Seasons

Life has found a peaceful rhythm recently. We’re in a season of (relative) rest. Since January this year we have had more time at home and fewer pressing commitments. It has been a time of strengthening family relationships and finding time to pursue interests and education more fully.

Princess working in the sunshine. Window seat for the win!

Prince and Princess have settled into a routine of waking, personal devotional, Morning High Five, then on to Learning Fun. By the time I finish my own personal time with God and come downstairs they have usually started on their work. They have always been good at working independently, but this season has seen a real step up in this. It seems I have hardly noticed them getting older, and all of sudden they are Big.

Big is good. Big is exciting. I love the people my Littles are becoming. But I have to confess – I really miss the Littles, too.

Our days are a mixture of learning independently and together. We do the hard things together, because it’s so much more friendly with two. We do the fun things together, too – read-alouds, walks, picnics, games, day trips, play-dates, church. But we also have time to work, play and rest independently, completing our own tasks and following our own interests. Our days are rich in love and fun.

Enjoying this season; preparing for the next.

I’ve had more time this season for reading. As some of you know, we had been pursuing the idea of adoption over the past four years. This journey took a twist earlier this year, and we are now part way through fostering training and assessment. This season of rest has allowed me to spend more time learning about how to help the types of children who may come in and out of our family in the future. The reading has also helped me develop skills, understanding and new ways to help Prince and Princess during time of anxiety, sadness and change. My favourite book so far is Building the Bonds of Attachment – a great read for anyone interacting with traumatised or challenged kids on a regular basis.

I don’t know when the next season will come, or what it will bring. I suspect it will be much fuller – in both trials and joys. But for now we are soaking up this season, full of its own beauties and blessings.

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven
(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

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Piles of washing and mountains of love

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Piles of washing, still waiting.

I probably should have spent the morning at home. There are dirty dishes in the kitchen and piles of washing waiting to be put away on my bed. I haven’t even finished unpacking from our mini holiday last weekend. But this morning called us to something better.

Over the years our homeschool life has gradually grown from a very free, natural learning style to a more structured approach. This has suited our family well, and helped us continue to love learning whilst also maintain a forward momentum. We have a rough plan, which involves Prince and Princess completing all the work on their ‘learning fun’ chart each day, preferably in the morning. This is mainly self-directed work, allowing me to get housework and other chores done as well as encouraging Prince and Princess towards autonomous learning.

This structure and set work has many benefits. Even though it isn’t always as ‘fun’ as I’d like to believe, the kids both work at it with very little complaining. It is good for us all to have some discipline and work ethic, and I wouldn’t want to drop it all together at this stage of our lives. But at the same time I never want our homeschool to be school at home. In the midst of structure, we still have space for freedom and flexibility. We have the blessing of being able to look at a sunny spring day and throw everything else aside to delight in it! And because we can, we did.

As we walked around Nymans with friends this morning, I smiled. “No one ever regrets spending ‘too much’ time with their children – only too little,” I said.

Prince’s drawing of him and me; mountains of love.

We all know that children grow up fast. Way too fast.

So sometimes it’s best to leave the piles of washing and bask in the mountains of love we share on our journey, together.

My Homeschool Day in Life with an 8 and 10 year old

Every year Simple Homeschool runs the Day in a Life series. I love how every homeschool life is different, and I am always on the lookout for great ideas to incorporate into our own daily rhythm. I also love taking part in this (even when it’s my only post of the year!) as it is an opportunity for me to reflect on how we grow and change through the years. Some changes are down to finding better ways to do things, some to changing interests and still others to the natural changes that occur as my ‘babies’ are growing up.

7:30 am

My alarm goes off. A combination of the tail end of a cold plus an emotional week has left me more tired that usual, so I hit snooze and catch an extra 15 mins of light sleep. I can hear the happy, soft voices of Prince and Princess in the background – my favourite waking up sounds. At 7:45 I wake fully, and pull open my Bible which lives next to my pillow. Personal time with God is how we all start our weekdays. I am reminded how much I love not having the school rush in the mornings, giving us the freedom to linger and fill ourselves up with the Lord for the day.

Science & snuggles!

8:30

When I’m done upstairs, I come down to find the kids already finished their Bible time and Morning High Five. They have started working; Prince is on the computer doing French on Duolingo, Princess at the table writing in her journal. I drink my water and grab a piece of fruit for breakfast, then potter around tidying the kitchen and sorting out washing. I have learnt over time that I find these kinds of job easiest in the morning, so I never worry about leaving last night’s dishes out. Work is always easiest when you find your personal rhythm, something I try to apply to Prince & Princess when I’m planning our schedule.

