Category Archives: Homeschool Styles

3 Things You Must Do if You’ve Just Pulled Your Child Out of School

how to homeschool

Three years ago last April I withdrew my five-year old son from school. Although I knew I’d done the right thing, I was as terrified as I was excited about the prospect of homeschooling.

I remember waiting in the playground one day, collecting my daughter who was then still at school. My friend Kathy asked where J(5) was. I had to repeat my mumbled words four times before Kathy could hear me say, “I’ve decided to home-educate him,” I was so reluctant to declare what I was doing out loud!

These days I sing from rooftops about our joyful homeschooling life.  If I could go back and give my younger self – the terrified me in the school playground that day – three pieces of advice, this is what they’d be.

1. Zoom out and take a long-term view

J(5) was in the top sets at a very academic private school, so as soon as I pulled him out I began worrying that I needed to keep up with the exact same phonics, handwriting and maths programmes he’d been following at school – otherwise, surely I’d be failing him?

But you just can’t compare school with the education a child gets at home. Finding the right homeschooling approach for your family takes time.

Don’t stress about your child getting behind. Give yourselves time to find your homeschooling feet.

God willing, your child has eighty or so productive years ahead of him. Isn’t it worth investing a few months to create the optimal learning environment for him?

2. Educate yourself

To distract you from worrying about what your child is or isn’t learning while you’re finding your homeschool groove, focus for a while on educating yourself.

There are many different ways of homeschooling and it will take time and experience to find the style that suits your family best. You can make a good start by reading about the different approaches.

Books about homeschooling

My original homeschooling philosophy was unschooling, a style we’ve now come back to.  But that doesn’t mean I regret any of the time I spent researching classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason,  project-based homeschooling or any of the other wonderful homeschooling methods available.

Successful homeschoolers take the best bits of lots of different styles and adapt them to suit their own families’ needs.

Some books to get you started:

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home

A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual

Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling

homeschooling books

Homeschoolers’ blogs

I’ve picked up more practical homeschooling tips from reading other homeschoolers’ blogs than from everywhere else put together. From experienced veterans to mums who are just starting out, everyone has something to offer.

A few places to find homeschooling blogs:

iHomeschool Network

Hip Homeschool Moms

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Homegrown Learners

Homeschool Help

Other homeschoolers

If at all possible, meet a few real life homeschoolers in your area.

When we started out we tried several local homeschool groups where both I and the children made lasting friends. The support these women provided in the early days – especially before my husband and extended family were fully on board with homeschooling – was a lifeline.

You might also want to join online forums to connect with specialist groups, whether that’s people in your part of the world or homeschoolers dealing with special needs like dyslexia, giftedness or Aspergers.

3. Prioritise your relationship with your child

The success of your homeschool will depend, more than anything, on your relationship with your child.

Whatever style of homeschooling you end up following, you will be your child’s learning mentor, and successful mentoring requires mutual trust and respect.

Use the months after your child leaves school to connect with him, doing things you both enjoy. Play games. Walk in the woods.  Read stories or paint together. Quietly observe what he does for fun. You’ll be gathering valuable information about his interests and learning style which will set you up for years of happy and successful homeschooling.

Don’t overplan. If you’re an extrovert and your child an introvert, or vice versa, try and find a balance between being out and about and quiet time at home. (If it’s you that’s the extrovert, consider topping up your social needs in the evenings or at weekends when someone else can look after your child.)

When the time feels right, share with your child a little of what you’ve been learning about homeschooling and chat about how homeschooling might look for you. {Tip – if he starts telling you what he’s just built on Minecraft every time you raise the subject of maths, he’s not ready for the conversation.}


Be kind to yourself. You will forget all your good intentions several times a week/day/hour. Auntie Joan will ask how homeschooling’s going and you will panic and give your kids a spelling test.

You’ll hear that your son’s old school friends are learning long multiplication and you will cancel the nature documentary you were going to watch together and pull out a maths workbook. You may yell. And cry. And threaten to send him back to school.

Don’t worry – kids are resilient. Your child survived school; she will survive your first few months as a homeschooling mum. {Mine did.}

Give yourself some space. Make a homeschooling toolbox to remind yourself of the positive reasons you took your child out of school. Begin afresh next day.

Before you know it your kids will be showing their school friends what fun long division is and you’ll be writing opinionated blog posts telling new homeschoolers what to do. 😉

Homeschool help  1

 For more tips on making the transition from school to home education, see:

Highhill Education – Finding Resources

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Switching Midstream

One Magnificent Obsession – Transitioning to Homeschooling

Every Bed of Roses – From School to Homeschool

3 things you must do if youve just pulled your child our of school - tips for new homeschoolers

I’m appreciatively linking up with Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners,  Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up, and the Hip Homeschool Hop.

