Tag Archives: Homeschool Help

3 Things I’ve Learned About Homeschooling in 2013

things ive learned about homeschooling

One of my favourite things about homeschooling is the never-ending learning opportunities it offers me. Not only do I get to facilitate and witness my children’s learning, but every year I get to learn how to be a better homeschooler.

Since love of learning is  – according to the Authentic Happiness Centre’s VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire – my greatest strength, this means I get to live a pretty charmed life!

Here, in no particular order, are three of the many things I’ve learned about homeschooling this year.

1. You don’t need a curriculum to learn maths

I have friends for whose families maths curricula work wonderfully, and I’m delighted for them. But although everyone in our family likes maths, we’ve never got on with a maths curriculum. Back in April we gave up trying to find one, and began a living maths experiment.

We love being able to choose which maths topic we learn about when, and what resources to use. I am more in tune with my children’s needs and abilities than any curriculum could be, so as well as being more enjoyable, learning maths this way makes much more efficient use of our time.

C(10) and J(8) benefit from one-to-one attention learning maths this way. With any curriculum there is the temptation to leave a child to get on with the set number of pages while you get on with something else. My long-term goal is for my kids to be independent learners, but the best way for that to happen is for me to be by their side now, enjoying puzzles and stories, asking good questions and modelling creative problem-solving strategies.

ive learned homeschooling
A few of our maths playtime activities

We’ve recently looked at some of the maths test papers English schoolchildren sit in Year 6 (Grade 5). Sitting comfortably at my side, my kids approach the test questions as fun puzzles. Even if they haven’t come across a topic before, they don’t panic – they try to figure out a way round. (And I make a note to explore the topic together another time.) Homeschoolers don’t have to take these tests, but I find it reassuring that C(10) and J(8) would have no problem passing if they did – no curriculum required.

2. My children learn a lot from videos

When my kids want to find out how to do something, the first place they go is YouTube.

In the last few weeks, C(10) has prepared illustrated essays on fossils and the history of skateboarding using YouTube as one of her primary research sources. She also teaches herself drawing, sewing and cooking techniques, and guitar chords from videos.

Things ive learned homeschooling
Recent projects C(10) has chosen to do

At the moment, J(8) mostly uses YouTube to solve specific problems in his computer games, but that doesn’t make the critical thinking and writing skills he’s acquiring during the course of his research any less valuable.

For some reason it took me a while to catch onto this trend and use videos in the learning we do together. I guess it’s another layer of my deschooling (“learning must come from books”), combined with having grown up in a different technological era.

I can’t skim videos the way I can books or web pages, so it can take a bit longer to pull together strewing material. But as more of us use video in our homeschools, the more links to good quality material are being shared, which makes the task easier. (I love the way Hwee, for example, includes videos in most of her blog posts.)

Next year I intend to use video much more in our homeschool. {Perhaps my children will give me some tips on where to look.}

3. You can do less than you think in a year, and more than you think in three years

Sometimes when I look back on a school year, it feels like we haven’t accomplished much. Yet when I look back on the three and a half years since we began homeschooling, it’s obvious my children have learned heaps.

Similarly to the way they get taller when we’re not looking, children seem to learn in spurts rather than in one continuous steady flow. Or perhaps learning is more like the movement of waves in the ocean – always happening, but only visible at certain points in the cycle.

The more of these learning cycles I witness, the easier I find to stay relaxed during periods when not much seems to be happening.

J(8), for instance, does a little copywork or handwriting practice most days, but until recently had never written more than a few comic strips of original writing. Then last month he sat down at the computer and wrote a 1,500 story for NaNoWriMo. A story filled with the rich vocabulary he had apparently acquired over the previous two thousand hours he’d spent lounging around wearing headphones listening to audiobooks.

Talking of audiobooks, I used to wonder how J(8) would ever learn to spell, without seeing actual words in books. Then suddenly, about a month ago, he began inundating me with “How do you spell…?” questions. These come at all sorts of odd times, like when we’re out walking or he’s in the bath, rather than while he’s writing. Meanwhile I’ve started receiving perfectly spelled emails and text messages from him.

things ive learned homeschooling
J(8) writing his first “novel”

To the untrained eye it might appear that J(8) did nothing for several years and then learned to write and spell in a month. But really, like a wave steadily moving towards the shore, he was of course learning all the time.

