Category Archives: Random Ramblings

Is it Okay to Make Mistakes?

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“Oh dear,” I thought as I looked at the model magic teddy bear C(12) had made the day before. Deep cracks had appeared in it overnight. I hoped she wouldn’t be too upset that her beautiful work had been damaged.

The cracks might have formed because our Model Magic* was so old. I bought it when my children first left school over five years ago. Back then I was anxious that they shouldn’t miss out on any experiences as a result of being home-educated (they’d had Model Magic at school, so they must have it at home!)

But perhaps because they were busy doing other things, or maybe  because I was always waiting for the perfect project, the Model Magic stayed in our cupboard until I came across it during a clear-out.


Later, I found C(12) happily dipping a paintbrush into a pot of red acrylic paint. She was painting the deep cracks in her teddy bear, making them into bloodstains!

C(12) often paints, but usually on paper. “I like painting in real cracks – you don’t have to add shadows,” she happily explained.  “Do you like the way I turned my sculpture into a Beautiful Oops?”

Beautiful Oops* is a sweet little book we have about how mistakes can be transformed into opportunities.

Beautiful Oops

Jo Boaler,  a Stanford University maths professor who’s passionate about giving children confidence in maths, talks a lot about the value of making mistakes.  Her website YouCubed recently released a video for students about how important mistakes are for learning.

J(10) hates making mistakes. I show him the YouCubed video. “Don’t you think it’s amazing that our brains literally grow every time we make a mistake?” I say. ” When we get the wrong answer, then try to figure out our mistake, we learn even more than if we’d got it right in the first place!” J(10) isn’t convinced yet, but I’ll keep trying.

I’m not sure I’d want C(12)’s gruesome bear in my bedroom, but she’s very pleased with it.  She’s put it in our Halloween basket with our cute rock monsters. 🙂

“I’d like to write a blog post about your beautiful oops,” I say to C(12). “The trouble is, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing people are interested in reading. They seem to be more interested in our science experiments.”

“Why don’t you write it anyway?” C(12) smiles.  “Your blog is for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

* * *

I’ll leave you with sneak peek at something I’ve been working on over the last few weeks…

Laugh, Love, Learn blog about overexcitabilities

I’ll write more about my new blog Laugh, Love, Learn soon, but for now here’s a taster – I’d love you to head over and check it out.

* * *

* Affiliate link to something you might like as much as I do.

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

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.

Christmas lunch
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.

Seven Revealing Facts About Myself

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Thank you, Sue, for nominating me for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Sue’s grace, generosity and gentle wisdom shine through every post she writes on her blog, Stories of an Unschooling Family. She has been my biggest inspiration in our journey towards unschooling.

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I read Sue’s Seven Revealing Facts About Myself with the same joy I read everything she writes. When I came to the end of her post and saw that she’d nominated me, I was very honoured.

It was especially nice to be thought of by Sue because I’ve been offline most of this summer, enjoying beach and (extended) family time. I’m sure my blogging friends must think me very rude not commenting on their lovely blog posts. Tomorrow we leave from Venice on a European cruise with my husband’s family. I like cruises because you get to dress up in the evenings, which is something I rarely do. The photo above is from the last cruise my parents-in-law took us on. When we get home I’m looking forward to catching up with all my blogging friends again.

Here are my seven facts about myself:

* I wasn’t brought up in any religion but I’ve always believed in God. Seven years ago I discovered a teacher whose work resonates with me deeply.  I don’t go to church but I meditate every day. My faith is at the heart of everything I do, including how I raise my children.

* Two years ago I created another blog to write about more personal things, like my faith, but I’ve never posted there. One day I will have the courage to do so!

* I look and dress like an average English woman but in fact I am in a very small minority. I have an unusual faith, an unusual IQ, I unschool my kids and – despite being very gregarious – I am extremely introverted (I need lots of time by myself to recharge). My close friends tend to be intense extroverts who love me enough to keep phoning even though I rarely phone them.

At my cousin’s wedding in July

* My ideal evening would be a meal and a glass of wine in a quiet restaurant with a good friend, leaping straight into joyful conversation about life, the universe and everything without any preliminary smalltalk. That would be once every fortnight or so. The other 13 nights I’d be at home on the sofa with my husband.