Unschooling Snippets – September

unschooling september

Back in August I announced there would be “no more school time” round here – at least for a while – as we take another step towards unschooling.

I thought I’d post a monthly round-up of how unschooling is going. (Yes I know it’s mid-October already, but we went away for a week at the start of this month so I’m a bit behind. It’s a hard life ;-))

What’s been going well

C(9) and J(8) have been busy with their own projects – individually and together – and I don’t think I’ve suggested anything they haven’t wanted to do. (Hurray!)

We’ve followed our usual routine of copywork and maths, and we’ve done some fun history projects (more on these soon).

We’ve been reading aloud Understood Betsy, a delightful tale I first came across on a homeschool blog a couple of years ago. (Thank you, if it was yours!)

September school
Russian and Turkish history, film-making, copywork and J(8)’s experimental double-digit addition method

We made machines using air pressure and water pressure.

September science
Our hovercraft and hydraulic “theme park ride”

And I’ve been delighted to see C(9) spontaneously creating art again, which she hadn’t done for a while. As well as painting and art journaling, she excitedly seized some packaging the minute I unwrapped an Amazon delivery, to make into a room set. I love it when that happens!

Artistic September
Glow-in-the-dark Happy Birthday pictures for Daddy, and a junk-model room set

We had plenty of time to enjoy being outdoors.

September outdoors collage
Watersports, dog-walking, swing-sharing and dune-jumping!

And I had time to try out some new recipes I found at my new favourite food website, MOMables.

unschooling snippets - September
Pesto pizza rolls, Japanese food (at Wagamamas), pear sauce brownies, strawberry waffle-wiches and broccoli mini-muffins (don’t ask me how the muffins tasted. Sad story involving a cat and two dogs… At least I have a picture to show for my trouble!)

What I’m working on

This month I intend to be a bit more organised about planning maths and science projects. I have so many ideas in my head and on Evernote, but I need to plan specific days to actually suggest them to the children.

I’m also excited about beginning SQUILT, which looks beautifully simple to use, even for a musical ignoramus like me.

Changes I’m planning

I’ve suggested to the kids that on weekdays we try and hang out together a few hours a day in our family room, even if we’re each doing our own thing.

Without “school time” bringing us together, I’ve found there are days when I lose the kids to their rooms. While that can be quite appealing to the introvert in me, I think we might get more learning done if we spend at least some time together!


Please bear with me if posts are a bit sparse for the next few weeks – poor Fun Dad has just broken his ankle wakeboarding, so won’t be available for his usual cooking and chauffeuring back-up. Please send healing vibes for a fast recovery, for all our sakes!

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Homegrown Learners – Collage Friday

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers – Weekly Wrap-Up

Homeschool Mother’s Journal

Make Your Own Homeschooling Toolbox

unschooling toolbox

Every homeschooler has a set of values close to their heart which are the foundation of their homeschool. They were the reason we started homeschooling, and they’re the reason we sigh with contentment at the end of a happy day with our beloved children.

But what about the not-so-good days? For me, those are the days when – for one reason or other – I lose touch with my  values.

It might be tiredness, or illness, or busyness, or insecurity after reading a blog post about some super-effective homeschooling family… whatever the reason, when I disconnect from what’s most important to me, I’m not the homeschooling mum I set out to be.

unschooling toolbox

Joyfully Rejoicing

unschooling toolbox

Joyfully Rejoycing is one of the places I turn when I need inspiration. This website is a treasure-trove of information and advice about unschooling and respectful parenting.

So I was delighted to meet Joyce Fetterol, the woman behind Joyfully Rejoycing,  when she spoke at the LTTL Unschooling Conference in July.

I confess I got so caught up listening to Joyce speak that I forgot to take any notes to share with you {oops}.

However, thanks to Joyce’s generous gift to each delegate, I do have an idea to share.

Unschooling Toolbox

What Joyce gave us was an “Unschooling Toolbox”, comprising:

* 48 double-sided cards, each containing a wise and loving quotes about parenting or unschooling

* a magnet

* a small rock (from New England – very exotic to us Brits)

unschooling toolbox

At the conference we were invited to pick out some of our favourite cards and use them as conversation-starters with our neighbours. (People sitting next to us, that is. I’m not quite ready to take them round the houses on our street.)

This was a wonderful opportunity for the shyer among us to make new connections. It certainly reminded me of the value of real-life community.