And so am I.

things ive learned homeschooling

To find out what the other Homeschool Help ladies want to remember about 2013, head over to:

Every Bed of Roses – Our Year in Review 2013

Highhill Education – Looking Forward – Best College Degrees

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Looking Back: Our 2013 School Year

One Magnificent Obsession – The Days are Long and the Years are Short


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop

Anything Goes #4

Collage Friday

Weekly Wrap-Up

6 Favourite Read-Aloud Picture Books

favourite read-aloud picture books

This week’s Homeschool Help topic has been a marvellous excuse to delve through parts of our bookshelves I don’t often visit these days. Many of our picture books have been handed down to my young nephews, so those that remain are the special few that I couldn’t bear to part with.

But Excuse Me That is My Book

favourite read aloud chapter books

I have mixed feelings about Charlie and Lola. Slightly-spoilt, childish Lola is not a good role model. But her conversations with saintly big brother Charlie do make me giggle.

We love all the Charlie and Lola books, but my favourite is probably But Excuse Me That Is My Book  (or “Beetles, bugs and butterflies” as it is known in our house, after Lola’s favourite library book).

If you haven’t seen it, watch the corresponding TV episode to get the cute voices and then have fun reading But Excuse Me that Is My Book aloud to your children. It’s one you won’t mind reading over and over.

A Squash and a Squeeze

A-Squash-and-a-Squeeze.jpgNo list of my favourite read-aloud picture books would be complete without a mention of Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo).

A Squash and a Squeeze earns its place here because the title has established itself so firmly in my vocabulary that I use the phrase almost daily.

The book tells the story of an old lady who grumbles, “There’s not enough room in my house… My house is a squash and a squeeze.”

A wise old man advises the lady to take into her home first her hen, then her goat, her pig and finally her cow. Barely able to move for livestock by this point, the old lady finds her house squashier than ever.  Then, of course, the man instructs her to turn all the animals out, whereupon the old woman revels, “Just look at my house, it’s enormous now.”

Back in September I wanted to have a breakthrough in managing our busy schedule.  After a long summer break, I was not looking forward to going back to chauffeuring my children to activities several days and evenings a week. Then … my husband broke his right ankle and my driving load doubled!

One of the consequences of his injury is that we’ve dropped a few activities (a good thing). Another is that when my darling husband is able to help out again, I will really appreciate it! “It’ll be like a squash and a squeeze!” I find myself cheerfully saying (probably far oftener than my family would care to hear).

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

favourite read aloud picture booksI know I’ve already included one Lauren Child book, but what with the Clarice Bean series, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book and Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent, I just couldn’t limit myself to one.

Hubert Horatio is the heart-warming tale of how Hubert’s delightfully random parents lose their fortune and their mansion home, but wind up happier than ever living in a tiny apartment where there’s always someone available for a game of Kerplunk.

Their son is also happy because, “for the first time ever, Hubert Horatio’s cocoa was still warm by the time he had walked the short distance to his parents’ room to say, ‘Goodnight!'”

Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions that Build Success

Arnie and his School Tools

Arnie and His School Tools is a wonderful book for anyone affected by Sensory Processing Disorder whether personally, or as a family member, friend, teacher or classmate.

I ordered the book when I first began to suspect that J(8) had Sensory Processing Disorder. After I read it to him, I asked J(8)  if Arnie reminded him of anyone. “Me!” he replied without hesitation.

Arnie’s “fast motor” used to get him into trouble, but now he uses special tools that help him learn.

In this beautifully illustrated story Arnie uses fidgets, heavy-work, weighted-blankets, ear plugs and other tools to help him focus. The story is helpful without being in any way patronising. In fact, re-reading it just now has given me lots of fresh inspiration for ways to help J(8) concentrate on learning.

Beautiful Oops

favourite read aloud picture booksOver the years I’ve bought my perfectionist-tending children a number of books about the value of making mistakes (another favourite is Mistakes That Worked).

