Ten ideas for summer learning fun

Lots of people are getting ready to wind down school for the summer. In our home we don’t take an official summer break, as we see learning as something to be enjoyed and developed year round. Part of our philosophy of a natural home education is to make the most of learning opportunities as they present themselves. And opportunities, you may have noticed, don’t hold to any imposed term-time structure! However, the other side to natural learning is igniting inspiration, which can be done in so many, many ways all year round. Whether your kids go to school or you home educate, whether you follow a timetable or are extreme unschoolers, here are ten ideas for inspiring and building upon natural learning opportunities this summer.

  • Picnic with my best buddies in our local National Trust garden.

    Picnic with my best buddies in our local National Trust garden.

    National Trust day trips.  We are loving our National Trust membership, and often find ourselves just packing up our books, snacks, water and a picnic blanket to go and spend the morning in the beauty of our local gardens. In addition to the benefits of beautifully fresh air, the National Trust offers opportunities to explore historical homes and castles, activity trails, workshops, outdoor theatre and more. This summer we plan on going to ‘Honey weekend’, where beekeepers will be demonstrating honey extraction and talking about their work. This coincides with our recent interest in bees, and some lovely documentaries which have helped us appreciate honey bees more.

  • Adult education.  This may seem like a strange way of encouraging learning in children, but it actually fits beautifully. One of the philosophies of Leadership Education is that parents need to be setting the example of lifelong learning. This summer I have joined a free university course from Coursera, studying ‘Fundamentals of Music Theory’. This is something I genuinely want to know more about while I teach myself flute, but my second motive is the desire for my children to see me learning. And it really does inspire them! Sometimes they stop and watch my video lectures; sometimes they comment on snippets they hear which connect to things they have learnt themselves; sometimes they suddenly start playing instruments in duets or solos; and sometimes they pick up a music theory workbook themselves and work through it voluntarily.
  • Make a video.  Our cousins have recently been working on a really cool project: making a video on what they have learnt about plants. Inspired, Prince asked if he, too, could make a video about ‘something’. Yes! In this day of electronics it is very easy to introduce kids to movie making. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, this could mean anything from Mom recording Kid do a two-minute puppet show through to installing some video editing software and creating a full-scale documentary! This easy project could last from one day to the whole summer long, and is packed with learning opportunities of all kinds.
  • Library reading challenge.  This is quite a common summer activity, but remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to taking part in the standard challenge if it doesn’t excite you. You can set any kind of challenge you (and your kids) like! Some ideas would be:
    • How many different versions of Shakespeare’s plays can you read?
    • Read at least one book a week.
    • How many books on the Romans can you read?
    • Write four book reviews: on a book you like, on a book you don’t like, on a fiction book, on a non-fiction book.
    • Read one poetry book a week, and memorise your favourite poems.
  • Educational games.  Invest is some good quality educational games, and commit to playing them with your children. Perhaps you could start a weekly ‘Family Games Night’, or a ‘Games club’ with friends. You can find some of my recommended games here and here.
  • Picnic & walk.  Being outdoors in vital to health and beneficial to academic achievements. Kids and nature go together so well, and you will find it takes no effort to keep them entertained. Why not head out with a picnic and some friends to a field or woods. You can catch up with friends and your kids will pick up sticks, climb trees, inspect bugs, cloud watch, imagine they are dragons, hide in hedges, run till they drop and generally have FUN!
  • My Prince soaking up the inspiration at the Military Aviation Museum.

    My Prince soaking up the inspiration at the Military Aviation Museum.

    Museums. Actually, unless you are a ‘schooler’, I don’t recommend you do this one in summer! Avoid the crowds and go term time – it’ll save your sanity. But if this is your only opportunity, museums are fantastic places for learning fun. It doesn’t have to be a big London museum (though these make wonderful days out). A quick Google search should reveal smaller museums all around you, some with local history and others with specific interests.

