to sell the house. Fortunately for us, they couldn’t find a buyer.

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Ice skating at Somerset House

3. Hands-on history at the Imperial War Museum

After skating at Somerset House we hopped on a double decker bus to the Imperial War Museum. The bus ride turned out to be the highlight of J(9)’s day (which is saying something, because he loved skating and the museum). Both children have requested that we now travel everywhere in London by bus, instead of by underground train.

The museum’s World War I exhibition was fascinating. The kids were shocked by the weight of the rifles soldiers had to carry, and they tried their hands at running a naval campaign.

My favourite part was the propaganda posters aimed at persuading men from Commonwealth countries like India and Australia to fight for Britain. How times have changed!

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C(11) trying out a WWII Anderson Shelter at the Imperial War Museum (bottom right)

4. Watching a NASA rocket launch

We spent much of Thursday and Friday tuned to NASA, watching the launch, orbit and re-entry of deep space capsule Orion. When the launch window closed without take-off on Thursday, we hoped things would go smoothly the next day so we could catch the launch before our skating lesson.

Fortunately, both the weather and the technology co-operated, and Friday’s countdown ended in a very exciting lift-off.

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Watching NASA’s livestream

We were back in time to watch Orion’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and its smooth parachute descent towards splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

5. The Mystery of the Periodic Table

We learned about the inner transition elements in the last chapter of The Mystery of the Periodic Table. I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s the perfect family science read-aloud – we all learned something from it. I now understand, in a way I never did in my school chemistry classes why the periodic table is structured the way it is.

J(9) may not retain everything he heard, but for him it was a solid introduction to chemistry, told in an exciting way through the eyes of famous scientists from history.


I’ve been searching for a similar living book about physics. We loved the Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest series, but I wanted something that covers concepts like optics and fluid mechanics.  Secrets of the Universe: Waves: Principles of Light, Electricity and Magnetism looks like a good start. If the children like it, I’m pleased to see there are several others by the same author.

I’ve also bought Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone, which has lots of pictures and ideas for hands-on experiments. Leafing through just now, I noticed this, in the section on gravity and tides:

“If the moon were too near the earth, the moon would be pulled apart. This has been the fate of moons too close to other planets – Saturn’s rings being the best example.”

I hadn’t know that Saturn’s rings were what remained of some of its moons!

6. Christmas stories

In the car this week we listened to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. J(9) was pleased to be listening to the original, on which so many other stories he likes have been based.

C(11) loved Dickens’ language, which reminded her of her favourite book series, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy.

Christmas books collage

We also listened to a lovely telling of The Nutcracker by Jenny Agutter.

Next week we’ll listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by its author Dylan Thomas, and then Lost Christmas. C(11) and I are also going to listen to The Christmas Doll.

At home we’re looking forward to re-reading some of our favourite Christmas stories, including The Sneezing Christmas Tree and The Legend of the Poinsettia, not forgetting of course The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and J(9)’s favourite Christmas book last year, Christmas According to Humphrey.

7. Chess

On Wednesday J(9) asked me to play chess with him. He hasn’t played for over 18 months, and before that only a handful of times.

He easily checkmated me, confirming my belief that computer games teach excellent strategy skills. (Not that I’m a great chess player, but I’ve played a few more times than him!)

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When we haven’t been busy following rocket launches or skating in historic houses, the kids have been making speed art videos, writing stories over afternoon tea and translating the next exciting instalment of Minimus Secundus: Moving on in Latin.

It’s been a great  us-schooling week.

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners


A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Friday

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Did you know that an aeroplane is only on its correct course for about two per cent of each flight?

The pilot knows where he needs to get the plane to. By regularly checking where the aircraft is, and making many tiny course-corrections along the way, the pilot successfully guides the plane to its destination.

Flying a homeschool

(Don’t worry, it’s not my latest adventure scheme, it’s a metaphor.)

As the “pilot” of our homeschool, I want my kids to reach adulthood well-educated and with the skills they need to be lifelong learners. Along the way I’d love for them to discover a few of their strengths and passions.

