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Unexpected Homeschooling

Unexpected Homeschooling

There are now thousands of children and families the world over being plunged into the unknown of homeschooling, thanks to Covid-19. In some cases, schools are sending work home, in others there are parents going it alone for an indefinite amount of time. Earlier in…

Hot Process Soap Making

Hot Process Soap Making

This Wasn’t Quite the Post I Meant to Write. I had a great post planned. With a whimsical introduction about being an urban, flat-dwelling mama yearning for the country, homestead, free range life. It was still about hot process soap making, but more hygge and…

Thinking Again About How We Home Educate

Thinking Again About How We Home Educate

I know, I know, in my last post I said I have a tendency to over commit to drastic change, but this really isn’t a change! I’ve just been sifting through our ideas now we’re further into this journey.

Aeryn standing in the woods. She's half smiling and staring at the camera.

I will never stop learning how to be a home educator. Could anyone stop learning how to do anything, really? I remember, I asked once in a karate class in childhood how my teacher felt when she got “to the end” and got her black belt. She told me she hadn’t got to the end, that she’d finally reached the beginning. That simple response completely flipped how I considered learning and mastery forever.

I’m always reading more, learning more and thinking more about home educating. Partly, this is a personality trait – I am TERRIBLE at sitting still and feeling I’ve done “enough” of anything. But it’s also because I find it all so deeply interesting! I love pulling apart what we’re doing and why. If I can’t find the why, I rethink the what. I’d definitely be a Ravenclaw.

Forever Finding Out

If you love learning, crave understanding and know how to find out what you want to know (including how to critically assess, test and apply that knowledge), everything is open to you. This applies to me, but is also the crux of what I’m hoping to give my children as we meander the homeschool road.

There is no timescale to measure up to and no age limit to finding things out. If Aeryn or Zephyr decide at the age of 57 to learn architectural drawing or robotics or Irish dancing, I hope I will have given them the courage and skills to do so. Equally, if they aren’t ready to read until they’re seven, that’s fine! Home educating for me is about a fundamental paradigm shift in our understanding of what learning is, where or when it happens and how inseparable it is from the rest of life.

Finding Ideas I Resonate With

A lot of (usually freely shared!) wisdom can be found when we connect with the home educating communities around us, online and in person. I try to listen really acutely to those further along this journey, who often tell their tales so candidly, and really consider their words and advice. Even if it’s not the approach we naturally gravitate towards.

Home educating is quite a radical act. It breaks away from the recognised system in a quiet yet profound way. Kindred spirits are welcome and, often, very needed.

I also love to read articles or books and find approaches or ideas that spark joy (thanks, Marie Kondo!). My favourite book recently was The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart. I’ll come back to this one in a later post because I could wax lyrical about it, but it’s definitely worth a borrow from the library!

It’s hard going, but I’m becoming more willing to accept shortcomings in myself and realise that progress is being made, for all of us. As a recovering perfectionist trying to finding a growth mindset in adulthood, this is a pretty big step. I think it reflects the huge amount of work I’ve put into improving my mental health. I’m much more at peace, which is a more stable base from which to provide an enchanting education. It’s exciting to feel energised again!

So, what’s new?

Much of what I set out to do in my homeschooling intentions post months ago still holds true. Autonomy and self directed education are of paramount importance to us.

I suppose you could call us eclectic homeschoolers, if you want to label what we’re doing. I’m inspired a lot by elements of Charlotte Mason (particularly her views on creating an “atmosphere” of education) and unschooling, but I’m definitely not a purist. We’re simply forging our own perfect-for-us path through plenty of trial and error; a heck of a lot of freedom and play; loads of nature and outdoor time; and a little of caffeinated creativity (well, only I’m caffeinated!).

I held off introducing formal learning consciously. Not because Aeryn is incapable, but that it isn’t developmentally appropriate or needed. Many studies have shown that there are huge benefits to delaying formal academics, and costs to introducing them too early. A three, four or five year old needs to move, explore, socialise, discover, linger, play and play and play. Numbers, letters, history, scientific concepts and the like appear because they are integrated into everyday life, reading aloud and organic discovery.

Zephyr digging in a sand pit with a stick to uncover a gasosaurus fossil replica. He's wearing a bobble hat and blue coat covered in dinosaurs.