  • Focus on a favourite topic.  The summer is a great time for projects. Perhaps your kids are interested in farming. Use these weeks to visit a variety of local farms. Organise behind the scenes trips to a working farm. Watch documentaries on farming. Plant your own veggies. Make your own butter. Have farm-filled summer fun!
  • Nature activities.  There are all kinds of nature-based activities online. Although it takes some mental effort for us non-crafty types, kids LOVE making things like salt ice sculptures and land art.
  • House project.  Make this summer an ‘all hands on deck’ term. Maybe there’s a room you’ve always wanted to reorganise, an entrance you want to make more welcoming, a wall you want to paint or a bedroom you need to declutter. Take time to focus on one or two areas, and get the kids involved. Part of education involves learning to look after a home, and this kind of project teaches good stewardship and appreciation of space and beauty. It also has the potential to teach practical skills like painting, building and organising. Additionally, children love being a real part of the home, and involving them might be easier than trying to keep them out the way!

This is just a small sample of how you could weave in some learning fun with your kids this summer.  Do you have any other ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

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Ten educational resources I love

I’m always on the look out for great quality resources to use at home for learning and Bible study.  Here are ten of my personal favourites.

  • Story of the World.  This is a much-loved read-aloud in our house. It provides a basic overview of world history. Volume I, which we currently use, starts from the first Nomads up to the last Roman Emperor. However, the series takes you right through up to modern times. It has a companion activity book which I also love, but this is quite expensive and I might not get the successive ones as I don’t feel we’ve made enough use of it to warrant the cost.
  • How to Draw.  This is a lovely clear book, which even non-artists like myself can follow and produce great results. It also contains snippets of information about each animal, which gives this book bonus points!
  • Flags of the World.  When I first got this game and read the instructions I was disappointed. It sounded boring and difficult, and not well suited to helping the kids learn. But I was very wrong! Prince and Princess both love this game, and often choose to play it together. Princess can now recognise most of the flags of Europe and have at least a good guess at the capitals of each country, too.
  • Pop-up, Pull-out Picture Atlas.  I adore this beautiful, fun atlas. It has a pop up globe which spins, and each continent has a pull out page with countries and capitals, as well as lists of landmarks and features for each country, flags, population and language info. It’s a bright, attractive book which Princess often pulls out and pages through just for fun.
  • Building foundations of scientific understanding.  I love this basic science curriculum. It covers four ‘strands’ of science:  The Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science. Each strand is interwoven with the others to provide a comprehensive and broad understanding. It is easy to follow with fun and practical activities. When we do ‘lessons’ from this book my kids think we are just playing games, and they beg for more!

    Science fun with Daddy!

    Science fun with Daddy!

  • Where my Wellies take me.  This is a simply BEAUTIFUL poetry anthology. It follows a girl as she walks about her local countryside, with classic poems sprinkled throughout. The illustrations are inspirational and the choice of poems delightful.
  • Multiplication.com  This is a free maths games website, which focuses specifically on times tables. It has been great for keeping the fun in maths, and Prince and Princess have certainly learnt from it as they have played. Unfortunately, it does have advertising which is not always ideal. We get around this by minimizing the screen and adjusting the window size to block the ads from view.
  • Jolly Phonics readers.  Although Prince has passed the stage of using readers, Princess is not quite done with them yet. I have never tried any other reading curriculum, but I have been so happy with Jolly Phonics that I have never needed to look around. These readers are designed to work with the rest of the Jolly Phonics resources, but I have found they work very well on their own. Princess is currently working her way through level three, and she is a very competent reader for her age.
  • Kindle.  Owning a kindle has transformed our read aloud time. We suddenly have instant access to many classics – FOR FREE! So far we have enjoyed The Jungle Book, Five Children and It, Pollyanna and are half-way through The Secret Garden.
  • Read with Me Bible and Adventure Bible (NIrV).  These are lovely beginner Bibles. Princess got the ‘Read with Me’ Bible for Christmas, and I am impressed with its balance of detail and child centred text. Prince ‘graduated’ to his first real Bible after he finished his Jolly Phonics readers, and the NIrV is a lovely transition translation.