I’m accompanied by my 9 and 10-year-old “co-pilots”. Together, we reflect on our days, weeks and months, adjusting our routine often to help us stay on track over the long-term.

That’s why, once a year, I blog about a whole week in our homeschooling life.  If I told you about a single day, I’d probably choose one we spend at home doing a cool science experiment, poetry tea and a hands-on history project as well as maths,  English and perhaps a couple of languages thrown in. People might read it and wonder how we manage to do it all. They’d never know that we spent the whole of the next day walking in the woods, or just hanging out with friends.

This week has been busy (see Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday).  We arrived home from the theatre at 9PM last night. Thanks to our flexible routine, I’m able to organise our day so that J(9) in particular gets the downtime he needs.


C(10) and I do some Spanish and maths.


Science. Over the last few weeks we’ve been investigating light using laser pens. {Note: laser pens can be dangerous. C(10) and J(9) know this, and they only handle the pens when I’m supervising. Handled responsibly, though, they are an awesome way to learn about light.}

The children know that light travels in a straight line. Today I give them the following equipment and challenge them to make it appear that the laser beam curves.

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Before we begin, I slip in some extra science. I show the children the bottle of water (see photo) with its lid on, and ask why no water is leaking out of the hole.

They come up with several creative suggestions before they remember what they know about atmospheric pressure!

Ready for science

C(10) and J(9) enjoy experimenting with the laser beams for some time before they hit upon the solution. (I’ll write a post at some point sharing the various light experiments and demonstrations we’ve done recently.)

Along the way we have interesting conversations about fibre optics, total internal reflection, and refraction. I don’t get too technical – at this age I just want my kids to find science fun and approach it with curiosity – but I’m grateful for my physics breakfasts, which help me answer some of their questions.

Total internal reflection of laser beams through water – or, how to make light “curve”


Poetry teatime. Over the last few weeks we’ve been listening to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place audiobook series. The eponymous Incorrigibles are three charming children who happen to have been  raised by wolves until they come to be looked after by plucky young governess Penelope Lumley.

Miss Lumley proceeds to educate the children in a manner homeschooling mums would heartily approve of. One of the many poems she reads to her charges is Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus.

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Poetry pancake time

Usually we all choose our own poems to read for poetry tea, but today everyone happily agrees to my suggestion that we take turns reading the twenty-two stanzas of The Wreck of the Hesperus.

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J(9) reading The Wreck of the Hesperus


On Friday afternoons we usually visit our local ice skating rink, where the children have group figure skating lessons.

Because of J(9)’s sensory issues, his skating teacher suggested he have a few private lessons to increase his confidence. I’m always looking for opportunities to exercise, learn and have fun alongside the children, so I asked J(9) if I might join him in his lessons, and he agreed (I’m loving it!).

But our teacher is on holiday this week and none of us minds having a free afternoon after our busy week.

I use the time to run a few errands. My husband is working from home today so J(9) is glad not to have to come out with me.  C(10) comes along so that we can hear the next chapter of Pride and Prejudice, the audiobook we’ve been listening to when it’s just us two in the car together.

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Waiting at the garage for a car bulb replacement.
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C(10) rides her bike while I walk the dogs

After our dog walk we head home. My husband texts to ask if we’re okay and we realise we’ve been sitting in the car on the driveway for ten minutes, listening to the end of Pride and Prejudice. We enter the house smiling.

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Listening to Pride and Prejudice in the car


J(9) has done copywork and handwriting while C(10) and I have been out.

He and I do maths together – a fun Ed Zaccaro chapter involving algebra and fractions.

J(9)’s favourite maths position

After maths I head upstairs with a box of hair dye. My sister-in-law is having a 1920’s fancy dress birthday party tomorrow and grey roots won’t complement my outfit. I’m delighted to discover that Sue Elvis has made a new unschooling podcast which I listen to in the bathroom.


James kindly drives C(10) to her Stagecoach class, where she does three hours of singing, acting and dancing. Often I go to the gym at this time, but today I make frozen banana smoothies for J(9) and I, and I blog while he relaxes in his room.