The artistic Beautiful Oops appeals to C(9) in particular. Each new page transforms a seeming mistake or accident on the previous page into something beautiful.

This is another book title that has happily made its way into our everyday vocabulary – “Hey – we could make it into a ‘beautiful oops’!”. It was C(9)’s suggestion that I include it in this list. 🙂

Unstoppable Me: 10 Ways to Soar Through Life

favourite read-aloud picture booksI’ve given Unstoppable Me as a gift to all my Godchildren and young relations, safe in the knowledge that the messages it contains are pure upliftment and inspiration.

Wayne Dyer’s Incredible You: 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through is wonderful too.

favourite read-aloud chapter books

6 favourite read-aloud picture books

For more favourite read-aloud picture books, head over to:

Every Bed of Roses – Our Favourite Picture Book Read Alouds

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Top Favourite Read Aloud Picture Books

One Magnifient Obsession – The Wonderful World of Picture Books

Highhill Homeschool – Best Picture Books


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Weekly Wrap-Up

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal


* This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Overcoming Homeschool Burnout – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Overcoming homeschool burnout
Credit: Squirmelia

Homeschool burnout sucks. Perhaps the worst part is feeling so bad about something that once brought so much joy – something you felt passionately called to do.

Many homeschoolers with more experience than me have shared fabulous advice like this for overcoming burnout. But sometimes it’s not as easy as following a few tips. Sometimes we feel so stuck that although the advice sounds very sensible and could probably help “other people”, it couldn’t possibly help us because [insert our unique, insurmountable circumstances here].

What we need is something to help us get unstuck.

In my work as a coach and therapist I used many different tools to help my clients get unstuck.  This process is one of my favourites. It can be used very effectively to help overcome homeschool burnout, by reconnecting you with the energy and passion that first inspired you to take on this blessed role.

How to free your thinking and overcome burnout

All you need is a piece of paper and a pen (or electronic equivalent), and twenty minutes undisturbed time. (Yes I know… Do it in the middle of the night if you have to!)

Step 1 – What do you want?

Write down in your own, positive words what you want. Not what you don’t want, or what you think you can get, but what you really want.

Example – “I want to feel inspired and energised about homeschooling.”

Step 2 – What’s stopping you having what you want?

Now write down all the things that are stopping you having what you want.

When you’ve finished, check there’s nothing else by asking, “What else is stopping me?”

Keep going until until you’ve written down every single thing that stands between you and your goal.


“Homeschooling has got so stressful. I know we ought to take a break but if we do we’ll fall behind with the curriculum. I want my kids to work more independently but they seem to need me for everything. Writing lessons are so frustrating right now, but if he doesn’t learn to write he won’t be able to take exams. I’m sick of the daily grind. I hate our curriculum but we can’t afford to change. I need some time to myself but that’s impossible.”

Step 3 – What are you assuming that is most limiting your thinking?

Look back over everything you’ve written in step 2. What is the single most important thing you’ve written down, the one that really stands in your way?

Example – “(I feel like taking a whole month off but if we take that long off) my kids will forget everything and we’ll never get back on track.”

Write it down again on a line of its own.

Step 4 – Is it true?

This is where I’m going to ask you to make a leap of faith. (It will be worth it, I promise.)

When we’re stuck in problem thinking, everything seems set in stone. But when we shine a little light on them we  begin to find our reasons actually rest on assumptions we didn’t even realise we were making.

In our example – “(I feel like taking a whole month off but if we take that long off) my kids will forget everything and we’ll never get back on track.”

Will your children truly forget everything they know if you take some time off? Will you really never get back on track? (And anyway, don’t you want to find a new groove instead of returning to the same old rut?)

Some reasons might be objectively true, but on closer inspection are found to rest on their own limiting assumptions.

Example: “It’s March now – if we take a month off my daughter won’t be able to take her exams in June.”

Or: “If we take a month off, we’ll lose our place in the co-op.”

Each of those statements may be true, but what are you assuming will happen if your daughter can’t take the exam this June? Is this the only opportunity ever? Will she never get a job if she doesn’t take the exam this year? Of course not. And if you lose your place in the co-op, will the world end? Perhaps other doors will open if that one closes?