Ten ways to save money around the home

As a single-income family, frugal living is essential for us.

Here are ten ways I have learnt to keep costs down:

  • Dump the dryer!  It is widely known that tumble dryers eat up energy, and thus, money. I’ve been tumble dryer-free for about two years now, and it really is easy.  In good weather I hang the clothes outside, and in bad weather I make use of radiators, clothes drying racks, backs of chairs, stair banisters, and just about anything else I find to ‘hang’ on.  [EDIT: Please note that drying clothes indoors can contribute to damp and mold. We usually keep our windows open at least a crack all year round and this has not been a problem for us. However, mold is very damaging to health so use this tip at your own discretion.]
  • Learn to love white vinegar!  At just 9p/100 ml this wonder-product is a real bargain, and is much used in our house.  It’s a mould-killer, fabric softener, dishwasher rinse-aid, pesticide remover, and general all-purpose cleaner.

    My mother-in-law taught me the delight of a washing line full of clothes, blowing in the sunshiny breeze!

    My mother-in-law taught me the delight of a washing line full of clothes, blowing in the sunshiny breeze!

  • Drink water!  I’ve mentioned this in a previous budget post, but it really is a big one. Drinking water is cheap, healthy, and mess-free. It is very rare I spend money on any other drink (milk excepted), which frees up my grocery budget for more organic fruit and veg – yum! I also try to stick to a ‘drink water if you feel hungry between snack & meal times’ policy. Some days I’m better at this than others, but when we do it saves money on grazing our way through snacks, as well as being another healthy choice.
  • Eat your beans!  Organic beans are about half the price of organic beef. This is one of the reasons I rarely buy meat.  Instead I stock up on dried organic beans and lentils at our local ‘Taj the Grocerer’.  It has taken me years to get into the swing of remembering to soak the beans in advance, but I’m finally getting there.
  • Turn off lights!  My children know this is a bit of an obsession with me. I did some research on the idea that leaving a light on is more energy efficient than turning it off and on again, and found it is not really the case. Lights these days take only a small amount extra energy to switch on, so unless you are planning to return to the room in less than five minutes, then the best thing to do is turn it off. So we do.

    My little stash of beans - yum scrum!

    My little stash of beans – yum scrum!

  • Go eco!  This is not as simple as I would wish it to be, but overall we do find it saves money. When we returned to the UK from Canada we decided to invest in a hybrid car. The initial cost of this was more than other options, but we worked out the long-term costs and with reduced fuel bills and no car tax it works out better in the end. We are also blessed to have bought a house with solar panels and a solar water heater, so we carefully wait for the sun to come  out before putting on the dishwasher or washing machine, making the most of free electricity when it’s available. Even if you don’t have solar panels you might be able to switch to an energy tariff which gives you cheaper rates at night, and run your big appliances while you sleep! Buying eco-rated appliances and setting them on their most economical cycles is also helpful.
  • Don’t overcook!  This is not something I’ve measured in terms of savings, but is rather a common sense idea I had. Basically, the more I cook, the more gas/electricity I’m using. So I try to make quick-cooking meal choices. This is not always easy, and does not always happen. But I do try to be aware of the energy cost of the food we’re eating. Practically this means choices such as sandwiches more often that toast, pre-heating the oven for the bare minimum time, not over-cooking food (e.g. soups, curries, pasta), but turning them off as soon as they’re done.
  • Dress warm and keep moving! I really don’t like being cold. But instead of simply cranking up the heating we dress up in layers each day, and keep a chest full of snuggly blankets within easy reach. We also keep a basket of fresh slippers and socks to offer guests, so they don’t feel cold either. I also find that if I’m feeling cold, a little housework usually gets me warmed up rather efficiently 😉  For the kids, a quick game of ‘Simon Says’ involving lots of jumping, getting up and down and running on the spot warms them up fast, too.

    Blanket are so snuggly - and so are Princesses!