* * *

Thank you so much for all your kind comments this week. I didn’t know if these posts would be of interest to anyone else but I wanted to record them for myself. I’m so appreciative that people have stopped by to reassure me that I’m not the only one who sometimes fails to live up to the high expectations I set myself!



See also Week in my Life 2013, when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Thursday

This week I’m blogging every day about our homeschooling life.

I had hoped that after yesterday’s craziness we would have a peaceful day today. I think I under-estimated the implications of having to be at a theatre 50 miles away, bang in the middle of evening rush hour.


At 10:15 we leave to meet friends for a beautiful walk on Wimbledon Common.


Sticks – useful props for playing “Lord of the Rings”
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We eat lunch alongside Wimbledon Common’s famous Wombles. Did you watch the Wombles when you were a kid? I had a Wombles birthday party in 1975!


We arrive home. I manage to resist trying to shoehorn any maths into the gap in our schedule.


C(10) goes to a monthly book group led by an experienced homeschooling mum. Before each meeting, Kate sends out an inspiring list of related project ideas.

Last month’s book was Stay Where You Are And Then Leave, a fictional account of a young boy growing up during World War I. For her project, C(10) created an imaginary newspaper page celebrating the end of the war.

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For this month’s book, Private Peaceful,  C(10) wrote a poem from the point of view of a member of a firing squad, having to execute his fellow soldier.

Back at the start of the twentieth century, little was understood about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many soldiers suffering from PTSD were shot for “cowardice”.


A young man walks towards me

he takes his final step

his eyes clouded with fear

his shoulders heavy with dread.


His eyes look down to the damp ground

he knows his life is done

and all I can think about is

what we have become


We’re monsters in human form

about to take a life

to end his troubles

his thoughts and worries

to shoot away his strife.


My kindly thoughts don’t save me

as the weapon kicks

I turn my head away

and moisten my dry lips.


The man collapses to the ground

I look at him with sorrow

I wonder though deep inside

Would I do the same tomorrow?


The poem made me cry.


Kate also organises field trips. Tonight’s theatre production is a powerful one-man performance. The actor has one prop – a bed, which cleverly turns into the barbed wire of no man’s land.


The play ends differently from the book, which gives rise to interesting discussions on the way home and an e-mail discussion among members of the book group. (J(9) is still rather cross about the ending.)



We arrive home.

Tomorrow, we are really going to have a quiet day!




For more Week in my Life, see Monday, TuesdayWednesday and Friday.

And see a Week in my Life 2013, when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old.

A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Wednesday

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Today you’ll get to peek behind the scenes and see what life is like round here on the less-than-perfect days. Yes, this is the one where I let slip that – shock! – occasionally life gets in the way of me being the model homeschooling mum I aspire to be.


C(10) spends most Wednesdays studying science, history and art and hanging out with her friends at a homeschooling group she loves.

This week, though, the group are spending the afternoon playing outdoor team-building games. I’ve never been to the  venue before so I want to allow plenty of time to get there, which means leaving home at 12:30PM.

Bring on my least helpful homeschooling mode: “Right! We’ve got to make the most of the morning!”

I text C(10) inviting her to come down and start working with me at 9:00AM. (Yes, I message my kids. It’s no use calling them when they’re wearing headphones. Sometimes they reply. Does that count as writing practice?)


C(10) comes downstairs. The doorbell rings. I’d forgotten I’d scheduled a grocery delivery.

By 9:30 we finish unpacking the shopping and settle on the sofa for maths. Except that C(10) wants to do Latin instead. It’s true we left the story at an especially exciting point yesterday. (Really. Pandora was “cotidie vomo”.)

The homeschooler I’d like to be tells my daughter, “Of course, darling. Latin it is.” The real-life slightly-stressed mum in the room insists on doing maths first. Luckily (because most of the time I’m pretty reasonable?) my kids graciously overlook my occasional sergeant-major moods and C complies with my random insistence on maths.