Reality

Oh, how quickly my very well thought out ideas wash out with the tide of my real life children. While I understand all the benefits of waiting until she’s older, Aeryn has decided she’s ready to learn to read and I am happy to support her. I totally get it, I was an early reader myself. Books gave me (and still give me) so much joy. Children know when they are ready to do something, usually because they start trying to do it. So, we’re working through a mixture of key word recognition, simple stories, letter sounds and writing with purpose to figure it all out.

We’ve also started consciously working through some maths concepts, after many requests to explain why numbers work the way they do.

I suppose, in a way, she’s made it easy for me to make it look like home ed “works” from the outside – explaining why your 8 year old isn’t reading yet to an interested party is far easier than explaining why your just turned 5 year old is. The education system is overwhelmingly focused on learning outcomes, over learning processes, despite the research. Which is such a shame. The breadth and depth of human understanding can’t be distilled to a pass/fail dichotomy. And there is much power in the word “yet” when it comes to mastering concepts, at any age. But to constantly justify yourself or your family’s choices is a huge mental load to carry, and not a discussion I especially enjoy most of the time. I’m introverted and find it quite exhausting.

The most important thing is Aeryn is happy. She still loves playing in sand pits or rolling down hills like Zephyr, running wild in a field, imagining intricate worlds and digging at the allotment to make things grow. These activities are just as important as academic skills. Reading and maths have just slotted in alongside everything else, weaving into the tapestry of our lives. They aren’t more or less than. They just are.

Keeping the hygge

I still want to keep much the same as it always has been. The cosy, warm, familiarity of our time together continues to be the cornerstone of our home education. The extraordinary ordinary. Hygge in the sense of special, simple, contented moments of beautiful day-to-day life together. I want to notice and appreciate the present and altogether slow down. We have ended up in a situation where we have an out-of-home activity every week day, so I need to be really careful to protect the downtime we do have and appreciate the small moments.

Reading aloud, frequently, spontaneously, even if nothing else gets accomplished, is also a mainstay. We read SO many picture books last year, but Aeryn has also enjoyed a good 10 or more long chapter books since the Autumn. It fills me with so much joy to share books I love with both children and discover new ones together.

All in all, it’s all very similar to how it was back in September, I’m just framing things differently in my mind. My karate teacher’s words still ring – the more I discover about myself as a parent and us as a home educating family, the closer I feel to the beginning.

xXx

Looking Back at 2019

Looking Back at 2019

This year has probably been the most hectic of our lives so far with children. I had very good intentions to regularly blog, reorganise my life, purge lots of things, read more books, do more things for myself outside of our little foursome, take an…

Our Not Back to School Week – Camping in North Devon

Our Not Back to School Week – Camping in North Devon

Happy Not Back to School week! Instead of uniforms, classrooms, school runs and assemblies, we decided to spend the week camping at Croyde Bay, on the North Devon coast. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to just continue living our lives…

Thinking about our homeschooling intentions

Thinking about our homeschooling intentions

In two weeks, Aeryn would have been starting school. Instead, we’re treading a different path. In some ways, nothing will change; we’ve been connecting with home edders, attending meet ups and approaching all of life as learning since Aeryn was tiny. In other ways, it feels like a huge milestone.

homeschooling intentions - aeryn picking apples

I’ve been reading an archive post by Adele over at Beautiful Tribe in which she resets her homeschooling intentions for the year. She’s a seasoned home educator and a really wonderful, creative, nurturing person, who writes beautifully. It’s definitely worth a read, along with her entire blog, really.

The post got me thinking about what I am actually trying to achieve this year. How do we want to carve out our time? What are we aiming for? I don’t mean so much in a “curriculum content” type sense, but in a “what do we want our day to day to look and feel like” sense? What are OUR homeschooling intentions?

Do we still want the same things we did when we began this journey, five years ago? Our daughter will have (and certainly deserves!) lots of input into how our year might look. We also have a two year old to think about, who is just as much a part of this journey and definitely splits my attentions four ways at once all by himself!

homeschooling intentions - splitting my attention

So, I’m stripping it right back. What are the essential elements we want to embrace this year? To take a concept from tidying wizard Marie Kondo, what sparks joy for us? Those things should be our focus.

Lots of play

I think we can’t go far wrong if we start with play. I have no desire (or, frankly, capacity) to structure every moment of our day. Plus, we would all hate it. Play is a vital, essential part of learning, and downtime is crucial for all of us. More research is being done that proves how fundamental play is for development and how highly it should be valued. I also want us to simply have fun and enjoy this amazing opportunity to learn together!