* I love walking my dogs on the beach while listening to loud music. Especially if it’s blowing a gale, when I can dance on the sand and sing out loud without anyone thinking I’m crazy.

Beach walk
Beach selfie taken on Tuesday – spot the ear muffs and the windswept hair!

* I love getting older. I’ve been happier every single year of my life. Last week I turned 44. Isn’t 44 a great number?

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My 44th birthday last week (Left to right – my brother-law, husband, J(9), C(10), nephew, mum and sister.)

* I don’t think you’re ever too old to follow your dreams. As a child I longed to learn a musical instrument but my (single) mum never had the money for lessons. This year I took my very first music exam – grade 4 classical guitar. I passed with merit, and got six marks fewer than C(10) who took the same exam. I was glad it was that way round!

Here are the guidelines (it’s meant to be “rules” but I can’t bring myself to write rules on my blog. Probably just as well, as I’ve broken a few).

  • Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Nominations. I am inspired by many homeschooling blogs. Sue already nominated several of my favourites. Here are a few of the others.

Phyllis from All Things Beautiful

Karen from Homeschool Girls

Carol from Learning With Boys

Prudence from Adventures in Home Schooling

Ingi from Defying Gravity


Thank you again, Sue, for nominating me. I’ve enjoyed writing this post!


Easter Holidays

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We had a fabulous Easter break. The weather was mild and sunny. Not hot, but temperatures of about 16C (60F) didn’t stop my kids getting wet at every opportunity.

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We discovered this idyllic spot at the end of last summer. It’s 5 minutes from where we live so we will be going there a lot this year (Not exactly sure why I numbered these photos. I’m sure you can figure out what’s going on)
Birthday Collage
J(8) became J(9)

(1) This birthday banner was inspired by the Colwell Crew – thanks Angie,  J(9) loved it.

(2) & (4) J(9) asked for a cake based on his Minecraft skin so C(9) made him a delicious chocolate fudge cake topped with his Minecraft skin drawn using GIMP and printed on rice paper. (I’m not sure how edible printer ink is but mostly we peeled it off before we ate!)   (3) A birthday visit to Legoland.

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A lovely day out at Virginia Water. More paddling – and I was there too 🙂
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Easter at the beach (1) C(10) enjoying the quiet beach early one morning (2) hunting for Easter Eggs

This week we’re easing into the summer term (UK schools don’t break up for summer until mid July). The way we homeschool, that doesn’t mean a huge change.

During “term time” there’s more reading aloud, board games and mulling over maths puzzles. I strew, and I suggest copywork and poetry tea. We do science experiments.

But on days like today when both my children are busy writing fan fiction on their computers, I feel so thankful we don’t have a set agenda and I can leave them to follow their inspiration while I share a few of my favourite memories with you.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter break, too.


I’m appreciatively linking up with:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – puppies, watersports & a birthday

It’s been a fortnight of pure fun around here.

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J(8) had his first wakeboarding lesson. Can you tell that he quite liked it?

Not to be outdone, C(9) decided it was time to grab Mummy’s surfboard and hit the waves. (I have made it very clear that it is still my surfboard!)

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C(9) surfing

We drove down to Wales to collect our new puppy…

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New puppy, Branwell. The children chose his name after Branwell Bronte, the chief genii in “The Return of the Twelves”

 Our older dog, Harvey, was a bit thrown when puppy left the breeder’s house with us.

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“What the…?!”


C(9) is being a wonderful second time puppy-mummy. I hardly know we’ve got him which frees me up to lavish lots of fuss on Harvey, who in turn is shaping up to be a very good big brother.

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Settling into the crook of Daddy’s arm
Homeschool project butterflies
Our butterflies emerged. They seemed to speed through the transformation process thanks to the warm weather we’ve been having.

And I celebrated a birthday…

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My sweet sister gave me this lovely dress


Walk in the woods
As the birthday girl I got to choose the dog walk  – my favourite woods of course (no swings for miles!)

Then a lovely dinner out and birthday cake at home with my gorgeous family.