Gently examine your limiting assumption until you realise it’s not one hundred percent, provably, “true”.

Step 5 – What is a liberating alternative to the limiting assumption?

This is the cool part. Look at your limiting assumption and ask yourself, “What is the complete opposite of this?” Then close your eyes and tune into your heart.

This is not a semantic exercise. If the words you come up with bear no resemblance to your limiting assumption, that’s a good sign.

Some real examples from my own experience:

Limiting assumption: “I can’t get anything done here because I have no control over how I spend my time.”

Liberating alternative:  “Right here and now, I am freer than anywhere to do all the things I want.”

Limiting assumption: “Because my blog isn’t as successful as others, I’m not good enough and may as well give up”*

Liberating alternative: “Every word I write is the perfect contribution to the world.”

* I wrote that a few years ago 😉

In our imaginary Example:

Limiting assumption: “My kids will forget everything and we’ll never get back on track.”

Liberating alternative: “A long break is exactly what the children need to get excited about learning again.”

Step 6 – The magic question

{Drumroll please}

Take your liberating alternative and insert it into the following question:

“If I knew, without a shadow of doubt, [true alternative], what would I be thinking or feeling or doing differently now?”


“If I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that a long break is exactly what the children need to get excited about learning again, what would I be doing differently now? How would I be feeling different? What would I be thinking?”

Sit quietly and notice what comes to mind. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom and resourcefulness that flows in. (It’s always been there, you just couldn’t reach it from the limited thinking you were stuck inside.)

overcoming homeschool burnout

I’m so excited about sharing this tool that’s helped me get unstuck so many times in the past. If you use it, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Happy homeschooling!

overcoming homeschool burnout

For more views on the subject of overcoming homeschool burnout, visit:

Every Bed of Roses – Homeschool Burnout

One Magnificent Obsession – Avoiding Homeschool Burnout

Barefoot Hippie Girl – What to do when you run out of fuel

Highhill Homeschool – How do I keep homeschooling?

overcoming homeschool burnout
Credit: Gustty


Time to Think – I first came across the process I’ve shared here in this wonderful book

This free pdf Incisive Questions is a short summary of the process (as designed to be used in a coaching session) by the same author.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Weekly Wrap-Up

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal


4 Surprising Consequences of Giving Kids Grades

Consequences of giving kids grades

Many homeschooling parents follow the school system and grade their children’s work. Perhaps they think it will make their kids accountable, motivate them to improve, or get them ready for public exams later down the line.

But many research studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of giving children grades. Their results show that far from encouraging kids, they may be doing the opposite.

1.  Grades decrease learning enjoyment

Studies show that when children are focused on getting a good grade, they engage less deeply in what they are doing. Even really fun projects are less enjoyable when the prospect of being graded hangs over the student.

Grades tell children that extrinsic rewards are more important than the intrinsic value of learning itself.

Over the course of their childhoods, kids internalise this message  – until finally they’re ready to take their places among  the overpopulated ranks of deeply unfulfilled adults in “successful” careers.

2. Graded students choose the easiest assignments

When grades are given, the implicit message is that they are more important than learning.

When children are told that grades will be awarded for their work, and are then given a choice between an easy task and a more challenging one, almost all will take the easier option. Why choose the opportunity to learn new skills over the chance to “be successful”, when the grade is what counts?

In contrast, when there is no prospect of the task being graded, children will often choose the project they can learn most from, even if it is the most difficult.

3. Grades discourage deep and critical thinking

Children who know their work is being graded will inevitably focus on getting inside the grader’s head as they carry out the task, instead of bringing their own valuable, unique perspective to what they are learning.  Why waste time engaging with material on their own terms when what counts is what the teacher/examiner looking for?

Books are skimmed and memory techniques are employed as students take the shortest possible route towards the highest grade. Thinking is shallow and superficial – not deep, critical or lateral.

What’s the point in taking time to explore the connections between the current topic and what was learned last month, when your efforts won’t be rewarded in the all-important grade?

Consequences of giving kids grades

4. Grades encourage a fixed mindset

In Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, Carol Dweck describes two very different mindsets.