Afterwards I generously allow C(10) to do Latin.  (Minimus 2 spoiler alert: It turns out the lovely Pandora is “gravida”!)


I’ve asked J(9) to come down for dictation and freewriting at 10:30. Trying to eke out best use of our precious time, I suggest that C(10) joins us freewriting.

Picking up on my stressy vibe, C(10) – who adores writing and always has half a dozen different stories in progress – tells me she doesn’t know what to write about. Foolishly, I suggest that she think about what she’s going to write for NaNoWriMo next week. C(10) wails dramatically.

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“I don’t know what to write about!” {Photo used with C(10)’s permission 😉 }

J(9) has recently progressed from copywork to “French” dictation (dictation with only some words missing).

Because he has done so little writing until recently (I backed right off until I sensed he was ready), I have no idea how his spelling is these days. On Monday, to build his confidence, I gave him dictation with very easy words missing. Today he asks for more of a challenge, so I blank out three-quarters of the words in a quote he’s previously written for copywork.

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Checking his dictation

The spelling and handwriting present no problem to J(9) (yay). However he takes great issue with the way I’ve printed the gaps (using underscores) and lectures me for 10 minutes on how I need to set it out differently next time.


By this point I have a 10-year-old moaning that she doesn’t know what to write, and a 9-year-old fresh from his most challenging dictation assignment yet (and irritated by his mother’s irrational method of printing gaps). Guess what I do? Insist that we stick to the plan and freewrite, of course! {Cringing as I write this.}

Fortunately, as I mentioned, my usual reasonableness has built up a bit of goodwill with my kids, so they kindly go along with my freewriting plan. We set the timer for 8 minutes. As usual, I write too.

C(10) has become convinced that my NaNoWriMo idea is better than hers, so I suggest that she writes something based on my idea. She likes this and writes a wonderful few pages as a prequel to my story.

J(9), meanwhile, vents his irritation about the dictation episode by bashing long series of numbers into his keyboard. He then cleverly writes a story around the numbers. They are computer codes entered by a desperate astronaut. I’m impressed.

Left: J(9) reading his freewrite


I had planned a short science demonstration for this morning, but by this point I am beginning to come to my senses. I scrap the demo and instead read aloud from The Mystery of the Periodic Table as we eat lunch. We only have time for a few pages because I want to get to the outdoor centre in plenty of  time, so I suggest we finish the chapter in the car when we arrive.

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I load the car with snacks, dogs, J(9)’s maths books, and swimming/karate/gym kit as we’ll be going straight to the leisure centre after C’s team-building.


We arrive at the outdoor centre and I turn off our audiobook – the wonderful The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – and pick up The Mystery of the Periodic Table. The children groan – not because they dislike The Mystery of the Periodic Table, but because The Incorrigible Children is so good.

It seems there’s still a bit of the sergeant-major hanging around me, because I insist on the chemistry book first. (We are at a particularly exciting bit, even the children agree. Mr Newlands has just put the elements into octaves, ready for Mendeleev to sweep in and take all the credit for the periodic table.)

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C(10) playing team-building games

At 1:30 C joins her friends for team-building (perhaps she can teach me a few things). I’ve planned for J(9) and I to walk the dogs and then hang out in a nearby coffee shop for maths and downtime.


Although I can barely move in the car for stuff, I realise I’ve managed to leave purse at home. Since I cannot make it through this afternoon without coffee, J(9) and I drive home via the woods.

J talks to me about the computer game Terraria throughout our entire dog walk. I pay attention dutifully, hoping to redeem myself for earlier motherly misdemeanours. I even agree to play Terraria with him later.

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The happy face of a boy talking about computer-games


J(9) and I do maths, then play Terraria together for half an hour. I have zero personal interest in computer games, but I try to join J(9) in a game now and again.

Playing with him helps me realise the huge amount he learns from these games. It’s also a valuable lesson in empathy, reminding me what it feels like to be a beginner learner. I recommend having your child teach you something regularly – it’s very eye-opening!


We collect C(10) and drive to the leisure centre.  J(9) does his swimming class. C(10) does her second karate class of the week, and I use the gym.