How to use your toolbox

Joyce suggested storing the cards in a metal tea tin and selecting one at the start of each day, fixing it to the outside of the tin with the magnet.  (In my house, I think the fridge will be a safer place.)

The rock is to carry in your pocket to remind you of your chosen card.

I just love this simple way of connecting with my values amid the hustle and bustle of a homeschooling day.

Make your own Unschooling/Homeschooling Toolbox

It would be pretty easy to put together your own unschooling/homeschooling toolbox.  (If you don’t homeschool, how about a parenting toolbox?)

1. Collect a bunch of quotes that resonate with your parenting values. If you’re an unschooler, you could search for John Holt quotes like these or these, or visit Joyfully Rejoicing.

You could also use bible verses, or your favourite Charlotte Mason or  Emelia Reggio-inspired quotes …  whatever connects you with your values.

2. Print your quotes onto card and cut them out.

3. Grab a magnet, and pick a card to stick on your tea tin or refrigerator.

4. Pop a pebble in your pocket to remind you of your special words of wisdom throughout the day.

unschooling toolbox

Don’t forget to come back and let me know if you make an inspiring toolbox of your own!

unschooling toolbox

I’m linking up here:

Homeschool Mother’s Journal

Share it Saturday – Teach Beside Me

Hip Homeschool Hop 09/03/13

TGI Friday #93




Tales From an Unschooling Conference

unschooling conference

When I heard that the LTTL unschooling conference was going to be held twenty minutes away from where I live, I jumped at the chance to find out more about unschooling from the experts (like Sandra Dodd) and meet some real-life unschoolers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the highlights of the unschooling conference.

I’ll start today with the speaker who inspired me most –  Cathy Koetsier.  Cathy has unschooled her five children since 2002. Two of her adult children came along to the conference and shared their perspective on unschooling.

Cathy inspired me to trust my children to choose their own learning paths. She shared many examples of how well this has worked within her family. Here are just a few of my favourites.


Prior to 2002, Cathy homeschooled her children in a more traditional way. At that time, her 8-year-old daughter was struggling with maths so much that she was becoming withdrawn and depressed.

When Cathy discovered unschooling, after much soul-searching, she took the courageous decision to allow her daughter to quit maths. She was delighted to see the little girl quickly return to her former happy self.

Fast forward nine years –  this same young lady announced to her surprised mother that she wanted to sit maths GCSE (the public exams English schoolchildren take at around age 16). With the help of a tutor and a short but intense period of self-motivated hard work, Cathy’s daughter passed the exam with a B.

I wonder how differently that story might have turned out – for the young woman, and her whole family – if Cathy had persisted in requiring her daughter to study maths in a way that wasn’t working for her, back when she was eight?


Two of Cathy’s children struggled with reading because of dyslexia. Her son who came to the conference was one of them. He spoke appreciatively of the many hours his parents had spent reading aloud to him during his childhood.

Then, when he was about thirteen, his desire for book learning began to exceed his parents’ read-aloud-availability, and he taught himself to read fluently and accurately. He didn’t find the task easy, but thanks to his parents, he had grown to have a deep love of books, and by thirteen he had the self-motivation to take the necessary steps to overcome his learning difficulty.

unschooling conference
Photo by Tim Pierce

My own son J(8) was diagnosed by an educational psychologist as having mild dyslexia and last year we used the Toe By Toe multi-sensory reading programme recommended by the psychologist. I’ve heard many good reports about Toe By Toe, and I’ve seen improvements in J(8)’s reading since using it. Mostly our sessions are fine, but there have been occasions when they have induced in J(8) tears of frustration.

Cathy’s talk has given me the confidence to trust J(8) to know what is best for him. He loves books and he loves learning. Next year I intend to respect his wishes if there are days – or longer periods – when he doesn’t want to do Toe By Toe. He’ll get there in the end. Our relationship is more important than the rate at which he learns to decipher phonics.

Oh – and, to Cathy’s astonishment, her other dyslexic child was inspired by a love of mythology to take Classics GSCE at age 16 – she  passed!

Unschooling and family relationships

Cathy’s two grown children contributed richly to the conference discussion.

Cathy’s eldest daughter was unschooled for the shortest time. She commented that when the family homeschooling in a more conventional way, she envied her schooled friends their relationships with their mothers. When her friends had a problem with their teachers, they could talk it through with their mums. But while her mother was her homeschool teacher, Cathy’s eldest couldn’t do that – there just wasn’t the room for a normal mother-daughter relationship. When the family began unschooling, she said, “I got my mum back”.