People with a fixed mindset believe that talents and abilities are set and cannot be changed by effort. Failure is a sign of not being good enough.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that effort and practise help them improve. Mistakes are a natural part of learning – an opportunity to grow.

Dweck gives dozens of examples in Mindset of how a growth mindset contributes to happier, more successful living.

What’s mindset got to do with grades? Giving grades for achievement, good or bad, contributes to a fixed mindset. People tend to use grades to label themselves. Good grades mean students are less likely to opt for challenging learning adventures in the future – why risk slipping off the pedestal? And if you get a bad grade, it means you’re no good – so what’s the point in trying?

The good news is that mindsets can be changed – my kids have already begun to change theirs just by listening to parts of the book (which I highly recommend for all home-educating mums).

consequences of giving grades

As for grades – if they must be given, much better that they be awarded for effort. (Though can anyone other than the student really know how much effort went into a piece of work?)

Better still, instead of a letter to label themselves with, offer respectful, authentic feedback that helps kids along their learning journeys.

Consequences of giving kids grades

For more views on giving kids grades from experienced homeschooling mums, head over to:

Highhill Homeschool – Grades not required

Barefoot Hippie Chick – Passing grade

Every Bed of Roses – To grade or not to grade

One Magnificent Obsession – School without grades or tests?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop 12/11/2013

Collage Friday

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal


How we learn more by taking breaks – Why year-round homeschooling is not for us

year round homeschooling

We’re lucky here in the UK that we don’t have to keep homeschooling records or prove we’ve done school for a minimum number of days per year.

Although this means we have complete freedom to choose our schedule, in practice our family mostly follows the local school terms. We also take off several term-time weeks each year to travel. Since my kids probably learn more on these vacations than they do at home,  I’m good with this.

How we benefit from “school holidays”

1. Better strewing

The way we homeschool doesn’t involve any lesson-planning as such, but I am kept busy finding and strewing interesting resources to enrich my children’s learning environment. Breaks give me time to replenish my strewing resources and inspiration.

Some strewing is quite routine. For example, I try to offer at least one fun science activity each week. Once a week I reflect on what the children are interested in, and find a related hands-on science activity. I do the same for maths.

But breaks from our daily routine give me time to delve into subjects more deeply –  to read whole books, even! Books about homeschooling, about particular subjects, or historical fiction for grown-ups, for example – all of which contribute to my children’s education.

2. Recharging and Modelling

Having more time to myself on our breaks also gives me time to pursue my own interests, which not only recharges my batteries but often also inspires C(9) and J(8).

This summer, for instance, I found time to begin learning German, which I’ve been wanting to learn for twenty years! After seeing me having fun on the Duolingo app, C(9) decided to learn too.

3. Breaks are good for the brain

I come away from our breaks refreshed, inspired and enthusiastic to begin homeschooling afresh. The children benefit just as much.

Neuroscience tells us that taking breaks improves learning.  Our brains need time to process and consolidate what we’ve taken in. And time away from studying allows C(9) and J(8) to make new connections and creatively apply what they’ve learned in novel ways.

And of course, we never stop having conversations or reading great books.

4. Friends, Camps and Hobbies

School holidays are when there’s time for my kids to hang out with their friends, both schooled and home-educated. To do sports, art and drama courses. To spend hours on a hobby, making daisy chains or just relaxing with a book without being interrupted by our usual extra-curricular schedule.

And quietly observing how my children choose to spend these long chunks of unscheduled time helps me be a better homeschooling mum.


Our homeschool routine helps create momentum that carries us towards our learning goals.  But from time to time it makes sense  to slow down and check we’re all heading in the right direction.

homeschool breaks

For more perspectives on year-round homeschooling (or not), visit:

Barefoot Hippie Girl – School Year Round or Not on Your Life

Every Bed of Roses – Year Round Schooling

Highhill Homeschool – School Year Round?

One Magnificent Obsession – Summer: Repair and Prepare

Next week the Homeschool Help team will be considering the subject of grades. If you’ve visited before, I’m sure you can guess which way I go on that topic. 😉

Here at Navigating By Joy I post regularly about how we homeschool science, maths, history, English, art, geography and a lot more besides.