    Blanket are so snuggly – and so are Princesses!

  • Freecycle!  We are Freecycle lovers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to do a quick bit of Googling to find out what it is, where your closest groups are, and how to sign up. We’ve been blessed with such a variety of Freecycle offering, from shower units to our lovely new bunny rabbits!
  • Say “no” to TV!  Saving money is just one of the reasons we choose not having a TV package at our house. Apart from saving money on the package itself, we also save on the TV licence. With online access to BBC iPlayer via the Wii (and ITV and Channel 4 via the laptop when we want to), we still get to watch many great programs on our TV screen, with the FANTASTIC added benefit of no adverts. Do you need any more convincing?! [Note: if you watch TV via the internet please check the laws regarding licences in your own area. In our case we never watch live programs as these require a licence, so we stick to catch-up only.]

Ten things I love about home education

I met someone recently who said to me “I’ve always thought I would homeschool my kids if there were no other options.” I smiled, and replied, “I’ve always thought I would send my children to school if there were no other options!”

A lot of people look at me in awe when they find out that we home educate.  They say things like, “You must be so patient!”, “That must be hard!” or “I could never do that!”.  Well, the truth is that is can be hard, I  have to learn patience, and actually you could do it if God called you to it.  But my most common response to comments like these is a broad smile accompanied by “Actually, I LOVE it!”  And I do.  I really, really LOVE home educating my children.

So here is a list of just ten things I love about home education, in no particular order.  These are not necessarily reasons for homeschooling – you can find out more about why we choose to homeschool here – but rather some of the aspects of home education that I personally enjoy.

Whatever type of schooling you feel God has called your family to, I hope you enjoy – and perhaps find some inspiration in – this list.

  • Seeing first-hand the progress my children make on their learning journey.
    Whilst parents of schooled children can certainly track their progress to a degree, I love being an intimate part of that journey, witnessing the struggles, the light-bulb moments, the eagerness and the delight.
  • Being a key decision maker in the educational content, timing and presentation.
    I feel privileged to be able to make choices about what my children learn, how they learn it, and when they learn it. We are not constrained by a classroom full of needs, so learning can be a personalised timetable, allowing children to take time when needed, and rush ahead when talented.
  • Learning out & about!

    Learning out & about!

    “School” in PJs, the park, the car or the couch.
    I saw a funny video once, in which a homeschooled teen talked through common myths about homeschoolers, debunking each one in turn.  But the last one, he acknowledged to not only be true, but to be one of the greatest benefits of home education – doing ‘school’ in pajamas!

  • Sharing my faith throughout the day.
    Being with my children all day is not boring or difficult – it is a blessing beyond any other.  It gives me countless opportunities to show them grace, love, joy, perseverance, forgiveness, petitioning in prayer and personal Bible study.  This can obviously be done with schooled kids as well, – but with long school hours, homework and extra-curricular activities I have heard many parents talk of how busy they are and how little quality time they get to really spend with their children.
  • Crowd-free day trips and holidays.
    This is a sweet benefit!  We always try to go to the pool, the zoo, the museum and on holiday during school term.  This saves money (always helpful in a one-income family) as well as having SO – MUCH – SPACE!  Awesome.
  • Sibling love.
    Another frequent assumption about home education is that siblings would simply go crazy and kill each other.  Let me put you at ease on this: not only do they not kill each other (a definite bonus), but in my experience homeschooled siblings tend to get on very well! My own children are best friends. I am not saying they never argue or get frustrated with each other, but every homeschooled family I know has siblings who are friends. Every one! And I think this is because they spend so much time together, not despite it.
  • Best of friends!

    Best of friends!

    Learning together.
    I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember most of what I learned from my schooling! But now I get to learn it all again, and this time I’m really interested.  People often ask if you have to be a qualified teacher to home education.  You don’t.  Learning alongside your kids is not only acceptable, I think it is desirable.  When children watch adults seek out education and enjoy learning new things, they tend to follow this example.