My birthday collage
Do you like my birthday hat? C(9) decorated it for me 🙂

It’s been a wonderful week. 🙂





How To Make Sure Your Kids Eat Healthily When You Don’t Enjoy Cooking

making pancakes

I don’t really like cooking. Sometimes I feel guilty about this – surely taking delight in serving up delicious home-cooked meals is a natural part of being a good mum? Then I remind myself that just because my own passions happen to lie elsewhere doesn’t mean I love my kids any less.

It seems unlikely that I’m the only homeschooling mum who feels this way, so this post is for anyone else out there who’s trying to make sure their children eat a healthy, balanced diet while spending the minimum amount of time in the kitchen. I’ll share my tips, and I’d love to hear yours.


When it comes to cooking, I want:

1. To make sure my family eat regular balanced meals

2. To provide access to healthy snacks

3. To make sure we all eat the better part of our five portions of fruit or vegetables a day

4. To encourage healthy eating habits for life

5. For my children to be able to cook for themselves by the time they leave home

Cool tools

Being very absent-minded right-brained and with a slightly crazy schedule, I need all the help I can get when it comes to getting food onto the table.

Apps are life-savers for the organisationally-challenged, and one in particular – MealBoard – has made a huge difference to me when it comes to cooking for my family.  (MealBoard isn’t available for android phones, but Food Planner seems very similar.  Or you could use an offline menu-planner, if you’re organised enough to keep track of paper.)


I’ve used MealBoard to plan my menus and shopping lists every week for the last three years. It cuts down the amount of time I have to spend planning our meals to about ten minutes a week – yay!

You do have to invest a bit of time at the start, loading your favourite recipes onto MealBoard. You can do this manually on the phone or a computer, or you can import recipes from fifteen different websites, including AllRecipes and BBC Good Food.

Balanced meals and family favourites

You can group recipes into your own categories. I categorise by:

  • food type (poultry,  pasta …)
  • meal type (lunch,  snacks, side dishes, crockpot meals …) and
  • people  (C(9)’s favourites, J(8)’s favourites …)

This means I can easily pull together a week’s worth of balanced menus and make sure everyone gets their favourite dish from time to time. I can plan crockpot meals for days we’re home late, and meals that require more preparation for less busy days.

MealBoard Screenshot - homeschool menu planning

Shopping lists

Once you’ve loaded your recipes, MealBoard lets you create a weekly shopping list at the touch of a button.

MealBoard Screenshot - homeschool menu planning

If I notice I’m running low on something mid-week – flour, say –  I can add it manually to my MealBoard shopping list.

Recycling menus

If you’re really clever, you can use MealBoard to cut down menu-planning even more by using templates. You can save and re-use as many menu plans (each up to a month long) as you like. So you could rotate two monthly menus, or save menus by month to reflect seasonal preferences.

I don’t use this function so much, perhaps because my kids’ tastes are still changing so our menus are gradually becoming more sophisticated. (Hey, did I just use the word “sophisticated” in a post about me cooking?)

Grocery Shopping

I do almost all my food shopping online at Tesco.  This does mean I sometimes miss out on tempting seasonal produce, but it does mean less waste and saves a huge amount of time.

I create my week’s grocery list on MealBoard, add in “My Usuals” stored on the Tesco website, and make sure I schedule delivery for when everyone’s around to help put away.

Teaching the children to cook

Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither of my children has shown much interest in cooking so far, but I’m encouraging them in small ways. C(9) makes her own sandwich for lunch most days, and she can also poach, boil and scramble eggs.

J(8)’s favourite lunch is rice and peas, which he can make but only by standing on a stool to reach our microwave, so I’m waiting until he’s a bit taller to expect him to get his own lunch daily!

Learning to cook at our home education centre
Learning to cook at our home education centre

The children also cook at our weekly home education centre visits, and – strangely – their French class!


When we switched to a low-gluten, sugar and dairy diet to help with J(8)’s sensory processing issues, pancakes (made with gluten-free flour and goats milk) became a favourite homeschool snack.