9:00

Wednesdays are our day for majoring on subjects we don’t get to every day, so I pull out one of our science books and we snuggle on the sofa to learn about muscles and tendons. We examine some of our own tendons and marvel at their strength. Then I do a quick search and pull up a few videos clips on the same topic for the kids to watch. Learning happens in different ways for different people, and so I like to solidify our understanding of topics through a variety of mediums.

9:45

As in previous years, I like us to have a morning walk at least most days. There is nothing like stretching our legs in nature and fresh air. It’s forecast for rain today, so we get on our wellies and waterproofs and head out to Nymans, my favourite place in all the world. As we walk we talk about nature, and how things are changing in the spring. There are plenty of puddles which provide much delightful splashing, and I feel my spirit soar as I walk through the incredible wonders of creation in the company of these two incredible children.

Strolling down the Lime avenue at Nymans

11:00

After a deliciously beautiful (and dry!) walk drinking up the spring beauty we get back in the car and head over to Little Crafter’s Pottery to pick up the ceramics we painted at a half-term family outing. This was a fabulously fun activity, and we are all delighted with the finished products. In the car we listen to our history CD, Story of the World. This is one we’ve used for a long time, and done several reviews of, but we all love it so much that the kids beg for more and I am only too happy to oblige.

11:45

Once we get home again the kids head upstairs to play while I prepare lunch: scrambled eggs and veggies, a staple quick fix at our house. When lunch is ready I set mine aside and while the kids eat I pull out the Kindle and read the next chapter of our current read-aloud. We are working through the Anne of Green Gables series and we’re in book two, Anne of Avonlea. I love the wonderful use of language, which stretches both our imagination and our vocabulary. After reading a chapter I turn on BBC iPlayer and let the kids watch the next episode of The Big Painting Challenge. The series is meant just for fun, but it includes some great art tips for my budding artists, and I know it will fire them up with enthusiasm. While they watch I eat my own lunch, check Facebook and do some more pottering around.

1:30

Predictably inspired, the kids pull out the painting supplies after the show and get to work on some masterpieces.While they delve into the world of acrylics I use the time to have a deep clean of Prince’s bedroom. Although they both tidy their own rooms regularly, every once in a while I like to do a major sort out. Feeling focused I plow through it and feel very satisfied with the end result. I always have high ambitions it will stay this way, but experience tells me it never does…

3:15

By now the room is tidy and the painters have packed up, so we return to some of our daily work – music practice. Prince has recently decided to try out the flute instead of drums, and is enjoying it so far. I help him with this, as I have been progressing well with flute myself. I’m considering doing a grade five exam this year. After flute Princess gets out the violin. She’s still doing keyboard (taught by her lovely older cousin), but has been wanting to do violin for a while as well. She is blessed to have an aunt who plays wonderfully, so we have picked up some tips and she is starting to learn the basics.

3:45

While I do my own flute practice the kids get on with some geography games I’ve set for them. Then we pull out our geography book and snuggle back on the sofa to read about the core of the earth. Prince remembers a model he made several years ago and runs to get it for a visual aide while we read. Princess colours in a card she made for one of her cousins while she listens.

4:30

Tae Kwon Do buddies

We eat early on Wednesdays, as the kids and I have Tae Kwon Do, so I work on dinner while the kids do some tidying. Daddy comes home just as I’m serving up – perfect timing! I love it when we eat together at the table.

5:30

We start getting ready for Tae Kwon Do. This is something the kids and I all enjoy very much. The three of us don our doboks and belts and we all head out the door. The kids train from 6-7 while Ben and I enjoy watching and chatting. Then my hero husband takes the kids home, where he reads them some of their bedtime read-aloud, Lord of the Rings. In the mean time I get to enjoy an hour and a half of Tae Kwon Do. I’m so thankful for a husband who helps me do the things I love.

8:45

Prince is still awake when I get home, and greets me with a big hug at the top of the stairs. He’s nearly as tall as me now, but I love that he still wants to cuddle. After kissing him goodnight, Ben and I enjoy the rest of our evening close together, chatting and watching things together.

We are in a phase of life where each of our days are different, but they have a common, comfortable rhythm. We are flexible, and fallible. Some days don’t work out as planned. But we have fun. We learn. We love. There is so much beauty in our homeschool lives. Thanks, God.

Layers of Education

They say that you need to see an advert at least seven times before it becomes effective. The first time you see it, you barely notice it. But with each successive exposure something builds inside of you, embedding a memory in your mind which can then be recalled at any relevant moment.