To find out more about Cathy Koetsier’s unschooling experiences, visit her website, Christian Unschooling.

In my next post in this series I’ll share about Joyce Fetteroll‘s Unschooling Toolbox.

unschooling conference
Logo by Holly Dodd

Finding Our Way Back to Unschooling

unschooling in the woods

I’ve always been an unschooler at heart.

It’s how we started, three years ago when I realised I didn’t want my son cooped up in a gloomy classroom all day, learning what a bunch of politicians had decided every English five-year-old should know.

I wanted my children to have the freedom to explore this wondrous world for themselves. I wanted them to know the thrill of finding answers to questions that had had time to take seed and grow in their minds. I wanted them to have the space to dabble in their interests, and the time discover their passions. I wanted them to fall  in love with learning.

So my children came home, and for six months I let them be.

Once we were home-educators, I began a whole new learning adventure of my own.  I discovered The Well-Trained Mind, Charlotte Mason, Project-Based Homeschooling, Brave Writer and, of course, homeschool blogs.  

All these resources have contributed hugely to the richness of our homeschool. Without these forays into other styles we would not know the joys of The Story of the World, what makes a great living book, or the power of copywork to teach grammar, spelling and writing style.

I don’t regret a single step along the winding path that’s brought us to this point.

But now … it’s time to take the best of what we’ve learned, and find our unschooling groove.

In her beautiful post, Aiming for Love, Not Perfection, my unschooling friend Sue Elvis shares the John Holt quote that has always been at the heart of my homeschooling philosophy.

John Holt quote2

I don’t know yet exactly what unschooling’s going to look like for us.  I’m still calling it almost-unschooling, lest the unschooling police knock on my door and swipe the whiteboard out of my hand in the middle of a living maths problem.

I know there’ll still be science, and writing, and art, and history, and geography – I won’t be able to resist sharing my enthusiasm for these subjects with J(8) and C(9). Perhaps we’re still just eclectic homeschoolers. But, whatever our label, next year I’m counting on our homeschool bringing a few surprises.

I hope you’ll follow me on our almost-unschooling adventure!



To find out what’s new in the other Homeschool Help ladies’ homeschools, head over to:

Highhill Homeschool – Homeschool Teaching Style at Highhill Education

Hammock Tracks – Teaching style + clear goals = success

Every Bed of Roses – My Teaching Style Goals for 2013/14

Barefoot Hippie Girl – New Year, New Styles

One Magnificent Obsession – I call myself… Christian Classically Eclectic

I’m linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Homeschool Mother’s Journal – So You Call Yourself A Homeschooler?

Hip Homeschool Hop – 08/27/13


Making Up Our Homeschool Curriculum

living maths homeschool curriculum

This week’s Homeschool Help topic is “What’s new in your homeschool curriculum?” For us, the biggest change this year will be in our homeschooling style.

We’ve been moving in an increasingly interest-led direction ever since we began homeschooling. In fact, next year I’m declaring us almost-unschoolers.  “Almost,” because I still find it useful to think in terms of school subjects when I’m strewing and suggesting ideas.

In practice, our homeschool won’t look much different. The key for me is a shift in mindset.

Until now, my ideas for what we should be doing with our “school” time have taken priority. I have declared our school day started, and although my kids have loads of latitude, their plans have had to be fitted around our (my) routine.

Next term I intend to flip that around. We’ll still have a routine, but it will be fitted around what the children want to learn. And I’m hoping that the boundaries between what is and isn’t “school time” will blur.


After the success of our living maths experiment last term, we’ll be continuing to do our own thing with maths.

Living math literature - homeschool curriculum


The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

Pythagoras and the Ratios: A Math Adventure

Archimedes and the Door of Science

Mathematicians are People Too

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter

Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

Several of these we’ve already read, but we’ll explore the maths in greater detail.

Hands-On Maths Activities

Well be doing lots of hands-on maths like All Things Beautiful‘s co-ordinate graphing, and Highhill Homeschool’s density experiments.

And we’ll be playing with manipulatives like tangrams, pattern blocks, geoboards, and geometry instruments.

Open and challenging problems

This summer I’m taking Jo Boaler’s free Stanford University course How To Learn Math.  The course is reminding me how important it is for students to tackle open, challenging problems and have the opportunity to make mistakes.

Maths literature is a great source of open and challenging problems. I pre-read a book and talk about the problem with the children. We then read the book together later, but only after they’ve had plenty of time to work on their own solutions.

We’ll also use problems from maths websites, the Murderous Maths series, and books by Rob Eastaway and Edward Zaccaro.