Both children enjoy making a bowl of pancake batter, and C(9) will even cook the whole stack for us to enjoy together while reading aloud. We serve our pancakes with fresh fruit, ham and sometimes a drop of agave nectar.

Muffin tin lunches
Muffin tin meals make food fun

To answer the frequent cries of “I’m hungry!” I make sure there’s always plenty of fruit available – usually apples, satsumas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, melon and mango or pineapple.


I’m a big fan of the Brave Writer lifestyle, which involves a lot of cakes and cookies. Given my non-fondness for cooking, if it weren’t for our family’s dietary restrictions I probably wouldn’t bake our own – but even I can see that a warm home-baked cake on the table is much nicer than a shop-bought one. When I’m organised, I make a cake on a Sunday for us to enjoy over poetry teas, read-alouds and free-writes throughout the week.

poetry teatime
Poetry teatime with home-made gluten-free sugar-free  lemon cake

Our food routine

Fruit on a stick
Fruit on a stick

Breakfast – everyone gets their own (sugar-free) cereal, usually oat cereal or oatabix with goats’ milk

Mid-Morning snack – fruit or (gluten & sugar-free) pancakes

Lunch – C(9) makes her own sandwich. I make soup for myself and rice with vegetables for J(8)

Afternoon snack – fruit. If I remember, I get out the bamboo skewers. (What is it about eating  it off a stick that makes food more fun?)

Dinner – as dinner time approaches, I check MealBoard to see what’s on the menu. (I love how this makes me feel like someone else has done the planning for me.)

We eat all together at the table whenever we can. At weekends, my lovely husband (who likes cooking about as much as me) cooks a roast on Sunday and pizza, fajitas or burgers on Saturday.

Pancetta & veggies to serve with pasta - quick and nutritious - my kind of meal!
Pancetta & veggies to serve with pasta – quick and nutritious – my kind of meal!

I’d like to enjoy cooking.  I’ve tried many times over the years to inspire myself into getting better at it, but nothing seems to stick. It’s not that I dislike anything in particular about the process, it’s that there are so many other things I want to be doing instead.

During one of my attempts to enjoy cooking more,  I excitedly told my friend Diana (a mum of three, whose gorgeous meals cooked from scratch leave me in awe), “I’m learning to cook!”. She commented politely that in the twenty years she’d known me, I’d repeatedly described myself as “learning to cook”, and all the while I’d been managing to put food on the table. So perhaps I should acknowledge myself for what I do achieve!

More food for thought

Muffin Tin Monday – fun and creative meal and snack ideas

It’s Not About Nutrition – a blog about encouraging healthy eating habits. I’ve subscribed for a while and I like the message

Jamie’s Food Revolution –  A cookbook for beginners that even I can follow. (The UK edition is Jamie’s Ministry of Food)


More from the Homeschool Help team

For more inspiration on the subject of juggling cooking and homeschooling, check out these posts from the other members of the Homeschool Help team.

Cooking Tips For The Homeschool Mom  Savannah at Hammock Tracks says “Even if you don’t enjoy cooking, there are ways to conquer the “What’s for dinner?” question without calling Dominos!”

Nutritious Meals, Quick! Hwee at The Tiger Chronicle shares 3 simple tips that have helped her prepare nutritious family meals every day

Realistic Meal Planning For Homeschool Mums Nicole at One Magnificent Obsession on how to avoid eating at Chik Fil A every night

Strategies For Cooking Healthy For A Family Julie at Highhill Homeschool shares 5 strategies for preparing healthy meals when time is an issue

Plating Up Erin at Seven Little Australians says the key for her family to successfully juggling cooking is organisation

Hippie Method: Food Philosophied Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie Girl writes about how she makes easy, delicious (relatively) healthy food from scratch – almost every day

Coming up from the Homeschool Help team

Next week the Homeschool Help team will be talking about homeschool co-ops – why? or why not?




Homeschool Inspiration

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Before Blogs

During the first year after my children left school I read books about home-schooling.  The year after that, I discovered Yahoo groups, forums and online curricula.  And then … I discovered homeschool blogs. A world of brilliant, generous women tirelessly sharing their experiences and ideas.

