Category Archives: Unschooling

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!

Deschooling Myself

We’re having a quiet week. I’m enjoying feeling well rested but a few times I’ve caught myself  feeling anxious that we should be doing more.

I know from experience that using the word should word is a sure sign I’ve disappeared from the joyful here and now and into too much thinking – never a good place for me to hang out for long.

We spent most of yesterday at home apart from a visit to the park.  C and J spent the rest of the day drifting happily between the garden and house. From time to time they’d ask me for things, but they mostly contentedly did their own thing.

Looking back, it’s obvious the kids had had a great day (and of course learned heaps). But  that  insecure part of me (the schooled part) couldn’t help seeking reassurance.

‘Have you had a good day?’ I asked C at bedtime.

‘I’ve had a perfect day,’ she replied.

Then she  added, ‘No, not perfect.  If it had been perfect I wouldn’t have had time to create’ (C’s word for the many things she does at the craft desk).

One of the creations she had time to make in her happily imperfect day – this Be Happy sandwich board – is a handy visual reminder for me!

A 'Be Happy' sign - deschooling

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