To follow along, just pop your email address into the box at the top right of this page and click the “Subscribe” button.



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.

Almost Unschooling History

unschooling history

We may not be doing school time this year but that doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying learning history.

Here’s how we do it. It’s not much different from the way most homeschoolers do history. The key point for me is that my kids choose whether or not to participate in each activity we do.

History – How I prepare

Researching history resources and activities is one of my favourite pastimes. My aim is not to create perfect lesson plans. I don’t want to end up with something I’m so attached to that I can’t scrap it in favour of where the children’s interest leads us.

I save what I find in Evernote so that I can easily pull up everything relating to the topic when we need it.

1. The Story of the World

I pre-read a chapter of The Story of the World, which we’ve used as our spine since we began homeschooling. We’re now two-thirds through volume 2 (the Middle Ages).

2. Other books

I read about the topic in the Usborne Encyclopaedia of World History and do a library search for other books to strew.

unschooling history

3. Online research

* Google search for “hands-on activities” relating to the topic

* Google Images search for pictures of people, places, art, artefacts, architecture etc

* You Tube – our favourite videos include Crash Course World History and Horrible Histories

* Evernote & Pinterest – for resources I’ve bookmarked in the past

* Brainpop

4. Geography

Studying world history is the perfect way to show children how the world links up.

* I flag relevant pages in our World Atlas

* or print a map using Wonder Maps

* or I find a historical map online – e.g. I needed a map this week showing the Kievan Rus

* Google Maps and Google Earth – good for seeing where places are in relation to each other (and us), what they’re like today, and even “visiting” historical landmarks

* Geography Through Art – this book is full of mini-project ideas. It’s black and white so I usually browse it and then find examples of the projects online

unschooling history
C(9)’s map showing how first Australians and New Zealanders arrived

5. Collating resources

I save what I find to Evernote. One advantage of digital filing is that if we don’t use something now, I can easily find it next year {or in three years’ time}.

6. Printables

I print any materials I want the children to see close-up, and store them in a clear document wallet in our everyday homeschool materials crate.

unschooling history planning process

History – What we do together

Reading Aloud from SOTW

When we have a free fifteen minutes, I ask the kids if they’d like to hear a chapter of The Story of the World.

We’re a family of multi-taskers so I’m happy with the children doing other things as they listen. Ideally this means something hands-on like play dough or drawing. In practice it might mean J(8) playing Minecraft. I’m okay with that. His comments as I read and throughout the days afterwards let me know me he’s taken in what he’s heard.


Depending how much time we have and what else the children have planned, we either do an activity straight after I read from SOTW, or in the next few days.

We almost always chat informally about the topic throughout the week. This helps me gauge their interest in any activities I have in mind, and gives me ideas for other learning tangents.

Our activities usually inter-relate with other subjects, especially geography, art, science and maths.

We watch videos when we can fit them in throughout the week.

We might make notes on our Timeline Builder app.


C(9) will read almost any library book I leave on the table. J(8) looks at the pictures. This is one of the reasons I like the Usborne Encylopedia of World History, which I leave open on our topic.

Unschooling History
Usborne Encyclopedia of World History

When do we leave a topic?

We stay with each topic until we’ve learned everything we want to know. Sometimes spin-off projects continue while we move onto a new chapter of The Story of the World. Other times we get halfway into a project and decide we’ve done as much as we want to. There are schedules and no rules. Only enjoyable learning.

unschooling history
C(9) had the idea to make a guidebook for medieval travellers wishing to follow in Marco Polo’s footsteps

Check out our history curriculum 2013-14 to see some of our unschooling history activities.

Coming soon: our activities relating to medieval Russia.

unschooling history

To see how the other Homeschool Help ladies teach history, visit:

Hammock Tracks – Finding Your Way as you Explore History

Highhill Homeschool – History with Activities at Highhill Education

One Magnificent Obsession – A Glance at How we do History

Every Bed of Roses – Teaching History Revisited

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Historically Speaking: A Barefoot Hippie Plan for Studying 1600-1800


This post is linked to:

History and Geography Meme #91

Unschooling History

Art Journaling for Boys and Girls

Art journaling for boys and girls

Art journaling is a wonderfully free form of self-expression.