From Salt Dough to Vermeer

These women transformed my family’s experience of homeschooling. They introduced me to a wealth of homeschooling styles, from which I put together our own eclectic educational smorgasbord. They reminded me that one bad day didn’t mean I had to send my kids back to school. They made me laugh. They educated me – about everything from salt dough maps to Vermeer. They inspired me to try new things.  They gave me confidence.

And they continue to do so. Every day there’s another experiment to try, another art medium to dabble in, a new way to explain prime factors to my young artist, another reassuring story from someone whose homeschooled kids grew up just fine.

Thank You

These women inspired me to join the Great Homeschool Conversation myself – to make my own small contribution to the abundance of free resources anyone with an internet connection can access. So when Phyllis at All Things Beautiful left me a note that she’d given me a blogging award, and I saw my name nestled between my blogging heroines, I cannot describe how honoured I felt.  Thank you, Phyllis, and thank you to everyone who participates in this life-enhancing conversation – as bloggers, commenters and readers. Aren’t we blessed?

Very inspiring blogger award11

Passing It On

I’m a little shy about passing on the award – I don’t know much about the etiquette of such things.  But Phyllis suggested that the award be passed on, as an act of kindness, so I am nominating:

Stories of an Unschooling Family – Sue Elvis is a wonderful writer who shares stories about her large family’s unschooling lifestyle in a way that inspires me whenever I dip into her blog. Sue’s words are truly life-enhancing.

North Surrey Midwife – my friend Angela is an independent midwife (and homeschooling mum) who is passionate about empowering women to give birth the way they want and deserve. I had a wonderful home waterbirth with J(7)  thanks to independent midwifery, which is currently under threat here in the UK.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Welcome To Our New Home


Navigating By Joy has just moved here – I’m so glad you’ve found us at our new home!

If you’re an email subscriber, you might want to re-subscribe to this new site to make sure you don’t miss any posts.

I’ve set up an automatic redirection from the old site, which is causing a few problems on Pinterest.  If anyone knows how to let Pinterest know I’m no threat to the world, please drop me a comment!

Thanks to my wonderful husband for taking care of the scary technical stuff.  And thank you for following me!

How To Make That “First Week Of (Homeschool) Term” Feeling Last All Term

There’s something about the beginning of a new term that brings out the best in everyone.  In our house we all enjoyed the holidays enormously and although none of us was especially looking forward to getting back to “work”, we  had a wonderful first week of term.  And I know we’re not the only ones.  Homeschooling families across the world have begun 2012 learning lots, enjoying each other’s company, and basking in that “fresh start” feeling.

I’m tempted to jump straight into talking about some of the fun things we’ve been doing and the positive changes we’ve made to our schedule, room arrangements and curriculum, but before I do, I want to have a closer look at where that “fresh new term” feeling comes from to see if I can make it last another week – maybe even a whole term…!


Many people, me included, crave routine and yet thrive on change.  The trick is to find a balance between the two and to set things up so that change is built into the routine. This is maybe why some homeschoolers take frequent weeks off and make up the time with shorter summer breaks. It works best for us not to do schoolwork public school holidays as we use the holidays to catch up with friends and do sports courses.  But there are other ways to build change into the routine.

Building change into the school term

1.      Switch around subjects

I aim to organise our schedule so that we do a balanced variety of subjects within each school day and over a week.  No two days or weeks are exactly the same, but once I find a schedule that works I can be reluctant to to give it up – I never want to stop for the holidays, for example! But this term I’m going to try taking a few days or even a week out every now and then to change the pace completely. This could be a great opportunity to try some projects or unit studies you’ve been wanting to try.  On my list, for example, there’s:

    • “Virtual travel” (geography) – geography isn’t a regular part of our curriculum right now (except where overlaps with history), so I’d love for us to spend a few days taking a virtual journey around the world (map work, computer research, living books, cooking, languages, lapbooking etc)
    • Art & crafts – bigger projects, or learning new skills like sewing or knitting
    • Field trips – field trips we can’t easily make in one day, maybe including an overnight stay with friends or relatives
    • Sports – having an ice skating lesson, booking a family climbing wall session or just taking rackets and balls to the local tennis courts.  Making time for those sports that aren’t in our regular (busy) weekly schedule and so tend to get overlooked.