We began last year using grammar and spelling books. The children politely played along for a while, but our little forays into structure are always short-lived. English is definitely a subject we do best unschooling with a relaxed routine.

Copywork and dictation – Copywork and dictation provide great handwriting, spelling, punctuation and grammar practice.

Both children choose their own copywork.

Poems copywork - homeschool curriculum
Recently C(9) has been taking her copywork from Great Poems (compiled by Kate Miles)

Freewriting – all three of us freewrite together. The only “rule” is to keep the pen moving until the timer beeps. Sometimes we use the same writing prompt, other times we follow our individual inspiration.

Poetry Teatime – whenever I bake, we gather the poetry books, light a candle, and read poetry around the table.

Creative writing coaching – C(9) works on her creative writing with an experienced home-educating mum friend who has helped her own children write using Brave Writer ideas.

These coaching sessions (and email exchanges) give C(9) a dedicated space to develop her writing style and improve her revision and editing skills. C(9) loves the sessions, and when she gets an email from Gaynor,  we see C(9) dashing up to her room with pen and paper, her iPad and a timer.

Reading – Both C(9) and J(8) love reading and listening to books. I let them read whatever they want to, and offer plenty of suggestions.

I choose audiobooks from Audible (with the children’s input) and they choose others from the library.

I’ll continue to offer Toe By Toe to help with J(8)’s mild dyslexia, but if he doesn’t want to do it on a particular day, I won’t insist. There were days last year when he became frustrated to the point of tears with these sessions, and nothing is worth that.

I’ve flicked back in the book to show J(8) how much his reading has progressed in the year since we started the program, and he says he wants to continue with it, so I’m going to trust him to work at the pace that’s right for him

I heard such inspiring stories from a dyslexic unschooled teenager recently that my anxieties about J(8)’s reading have reduced hugely. (More about this in my unschooling post in two weeks.)

Writing practice – Both children have their own blogs (J(8) dictates his). They also practice writing and grammar during games like Consequences and Mad Libs.


We’ll continue with our hands-on approach to science, with me offering “invitations to experiment” like those we did last year.

We’ll also continue nature Study at our local pond.

And I’ll be sure to make time for any scientific enquiries the children express an interest in.


I love doing art alongside the children. Next year I expect we’ll continue to do art projects from 52 Art Labs for Kids.

C(9) often takes inspiration from Art Attack (books or TV programmes).

I’d like to find more art ideas to inspire J(8) – perhaps involving Mario or Minecraft. Ideas welcome!

History & Geography

Last year we read the first half of The Story of the World, Volume 2. We only covered half the book because we took so many wonderful tangents. It was so liberating to realise we didn’t have to cover it all in one year!

Next term we’ll continue where we left off (right in the middle of Marco Polo’s travels). In keeping with my unschooling mindset, I’ll offer SOTW as a read-aloud and make suggestions for related activities, but I’ll be guided by the children’s interest and busyness with their own activities as to how and when we fit it in.

marco polo homeschool history - homeschool curriculum
Learning history and geography with Marco Polo

Foreign Language

French – both children take a weekly class with a native French teacher.

Latin – C(9) enjoys using Minimus: Starting Out in Latin.

More homeschool curriculum plans from the Homeschool Help team

Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Curriculum 2013-14

Savannah at Hammock TracksNew Curriculum – A Grammar Year

Chareen at Every Bed of Roses – Year ahead 2013-14

Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie GirlRadical Changes

Nicole at One Magnificent Obsession is grounded by old faithfuls, and inspired by the new and shiny at Something Old, Something New: Curriculum Edition

homeschool curriculum

Next week I’ll be giving you a peek into our learning space for the Homeschool Help topic, “What’s new in your schoolroom?”

homeschool curriculum



What Do You Have To Show For Your Child’s Learning?

evidence of learning
Warning: authentic evidence of learning can take over your home

In part 1 of this post I suggested five reasons why we might want to have something to show for our children’s learning:

1. Creating deepens understanding

2. As evidence of learning a process

3. As part of learning to share what we know

4.To set up a learning trail for a specific subject

5. To create a general learning trail

What this doesn’t mean is that if a child has nothing tangible to show for what he’s been doing, he hasn’t learned anything – we’re all inspired more by some ideas than others.

But from time to time I find myself looking around and wondering if my children are producing enough, overall, to meet the five good reasons.

Authentic evidence of learning
Authentic evidence of learning

What if they aren’t producing “enough”?