  • Learning year-round.
    Learning is a life-time occupation.  Having a natural learning approach means we don’t really ever ‘break’ from schooling.  Rather, we are always open to learning, and welcome it as a natural part of life. We do have periods which might look more or less like school to the outside observer, but in truth we aim to keep an attitude of learning in everything we do, all through life.
  • Peaceful paced life.
    Some homeschool moms might read this and think I’m crazy.  Home education is not always calm and quiet, it’s true. But it allows me to set the pace I think is right for my family, and most of the time I find this is a pace of peace. I don’t have to rush my children out the door at 8 am, trying to avoid the school run traffic. I don’t have to force my four-year-old to spend six hours at school and pick her up exhausted (okay, she’s actually five now – but I was glad of it last year). Whilst we still aim to get up and make most of the day, it is done with a spirit of joy and peace rather than obligation and force.
  • Taking responsibility for my children’s upbringing.
    I find this a hard one to explain without causing offence, so I make a disclaimer here: I totally believe that each family MUST make decisions regarding schooling options for themselves.  You should not homeschool because it is right for my kids – only if it is right for yours.  And as long as you have considered the individual needs of your own children, your family unit, and sought God’s guidance on this fundamental aspect of parenting then I respect whichever schooling option you have chosen.  If you have not prayefully considered the options, I beg you would do so.  Kids spend so much of their time at school that to say ‘it doesn’t matter’ is just not true.  I am thankful for the example set for me by my parents, and I am thankful that God has chosen our family to be home educators.

Ten ways to pray with your children

Having an active prayer life, and inspiring one in my children, is something I desire as a mother. I need daily help to teach my children the ways of the Lord, and I want them to know that they do not have to rely their own strength – God wants to help them. I like to keep prayer times fresh, natural and organic.  We use a combination of routines and unique ideas in our prayer life. Here are ten ideas for ways and times to include prayer in each day, with and for our children:

  1. Pray before meals.  This a traditional time to pray, and it provides a regular reminder for us to thank God for His blessings.
  2. Have a ‘circle’ prayer.  Named the ‘circle’ prayer at our house, this is simply a way to pray where one person opens the prayer and each then takes a turn saying what they are thankful for, or what they are requesting of God. It goes around a few times and then someone closes it.
  3. Pray before bed.  Another traditional prayer time, which I think is very helpful in creating a peaceful, loving, positive routine. In our family we each have a turn to pray (or sometime do the circle prayer), and my husband and I try to include prayer for the spiritual growth of our children at this time, as well as requests for peaceful sleep and sweet dreams.
  4. Pray when a need becomes known.  Sometimes we get a call or message with an urgent request for prayer. At these times it is good stop what we are doing, call the family together and pray.
  5. Learn the Lord’s prayer.  While this is not something we have done (yet), Jesus provided us a sample prayer which we would to well to acquaint our children with.
  6. Pray when they are scared.  Whether it is bad dreams in the middle of the night, or stage-fright before performing to an audience, we should pray with our children whenever they are scared, teaching them that God both comforts and strengthens us in times of need.
  7. Use a prayer list.  Whether you keep a list on the fridge, in the lounge or on the back of the toilet room door (as my parents did when I was growing up), keeping a list of ‘prayer fodder’ around helps us and our children to remember to pray for “all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18).
  8. Pray alone.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, spending a personal time with God praying for your children is nourishing to the soul, and I could not get by without this time to ask God for His grace, wisdom and Spirit to be poured out on me and my children as we teach and learn together.
  9. The ‘Three Things’ prayer. Quite often during our daily Bible time the kids and I do a ‘three things’ prayer. We each choose one thing to be thankful for, one thing to pray for ourselves (with a spiritual emphasis) and one thing to pray for someone else.
  10. Pray when the impulse arises.  Princess has been an inspiration to me on this last point. Quite often when we are in the middle of doing something she will pipe up and say, “We should have a prayer!”. Yesterday we were out for a walk at a local National Trust property, enjoying the beauty surrounding us and the special time together as we all walked hand in hand. During this walk she gave this sweet-voiced suggestion, and so as we walked we said a circle prayer of thanks for the lovely time we were having. I hope she never loses the desire to pray spontaneously, and that it infects all she knows with a love for talking to God.