The kids climbing - pondering our homeschooling intentions

Spend more time outside

We all love the outdoors, especially woodlands and the coast (see my previous post about our last coastal excursion!). I’d like us to experience as many of the beautiful natural landscapes around us as possible. To soak it all in. I think becoming familiar with nature is a vital part of learning to live harmoniously and sustainably with and within it. We’re so fortunate to have an abundance of natural places to explore!

I’ve found a nature study curriculum called Exploring Nature with Children which I’ve decided to invest in. It has gentle weekly prompts that align with things commonly found in our four season climate to observe or engage with in nature. Each week also includes a related poem, a piece of art, a themed book list and a couple of ideas for activities. We’re going to see how we get along with it. If we’re out in the wild anyway, having a small things to focus on each week seems like a natural extension.

homeschooling intentions - a walk in the woods

It’ll be up to Aeryn if she’d like to engage with it. Consent is really important to us and, while I’m here to facilitate and provide lots of options and resources, this is all about what sparks her interest and she would like to pursue. I think it will take a while to find a rhythm and get a feel for what works well for us. I have a good feeling that nature exploration will suit Aeryn’s insatiable desire to know everything about everything, though!

Make more time for Storytelling

I love stories. I love most books, actually, fiction and non-fiction. Books have enriched my life in so many ways. I also use storytelling in other contexts, such as playing Dungeons and Dragons and a big part of Ben’s professional role is storytelling. I definitely want reading aloud and sharing stories to be a big part of the way we homeschool.

I’ve recently stumbled upon the Read Aloud Revival, which has podcasts, book suggestions and guidance about how to make reading aloud a part of the fabric of life. I’m still going through their archives, which are extensive! It’s been really lovely to just find people as utterly enthused about reading as me! Many of the books are by American authors I haven’t heard of. This is annoying for getting hold of some of them via the library here but I’m enjoying being exposed to so many new voices.

homeschooling intentions - Aeryn reading in bed

I must admit, I haven’t read aloud as much recently as I used to. Zephyr turning two has made it much more challenging to do anything more focused because he needs so much more input than he did when he was littler. It’s a balance I’m still figuring out, so our reading time usually happens whe. n there’s another adult around to tag team with. Luckily, Ben is self employed so is around a lot in the day to help facilitate this.

homeschooling intentions - the kids colouring
Sometimes, it does all work out and I can read to them both while they get on with things!

We always read long bedtime stories but I think I want to consciously bring this forward into our daytime routine. There are SO many books I’d like to share with Aeryn (and Zephyr) and they both love books. I know that the older Zephyr gets, the easier this will be when I’m flying solo, so I’m going to be kind to myself if it doesn’t quite go to plan straight away.

Self directed learning

Despite all these intentions, my main aim to give Aeryn the reins. A big part of rejecting a school environment for me is the chance for her to choose freely. We’ll take it all as it comes and just fill our home and lives with as rich, varied and engaging an environment as we can. I love seeing the sparks of joy she gets when a topic really piques her interest! She’s been full up with facts about wild animals for quite a while, so perhaps that will be where we wander first.

Independence by choice

Four seems to be the magic age where children may attend groups and classes without a parent present. Aeryn does a couple of things like this already, a dance class and swimming lessons, but I think it’s important that if she’s feeling nervous about engaging with something new because a parent won’t be with her, that she doesn’t have to until she’s ready. Things don’t have to change overnight because she’s now reception aged. This links back up with our overriding commitment to consent and respect of her autonomy. You don’t have to throw a bird out of the nest to make her fly – when she’s ready, she will go all by herself.

A Gentle Pace

This summer, my Instagram feed has exploded with curriculum suggestions, stunning homeschool room set ups (in enormous American houses – I’m sure half my flat would fit in some of these school rooms!) and more resources, classes and “must-haves” than it would be humanly possible to ever engage with. It’s easy to get sucked into this perfect view of what home education needs to look like. My last homeschooling intention for now is a commitment to go at a more gentle pace. We’re going to ease into the year and this new season of life without buying ALL THE THINGS and signing up to do ALL THE THINGS. Less is more, usually.

xXx

Covehithe Beach

Covehithe Beach

I love the coast. The sea breeze, the huge waves, the salty air. The hidden, secret, tucked away corners of Eden you find down tiny lanes that fall into a breathtaking sea are my idea of a perfect beach. So, Covehithe Beach in Suffolk is…