When I hear people say “I had my son write a report on …” or “I required five paragraphs about …” part of me goes off into a little reverie, imagining how pleasant homeschooling life would be if I could spend my time  designing wonderful projects in the knowledge that my children would cheerfully read and write everything I asked them to.

But this style of homeschooling just wouldn’t work around here. My children have to be inspired – not required – to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, or paint to paper). My role, as I see it, is to create an environment which nurtures the conditions for their creativity to flourish.  I strew resources, I make suggestions, I share what I’m doing, we chat about things over lunch.  Then I step back and give them space for their own authentic self-expression.

This step-back approach produces fewer tangible “products” than if we were using more curricula, or if I “required” assignments. What is produced is more valuable than dozens of neatly bound fill-in-the-gaps “notebook” pages.

But there are times when I wonder if they are creating enough. My knee-jerk response in the past might have been to insist that they make a notebook page for the next history topic we cover or science experiment we do. But these days I try to step back and look at why I’m feeling uneasy about the lack of written work. Then I consider how, as my children’s learning mentor, I can help meet these underlying needs.

If I want to encourage them to deepen their learning

I can ask questions, write down and display their questions (or suggest that they do so) and chat about their projects. Sometimes these conversations lead to things being created, sometimes they don’t. Either way, their learning deepens,  or I satisfy myself that they’ve taken the subject as far as they want to for now.

Do my children need to learn a specific process or skills?

Whatever work our children do as adults, it will involve sharing their knowledge, and they need opportunities to practise ways of doing this.

There are lots of processes and skills I want my children to learn, but I don’t see it as my role to dictate exactly when and how they do so.  Instead, I make sure they know that the skill exists and that there are interesting ways of learning it. I highlight examples of how useful it is to have the skill, and I look for a variety of opportunities for them to practise it.

Then I remind myself to trust their natural learning process. There are so many ways to learn in a lifetime.  

Do I want to create a learning trail for a particular subject?

If I know we’re going to come back to a topic at a later date, I might suggest making a lapbook or notebook page. But if the children are busy with ideas of their own, I don’t insist. I take photos and journal notes, maybe write a blog post. This will help me remind them what they did next time we visit the topic.

Is our general learning trail looking a bit sparse?

If I find myself wondering this, it’s time to step back and get some perspective.  I take stock of what my children have learned over the years. I thumb through our “Adventures in Home Education” photo albums. I look back through my blog and my journal. I remind the children of questions and ideas they’ve had. I do whatever it takes to remind myself to trust the natural learning process.

old-style evidence of learning
Old-style evidence of learning

As I said in part 1, the title of this post is a question because this is an ongoing enquiry for me. I’ve tried to summarise my own current “best practices”, but  I admit to breaking all my own “rules” fairly regularly! (And that’s okay – I’m learning here, too.)

Do you ever wonder if your children should be “producing” more? How do you encourage them (or reassure yourself)?

What Do You Have to Show for Your Child’s Learning? (part 1)

Homeschooling Photo Journals
“Home Education Adventures” photo albums

Back when we were using curriculum in our homeschool, it was easy to point to the “evidence” that showed that my children were learning.  As we made our way through history, science and maths materials, they would fill in the gaps in worksheets “notebook pages” or assemble pre-fabricated lapbooks, and at the end of the term I collated their “learning” into neatly labelled volumes ready to wave at imaginary doubters – “See! I did teach my children science!”

But now that we’ve moved to a more interest-led homeschooling style, what do I have to show for their learning? If my daughter engages in an activity but doesn’t have anything tangible to show at the end of it, does that mean she hasn’t learned anything? Of course not.  But  that doesn’t mean that tangible outcomes don’t contribute to learning. As Lori Pickert puts it,

Your child represents his learning by making, and he learns while making.”

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

There seem to be good and bad reasons for wanting our children to produce “something to show” for learning.  Representations created for good reasons deepen learning.  Bad reasons, on the other hand, may not have anything to do with our children’s learning, but instead stem from some extraneous factor like our own anxiety.

(Note that I am not talking here about compliance with homeschool reporting laws, which we’re lucky enough not to be subject to.)

5 Good Reasons to Have Something to Show for Learning

1. Creating deepens understanding

There are different levels of learning, all appropriate at different times.  For example, I read lots of books about homeschooling, but I don’t engage with them all in the same way.   I might adopt a couple of ideas from one book and then put it back on the shelf.  I might talk about another with my husband or homeschooling friends.  If I’m really inspired by a book, I might take notes from it or write a review.  Each of those actions represents a different level of engagement with the subject matter, and in general the more I have to “show” for what I’ve learned, the better I understand it. But that doesn’t mean I should review every book I read – some ideas inspire me more than others.