2.      Take vacations

If money allows, take off for a week in the middle of term.  As homeschoolers we can take advantage of cheaper travel and accommodation while other families are bound by school dates.  The prices at Centerparcs in the UK, for example, go down from thousands to a couple of hundred pounds at this time of year.  Before we head off, I sometimes feel slightly anxious about the prospect of missing a whole week of schoolwork, but once we’re back, not only do we all enjoy that renewed “fresh start” feeling, but I realise how much the children benefitted from our time away – from the fresh air, physical exercise and skills, family bonding, meeting new people, and all the other learning that naturally happens in unfamiliar environments.

3.      Change your physical environment

Before Christmas we were doing almost all our schoolwork in our family room:  bookwork at the kitchen table, reading aloud on the sofa, hands-on activities on the rug.  This term we are working in a different part of the house entirely – bookwork in my office and reading aloud on our lazy-boy sofa.  Of course I’m convinced this new arrangement is the best possible way of doing things … which reminds me of a joke my mother and I share, that whenever we move furniture around it always “looks so much better” – even if we’re moving it right back to how it was six months ago!  So even though our new room arrangements seem to be working well, I might try making another move midway through term just for the fun of it

Depending on how much space you have, you don’t have to move into a different room entirely.  Inspired by Denise at Let’s Play Math’s idea of buddy math, we’ve recently being doing maths on the sofa rather than at the table, which brings a different mood entirely to maths lessons.  If you always work at the table, try the sofa; if you always do read-alouds on the sofa, trying all lying together on the biggest bed in the house! It might just bring some fresh energy into your school day.


What do all these changes have in common? They all make you feel different.  But what if you could feel different without having to make any practical changes at all? In the week since I’ve been mulling this subject over, I’ve realised that the main reason we’ve had a good week is because of the positive attitudes we brought to the new term. In part this is because we’re naturally feeling a bit more goodwill towards each other after the holidays.  But more than that, I think it’s because I began the new term with my parenting and educational intentions very clear in my mind.

When we’re caught up in the many daily tasks that running a homeschooling household involves, it’s easy to lose touch with our underlying educational philosophy.  Writing about our curriculum recently (here, for example) was a timely reminder that my children are still young (aren’t they all?) and that my most important homeschooling goal right now is to foster in them a lifelong love of learning and to help them acquire skills to pursue that learning.  With this intention fresh in my mind, I’ve found it much easier to recognise any imaginary external pressure for what it is (imaginary!) and I’ve been able instead to respond lovingly to my children’s needs, moment by moment.

For me, then, the key to having that first-week-of-term feeling last all term is twofold:

1. Be very clear what your intentions are, as a parent and homeschooler.

2. Set up your life  in a way that you are frequently reminded of those goals.

How do you do to keep your homeschool fresh?

[Image by nongpimmy at]

End of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – English (Language Arts) Grade 1

Yesterday I wrote about the curriculum we used last term for maths, and the tweaks I’m planning this term.  Today I’m going to do the same for the English (language arts) I do with J (age 6).

What we’ve been using

Like many homeschoolers, we don’t use a complete curriculum for English but rather different methods and books for different skills.  It is probably the subject I am most “unschooly” about.  This might be because we are a small, talkative family and I tend to think that, an elementary level at the very least, being surrounded by words, books and good quality conversation counts for a lot.


J has been using Handwriting Without Tears for the last two terms.  He moved from My Printing Book to Printing Power at the start of this term after a never-before-seen two-week spurt of enthusiasm for handwriting (seriously.  We would find him in bed at night, fast asleep still clutching “My Printing Book”, mid-pencil stroke.)  I think maybe he thought if he finished the book he would be done with writing; alas for him Printing Power arrived, and on handwriting went.

Despite the self-imposed handwriting-boot camp, writing continues to be a chore for J, but I’m reassured to know that this is very common for boys and that things usually fall into place by the age of eight or nine once the requisite neurological and motor skills have been acquired.  So for now we shall continue with a page or two of HWOT every day, while in other subjects I often let J dictate his work. One big plus of homeschooling is that a dislike of handwriting need not slow down progress in any other subject.