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I treat us to dinner in the leisure centre cafe, and the children play in the soft play. (Where do they find their energy?) When we finally get home I am so happy not to have to cook dinner. Instead, I jump in a long hot bath. Bliss.


Does your child teach you anything?

Have you ever been a less-than-perfect homeschool mum?


For more Week in my Life, see MondayTuesdayThursday and Friday.

For a Week in my Life 2013 when I was homeschooling an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old, see here.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly-Wrap Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 – Education Possible

A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Tuesday

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This week I’m blogging every day about our day-to-day homeschooling life. If you’re only here the science, go ahead and delete these posts. Normal service will resume next week. 😉

8:00AM – Physics for breakfast

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Even the driest textbook goes down easily one bite at a time.

I’ve had physics for breakfast every day for the last seven weeks (with a side order of green tea and porridge).

My favourite way to learn science is by hands-on exploration alongside the children. But I’m hoping that by finding out what’s on the school curriculum, this GCSE Physics book will give me plenty of time to pull together the most fun ways of learning to share with my kids. I might even have half a chance of explaining what’s going on in our experiments!

9:00AM – A musical morning

On Tuesday mornings we’re visited by a gentleman with a grey ponytail and steel biker rings on every finger. Chris used to sing his own songs in a rock band. Before that, he trained as a classical guitarist.

I’m not sure how teaching C(10) and I to play classical and blues pieces compares with the excitement of Chris’s former life, but we couldn’t ask for a more entertaining teacher – we spend most of the morning giggling. Which in my book is a great learning state!

11:00AM – Cupcakes for YouTube

Every week C(10) creates a video which she posts on YouTube on a Sunday. She’s taught herself everything related to making these videos – how to position the camera using a tripod, how to edit her films, how to add royalty-free music, how to make graphics thumbnails and how to publish her finished videos.

Cake you tube

Today she decided to film herself making chocolate-orange cupcakes. I love how she speeds up her finished creations – you’ll see what I mean if you peek at last week’s pumpkin-carving video.


While the kitchen was in use as a recording studio, J(9) and I hid out in another room doing copywork and handwriting.


After lunch (vegetable soup and crusty bread), C(10) and I did maths, Latin and Spanish.

We love the comic strip style layout of Minimus Latin, and always end up having interesting conversations about English words that come from Latin.


Until recently we were using an adult Spanish course, but C(10)’s interest in learning how to introduce oneself and talk about one’s occupation had begun to wane, so we decided to look for a book with more relevant vocabulary.

We’re enjoying Mira so far. It seems lively and should prepare C(10) a little for our Spanish adventure.


3:00PM – Teatime

C finished filming as she iced her cupcakes…
Teatime collage
… ready for us to enjoy at afternoon tea as we wrote and shared our own Halloween-themed mad-libs stories.


Dog walk
Fresh air and exercise time!


For more Week in Life of a British homeschooling family, see Monday,  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

And here’s how a week in my life looked this time last year.





A week in the life of a British homeschooling family – Monday

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Sometimes I think my family takes the homeschooling truism, “there’s no such thing as a typical day” to extremes.

On a mythical “normal Monday” we would work through our short homeschooling routine, read a story or play a game over afternoon teatime, and go for a walk with our dogs. There would be no egg throwing, and definitely no rollercoasters.

But as “normal” is never likely to happen, and since this time last year I enjoyed participating in a “Week in my life” blog hop, I thought it might be fun to record the same week this year.


I get up, let the plumber in, and make porridge. (The plumber doesn’t come every day. Only when 9-year-old boys use their bedroom radiator as a launchpad.)


We’re expecting friends to arrive at around 10:00AM, so we get to work promptly on our daily maths and English routine.

First, I do buddy maths with J(9).

Then after a quick jump around, he does some “French dictation”. This is a Brave Writer idea, designed to introduce children to dictation.

J maths

Next, buddy maths with C(10). She usually uses Ed Zaccaro too, but occasionally we work through British materials instead, to check for gaps and reassure C(10) that she’s on track.