When C(8) was doing a project on electricity, she learned about Benjamin Franklin, lightening, circuits and electromotors. Of all the things I might have expected her to create, perhaps the least likely was an illustrated essay about electrons. She chose to create the piece as a way of consolidating her understanding and to share what she’d learned.  Like me, she learns best when she’s free to choose how deeply to engage with each subject.

2. As a by-product of learning a process

When we’re learning to write, we might produce stories and poems.  When we’re learning to paint, we create artwork.  But when we get hung up on the form of these “products”, we interfere with the learning. Sometimes it’s about the process, not the end result.

Children need time to master materials before they can work purposefully.”

Lori Pickert

Young children experiment with paints and paper because it’s fun.  Most adults never touch art or craft materials.  They’ve become so focused on the idea of the perfect product that they’ve forgotten how to play. They never write for pleasure because when they try, they discover their writing sucks compared with what they enjoy reading. Of course it does – to improve our writing skills, we need to spend time engaging with words without the pressure to produce the perfect novel.

Children need time and space to learn how to use materials without being required to produce defined outcomes. Then when they have something authentic to share, they’ll have the skills to produce representations that are pleasing to them.

3. Sharing what we know

Making representions teaches children to share what they’ve learned – a skill they’ll call on throughout their lives.  Whatever work our children choose to do as adults, it will involve sharing their knowledge and skills with others. They might share orally or in written form, using video or pictures or some other art form, and sharing might be live in person or asynchronously. As children, they need opportunities to practise different types of sharing, to build confidence and help them discover what they enjoy.

C(9) recently decided to post some of her paintings on her blog. She’s learning the communication and technical skills involved compiling and publishing blog posts, as well as sharing her art.  J(7) saw what C(9) was doing and wanted to start his own blog. He writes (dictates) about his favourite computer games. Both children were intrinsically motivated to represent their learning in a form they could share with other people.

3. To create a learning trail for a specific subject

When we recently studied Japanese history, I got out the lapbooks my children made when we looked at modern Japan last year. The lapbooks were wonderful visual reminders of what they had learned before. Connections were made at a faster rate; they were more quickly engaged.

It was great that in that instance we were able to look back on material made by the children. But that’s not a reason to insist that they create something in relation to everything they learn. Sometimes, as their mentor, I need to find other ways to remind them what came before. (More about this in part 2.)

4. To create a general learning trail

There’s value in being able to look back over past learning.  We get a sense of satisfaction, fun is re-lived, and learning is reviewed. While I think this is an authentic reason for wanting to have “something to show” for learning, of all the reasons I find this one the most susceptible to misappropriation.

If I look around my home and notice a lack of neatly handwritten notebooks on our shelf, anxiety can creep in about whether I’m fulfilling my responsibilities. If I’m not careful, this is when I’m prone to jump in and interfere with my children’s natural learning process by insisting they write something of my choosing.

I guard against this tendency by taking plenty of photos and keeping a learning journal. Yes, I want my children to have something to look back on to remind them of all the things they’ve learned, but in my experience the more intrinsically motivated a child has been to create a piece of work, the more likely it is to be treasured and reviewed.

What if they aren’t producing enough?

In part 2,  I’ll share some strategies I use when I get to worrying that I’m not seeing enough homeschooling “results”.

I also emphasise by way of disclaimer that this is an ongoing enquiry for me: I don’t have all the answers, I’m just sharing what’s working for us at the moment. And I most definitely welcome your thoughts and experiences on the subject – I need all the help I can get!

How to Make an Art Journal Page

art journalling
C(9)’s first art journal page


An art journal is a journal or diary that has a strong visual element to it, an expression of your artistic creativity and imagination …

It’s a journal for using your art to express your memories, dreams, and thoughts.

How you create the images, and what type of imagery you make, is entirely a matter of personal choice. There are no rules. You can paint or draw, use pen and ink, photos, collage, doodle, stickers… anything and everything.

Marion Boddy-Evans

Doesn’t art journalling sound wonderful? Inspired by this beautiful post at Notes on Paper on how to make an art journal page, I was eager to try it out.

C(9) and I had the perfect opportunity to do so on Friday while J(7) was on a sports camp.  I think J will enjoy art journalling too, but at his age he’ll be most inspired by seeing tangible examples before he does it himself.

C and I grabbed a cheap notebook each, and followed Julie’s steps:

Step 1: Prepare a base layer with mixed papers.

We used pages torn from an old novel and other scraps, and glued them randomly to the page.