Ten ways to say ‘I love you’

Having a family is a beautiful gift. I am daily overwhelmed by the blessings God has chosen to give me!  Today I want to encourage us to remember to tell our husband and children how special they are to us.  Here are ten simple ways I thought of…

  1. Leave a note in a packed lunch.  Thank your husband for supporting your family. Tell a child you are praying for them today. Draw and colour a heart for your toddler.
  2. Plan and prepare a special meal.  It could be your husband’s favourite dish, a picnic on the dining room floor, or a themed dinner with decorations.
  3. Take time to join in a favourite activity.  Suggest an evening of computer games to your husband. Ask your children if they want to play hide and seek. Say ‘yes’ without hesitation if asked to join a family member in something they are doing.
  4. Say it. Say ‘I love you’ when your husband leaves and when he come home. Say ‘I love you’ when your kids wake up and when they go to sleep. Say ‘I love you’ at random times through the day. And when you say it, say it whole-heartedly.
  5. Go on a date.  Find a babysitter and take your husband out to the movies. Treat each child to a special one-on-one time at the park, McDonald’s, or Dairy Queen.
  6. Honour a person for a day.  Choose one family member and put and pictures of them around the house, leave encouraging messages for them on the fridge, pray over them at meal time. The next day/week/month choose a different member to honour.
  7. Be understanding.  If your husband comes home exhausted, offer him a hot bath and the remote control instead of expecting him to help with the kids. If a child is disappointed over something you consider insignificant, make the effort to see things from their perspective and offer support rather than simply dismissing the issue or disciplining unfeelingly.
  8. Save treats for your family.  If you make brownies for the neighbours, save some for your husband and children. If you knit blankets for charity, knit one for your family too. Don’t offer to others what you are not offering to your husband and kids.
  9. Create a family night.  Whether regular or a one-off, choose a night to devote to your family. Watch a movie with popcorn. Have a board game marathon. Tell funny stories. Eat homemade snacks.
  10. Serve with joy.  Sing while you wash dishes. Smile when you serve up lunch. Mention things you are thankful for instead of things that frustrate you.

What can you add to this list?

10 things I’ve learned as a mother

In no particular order, here are ten of the many, many things I’ve learned in the nearly six (!) years I have been a mother:

Fun on a ‘train’ in the local park!

  1. You love your kids in a way that cannot be described or imagined until you experience it.
  2. It’s easy to let each day slip by without thinking, but a better way is to pray and parent ‘intentionally’ – thinking about who are you shaping your kids to be, and how your guidance now will affect both them and others in the long term.
  3. One-on-one time set aside to talk to and focus your attention on each child individually is so important, and can provide some really insightful feedback from your child’s perspective on how you can improve as a parent.
  4. It is essential to MAKE regular alone time for you and God. Even if it’s just reading a few quick Scriptures on Bible Gateway or following a short daily plan on YouVersion, regular spiritual food is necessary for you, and makes you a better parent too.
  5. Boys and girls are naturally very different!
  6. While it may take three times as long, it’s also usually three times as special to do everyday tasks WITH your kids rather than on your own – and they really love to help!
  7. Talk to your kids with respect and love, and never belittle them (e.g. don’t laugh it off when they are embarrassed in company).
  8. Don’t assume kids understand simple things. What is simple to an adult is not as obvious to a child, so take time to show grace and explain things to them.
  9. Be a playmate as well as a parent. When it’s possible, drop what you are doing if they ask you to play, instead of saying “in a minute”, “not now” or “later”.
  10. Let your kids see your relationship with God. Let them hear you praying, let them see you reading Scripture, them watch you worship – so long as you are not doing it for show, but as a genuine expression of your faith.

What have you learnt as a parent?

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