J is a natural right-brained whole-word reader which is why I think it’s important to continue teaching him phonics until his reading is completely fluent. As it is, he can read pretty much anything he wants (mostly comics, his favourite websites, and comics and books about his favourite websites) and he has read several chapter books, but I intend to continue with dedicated reading instruction until I see J regularly reading chapter books.  (I know he loves stories from our read-alouds and the number of audiobooks he gets through!)

We use Schofield & Sims Sound Phonics workbooks (currently Phase 5 Book 2) which we’re both very happy with.  J  does a page a day for the four days we do formal school (the other day the children do music lessons and we attend a home education centre). The Sound Phonics series continues for several more workbooks so at the moment my plan is to continue with them.


At J’s level I see spelling more as additional handwriting and phonics practice than as actually building spelling skills for their own sake.  (Or does that give away my utter lack of teaching expertise in this area?)  I am a naturally good speller, as is C (8), so J’s seemingly random approach to constructing words leaves me baffled (how can anyone spell “come” correctly and immediately afterwards spell “came” as “kame”?!)  We’ve been using the word lists and some of the exercises in Evan-Moor’s Building Spelling Skills Grade 1  and J scores well on his weekly spelling tests.  But next term I’m thinking of switching to a Spelling Power approach,  which I’ve just started using with C.  Although J is too young to use the full Spelling Power system, there is a section in the massive tome book on working with younger children which I’ll hopefully get round to reading soon!


All J’s creative writing is ad hoc and informal.  He enjoys composing poems and stories (would probably choose do it all day if only I could keep up with his dictation!). Occasionally I can persuade him to write his own work, which he’ll agree to if it’s something short like an acrostic poem. And I’m thinking at some point he might benefit from learning about beginnings, middles and ends – but there’s plenty of time for that. 🙂


We’ve always got a read-aloud fiction chapter book on the go ( it feels like it’s been one Harry Potter or other for as long as I can remember!), and J listens to lots of audiobooks from the library.  Poetry Tea is a regular event in our house. We like seeing movie or theatrical adaptations of books we’ve read (yes, Harry Potter, but we also enjoyed the film version of E. Nesbitt’s Five Children And It, and were lucky enough to see an excellent adaptation of The Phoenix And The Carpet at the theatre recently.  During the months between our reading of the book and seeing the play, I enjoyed hearing J’s wonderings about things like “I wonder how they’re going to do the bit where the children go to the theatre, in a theatre?!”)

Sometimes I read aloud Greek myths (which ties in with this year’s ancient history) or from Geraldine McCaughrean’s Stories from Shakespeare  or we listen to children’s versions of Homer’s works.  One of the things I took from the classical education handbook The Well Trained Mind is the idea of exposing children to great works of literature when they are young, so that by the time they are old enough to study them in their original form they’re already familiar with the stories.

As J and C get older I’d like to be a bit more organised in the planning of our literature choices, and also – in keeping with my desire to become a bit more Charlotte Mason-like in our homeschool – getting J to narrate back to me in some way.  While I sometimes suspect that C (8) almost has the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory (anyone know the name for that?), most of the time I really have no idea how much J is taking in.  Often nothing much is forthcoming when I ask him to tell me something about what he’s heard, but then with J you never know if that’s because nothing went in, or because he just doesn’t feel like jumping through that particular hoop for you right now!  I know narration purists eschew prompting, but with J I’m thinking of using some who/when/where/what/how-type prompts following short read-aloud sections, to get him into the habit of active listening (and to reassure me that he’s listening at all!)

Overall I try to remind myself that J is only six, and that in many countries (with excellent education systems) he wouldn’t even have begun formal schooling yet.  Indeed Charlotte Mason herself believed six year olds should mostly be left to their own play.  So my priority will continue to be to provide J with an environment rich in great stories, poems and language, while staying quietly alert for signs he is ready to move onto a new level of using written words himself.  I’m thinking another large sign would be useful, reminding me of that on the “bad days”!

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