C maths


No sign of our friends, so we head to our local park with the dogs.



Pancake time. I dictate an excerpt from Catching Fire to C(10) while I make the batter. She’s using Brave Writer’s Boomerang this year.

C(10) writes beautifully, but dictation is proving very useful for picking up and dealing painlessly with small errors. Today’s passage gave us the opportunity to discuss how “too” and “to” are used.

Pancakes and dictation

We eat our pancakes while reading about James VI in The Story of the World vol 2. C(10) has been learning about this period in her homeschool group, so she entertains J(9) and I with extra details.


C(10) practises guitar. She and I are both working towards classical guitar grade 5 exams this year.

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While we’re making pancakes, C(10) tells me about an interesting demonstration involving eggs and inertia that she’s been watching on Veritasium. Somehow this ends up in an “experiment” involving throwing eggs  at our garden wall. (We’ve been picking egg-shell off the dogs all afternoon.)

Egg throwing


Our friends arrive! (Loraine, I love your timekeeping. We wouldn’t have had nearly such a productive day if you’d come earlier.)

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Because our day hasn’t been quite busy enough, after our friends leave we decide to head to a local theme park. Seriously though… We save up grocery store points to buy annual passes which cover the three big theme parks near us, and our coupon for C(10)’s pass is about to expire.

While we’re there we have to go on a few rollercoasters, of course.

Can you see C(10) there on the right?

J(9) is so excited that by next spring when the parks reopen, he’ll be tall enough to go on this one, which C(10) rides on her own this time.

6:00PM Tacos for dinner. My guitar practice, then off to the gym for half an hour on the cross-trainer while C(10) does in her karate class.


For more Week in Life of a British homeschooling family, see Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

And see Week in the Life of a British homeschooling family 2013 with children aged 8 and 9.


How was your day?

Perhaps you’d like to share a normal (ha!) day in your homeschooling life?

Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure


My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!


Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg
Inside the Alhambra


View from the Alhambra
Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure
Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
Las Cuevas de Nerja


Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:
Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!


The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.


I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!


Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Fun with Literary Devices – Opening Hooks

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

How do we teach our kids to write like their – and our – favourite authors? We can start by playing with some of the literary techniques successful writers use. One example is the opening hook.

C(10) and I learned about opening hooks a few years ago from The Arrow (a Brave Writer language arts program for 8 to 11 year olds).

I thought it might be fun to revisit opening hooks, this time involving J(9).

Setting up

We each brought to the table a pile of our favourite books. I quickly typed and printed a table listing the book titles.

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks
I left space for us to give each opening hook a score out of 10

What we did

We took turns reading the first few lines of our chosen books. After each opening we discussed how effective it was in drawing us in to want to read more.  I like that there are no right answers in this exercise – a nine-year-old’s opinion is as valid as an adult’s.

What kind of books can you use?

I didn’t impose any rules about the type of books the children brought to the table. J(9) listens to lots of good quality audiobooks, but for actual print reading he likes series like Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. (I’m just happy that he is reading and enjoying books. I know that eventually his visual reading skills will catch up.) Interestingly, we all gave J(9)’s “The Diary of Dennis the Menace” ten out of ten for its opening hook – the only book which received a perfect score from us all:

“This is the WORST day in the history of the universe ever … EVER!!! It’s so horrible I don’t think I can even write it down.”

The Diary of Dennis the Menace

J(9)’s other choices also scored highly. C(10) and I speculated later about how important it is that books for emerging boy readers have effective opening hooks!

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

Writing our own opening hooks

Next, we all wrote a few of our own opening hooks. Here’s one of C(10)’s:

“Alexander was falling. The wind tore at his hair and clothes and suddenly with a sickening thump he crashed to the ground.”

We played a verbal game of “opening hooks” later, on our dog walk. One person would make up a hook and then everyone took turns to continue the tale. We ended up with some very silly stories!


How does your favourite book begin?


More Brave Writer-inspired language arts posts


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up – Adventures in Homeschool

Finishing Strong #35 – Education Possible

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

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