Art Journalling
Prepare a base layer with mixed papers

Step 2: Gather images from magazines and catalogues to create a theme for your page.  Glue them onto your page.

art journalling - theme images
Add images to create a theme

Step 3: Add any extra scraps of paper etc in colours which complement the images you’ve chosen.

Step 4: Flick through your magazines and catalogues again, this time looking for words that suit the mood of your page. Maybe put together the words in new ways. Overlap words and images to enhance your composition.

Step 5: Cover some of the text with a thin layer of white acrylic paint, using a glue spreader.

This was my favourite step. Doing it made me feel like a “real” artist!

Art journalling - acrylic paint
Cover some text with white acryllic paint

Step 6: Flick paint at the page! Notes on Paper suggests ink, but as we didn’t have any, paint worked fine.  We used a pipette.  Best do this with a sheet of newspaper underneath, we found out!

Art journalling  flicking paint collage
Spatter the page with ink!

Step 7: Add stickers.

Julie mentions these type of stickers, which look very tempting. We used stickers we’ve collected over the years, mostly from kids’ comics.

art journalling - stickers.JPG
Add doodles and stickers

Step 8: Doodle on your page, especially around the words. I love how Julie describes this stage: “Let’s just call a spade a spade and say it’s scribbling with gel pens.”

Step 9: Write your thoughts on the page. (The journalling part.) We followed Julie’s genius suggestion and wrote on strips of correction tape. (This was the one resource I bought for the project.)

Step 10: Date your journal page. We copied Julie and used a date stamp.

art journalling - date stamp
Date your journal page

After she’d finished her page C leapt around the house joyfully exclaiming “this is the best day EVER! I LOVE art journalling!”  Since then she’s made several more journal pages and says she wants to do art journalling as a project.

A success, I think!

art journaling 2
My first art journal page

If you’re inspired to try art journalling,  head over to Notes on Paper for lots of examples, ideas and exquisite photos.

Update: to see how our art journaling style has evolved – and how boys can art journal too – see Art Journaling for Boys and Girls.


Children's Art journal pages collage
Art journal pages by C(9) – shared with her permission


For more art and craft ideas, visit Hobbies and Handicrafts at Highhill Education.  For more hands-on projects, visit Tactile Tuesday at Educating Laytons.


Highhill Homeschool

how to make an art journal page - navigating by joy

Why Did We Choose Homeschooling?


I don’t think I’ve ever written here about how we came to homeschool, so when Savannah kindly offered to interview me for the “Who Homeschools?” feature at Hammock Tracks, it seemed like a good opportunity to tell our story.

How did you end up deciding to teach your children at home? Have they always been homeschooled or did they attend school outside the home, at one point?

Four years ago I’d never heard of home schooling. Then our intense, bright five year-old daughter, C, moved from nursery to full-time private school, and a few issues arose. I enlisted the help of the wonderful parenting coach, Scott Noelle, and it was through Scott that I had my first glimpse into the world of home schooling.

At that stage, however, I didn’t know anyone other than Scott who homeschooled (and he lived 5000 miles away!), and things settled down with our daughter, so we didn’t take the idea any further.

Why our son Left School

Then the following year our younger child, J, started school. We didn’t know at the time that he had sensory processing issues, but after two terms I could see that if J was going to fit in at school, it was going to be at a heavy personal cost to him.

The last straw was when J, who had just turned five, came home in tears because “I’m not going to be allowed to do any of the fun stuff for the rest of the week”. Outside his classroom was a beautiful, sensory, outdoor play area that the children were allowed to use for short periods at a time. On gentle questioning I discovered that because J had refused to come in from the outdoor play area as soon as he was told to, he was going to be punished by being kept inside for the rest of that sunny May week.

That just wasn’t the environment I wanted my little boy spending thirty-four hours a week in.  So we brought him home.  We haven’t looked back.

How our Daughter Followed

By that point our eldest, C, was coping well with school, but after meeting up with a few of our home-educated friends over the summer, she decided to join us at home. She said, “I just want to do one term in year 2 [grade 1], because I like the teacher and I want to be in the nativity play”. 🙂

That whole term I wondered if she would change her mind, but she didn’t. She had a great final term, starred in the Christmas play, and left.  I love that she made the choice to come home and was able to do so on her own terms.

What is your goal in home educating your children?

… to continue reading, head over to Hammock Tracks for the full interview.

Hammock Tracks’ “Who Homeschools?” feature also contains the stories of many other homeschooling families. We’re a diverse and fascinating bunch – one of the many reasons I love this life!

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