The very definition of “journal” –  a daily record of personal experiences – seems to bring with it the permission to create whatever you feel like creating at that moment in time – not the perfect piece of art designed to please others for all time.

Art journaling is also a fun way to build kids’ confidence in using mixed-media. It might even inspire writing!

When I art journal alongside my kids, my role is to offer exposure to new ideas, techniques and sources of inspiration.

We might look at books, artwork and websites together and chat about them as we work. But their work is their own. I respect my children’s process, and I would never say anything about their artwork that I wouldn’t say to a friend.   {All pages here are shared with their permission.}

How we started art journaling

We began art journaling by following the simple process described at Notes on Paper. Since then, C(9) has created many pages in a similar way.

art journaling for boys
Pages from C(9)’s art journal

J(8) had never art journaled before this week. When he said he’d like to try it, I was intrigued to observe his process. I just knew it would be different from mine and C(9)’s. {It certainly was – see Art Journaling for Boys below.}

art journaling for boys and girls


* Notebook – any size, any kind. Ours are A4 (letter size) and cost under £3. Or use loose paper and collect in a binder

* Paint, paintbrushes

* Coloured pens eg gel pens, sharpies

* Scissors & glue

* Scraps of coloured paper

* Old magazines or pamphlets

* Stickers

* Optional – gesso, corrector ribbon, date stamper, old books to tear pages from

Art journaling for girls (C(9)’s page)

art journaling for boys
rip a page out of an old book and stick it down with electrical tape. Decorate with gold paper and silver paint
art journaling for boys and girls
add pretty stickers
art journaling for boys and girls
and words cut out of magazines
Art journaling for boys and girls
finish with a few gel pen doodles and thoughts. Stamp on the date
Art journaling for boys and girls
C(9)’s finished art journal page

Art journaling for boys (J(8)’s page)

C(9) and I spent a happy hour or so chatting over our pages as we worked. J(8), meanwhile,  enjoyed himself thoroughly and was done within ten minutes.

Have you ever noticed how scissors and gel pens are completely different tools in a boy’s hands?

art journalling for boys and girls
first draw a nice picture of yourself and your sister (arrow through your sister’s neck optional)
Art journaling for boys and girls
then cover it over completely with random cuttings while maintaining a cheerful running commentary about “severing their heads” as you snip through magazine photos
Art journaling for boys and girls
embellish with some delicate gel pen strokes
art journaling for boys and girls
add a splash of gold paint. Speed up the drying process with the help of a gadget
art journaling for boys and girls
finally, grab a sharpie and add your thought for the day
art journaling for boys and girls
J(8)’s finished art journal page

Art journaling for mammas

Of course I had to have a go too. Here’s how I made my page:

art journaling for boys and girls
in the absence of a thick paintbrush, apply gesso with an old toothbrush
art journaling for boys and girls
add swirls of blue acrylic paint and scraps of coloured paper (in this case photocopied liquid watercolour art)
art journaling for boys and girls
decorate with words, stickers and doodles. Write a few thoughts on strips of corrector ribbon
art journaling for boys and girls
my finished art journal page

Have you ever tried art journaling with your children?

art journaling for boys and girls

I love how each of the  Homeschool Help ladies has interpreted this week’s “journaling” subject differently:

Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Journals: Inspiring Children to Write

Savannah at Hammock Tracks – Homeschool Mother’s Journal – My Other Brain

Nicole at One Magnificent Obsession – Road Trip Journalling!

Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie Girl – To Journal or Not to Journal

Chareen at Every Bed of Roses – Journals in Homeschool

art journaling for boys and girls

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop – 9/10/13

Educational and Entertaining – Highhill Homeschool

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

TGIF #94 – 123 Homeschool 4 Me

Friendship Friday – Living and Learning with Our New Normal

Share It Saturday – Teach Beside Me

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

Virtual Refridgerator – Angels of Heart

All About the Boy – Let’s Hear it for the Boy

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



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