I think education might work in a similar way.

The first exposure to a new idea or concept can be overwhelming to a child. Long division, for example. (Actually, that was overwhelming for me too…) Or the significance or the bubonic plague. Or the location of key geographical cities. All new information is NEW. And however spongy our kids’ brains, it may take a few times before the neural pathways are sturdy and sure.

I used to get this a bit wrong. In my pursuit for excellence of education, I mistakenly thought that each time a child was given new information, they needed to remember it perfectly before we could go on. I would feel a failure if my five year old couldn’t recall every detail of our history story. I became frustrated when my nine year old couldn’t work out how to solve every maths problem in his book. I felt that 100% learning had to happen first time around.

But I was wrong.

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

I should have known it. Am I not exactly the same? I can read a chapter of Romans, and fifteen minutes later have no idea what I read. But if I read that chapter in the morning, talk about with my kids later, write about it the next day, re-read it the following day, mediate on it, look it up in different versions, hear a sermon on it, read a book that refers to it and watch a program that relates to a concept from it – THEN I know it.

And so it is with children. One of the oh-so-many beauties of homeschooling is the way we can engineer overlapping layers of education for our children. As they learn about the effect of the moon upon tides we can offer opportunities to reinforce this new knowledge. A trip to the beach to see tides in action; a documentary on the moon; a lesson in gravity; a game about moon phases; a conversation about forces; a library book on science; a poem about tides. As pieces of the great knowledge puzzle start connecting in their minds, the strength of learning is increased and a network of pathways are created which can continue to be traveled and built upon as learning keeps taking place.

Sometimes it’s as simple as redoing lessons or rereading chapters over a few times. Sometimes it requires a topic to be looked at through various depths – an overview, a narrowed-in focus, a detailed study. Other times it’s the combination of a variety of topics interlinking with one another, such as history and geography. Whatever it is, the one thing I have learned is that frequent, varied and passionate exposure to information creates a solid education.

My Homeschool Day in Life with a 6 and 8 year old

DSC_1011About this time last year I took part in Simple Homeschool‘s A Day in the Life series for the first time  It is always interesting to chart a full day of activity at home. We like to run our days pretty naturally, but over time we have gradually imposed a little structure. Nothing rigid. Nothing formal. Just… a more organised flow. So here is what a typical day kinda looks like this year.

6:45am

I hear Prince getting up. He goes downstairs, but I doze for a bit longer. I’m at that blissful stage of being able to sleep even if my kids are awake. Yes – it really does happen. Yeah – it is as good as it sounds.

7:30am

I get up. YAWN. This is my new weekday rising time. I have never been an early riser. It’s not in my genes. Even so, I have found that doing it regularly makes it easier, and the benefits of a longer morning are worth it. I come downstairs to find Prince has been reading a book on the solar system, and he is now drawing a picture of what he has read. I smile to myself; homeschool happening while I sleep?  Cha-ching!

The kids get breakfast started for themselves. So far, so normal. But I check outside and see that our new electric car, which has been charging in the garden overnight, has got stuck in the mud. Literally. The next hour I forget our Morning High Five ritual and spend it trying to help my husband and brother free the car. Unsuccessfully. Luckily we have a back-up.

8:30am

When we finally give up on the car, I come back inside to find the kids playing ‘Cards of Maths’, working their quick addition skills. We invented the name for this game from Life of Fred. So far today they’ve covered science and maths, and we’re not even dressed. Did I mention I love homeschooling?

At this point I get them started on Morning High Five, while I potter around doing things which need to be done – packing the dishwasher, chatting to my husband, hosing the mud-caked car wheels…

9:30am

Hubby arrives back from dropping my brother at his course. He’s not feeling well (particularly after spending an hour in the cold mud), so spends the day in bed. Meanwhile, the rest of us are finally dressed, fed and ready to officially start our day. We get wrapped up and head outside for our morning walk. We try to do this everyday, regardless of weather. In reality it probably happens three days out of five. Today we stroll over to our local field, where the kids enjoy walking on walls, investigating puddles and playing pooh sticks. These short bursts of fresh air are always so delicious.DSC_1007

10:00am

We have a rotating schedule of different Bible activities that we do throughout the week. Today I put on a couple of chapters of The Lamb for the kids, while I take the time to read my own Bible. After this we pray together.

10:30am

I guess this is where learning ‘really’ starts. (If you ignore the reading, playing, exploring and discussion which has happened since the moment we got up.) Princess and I snuggle up on the window-seat and read two chapters of her maths book, Life of Fred: Butterflies. We started going through the whole elementary series all together a few months ago, but when we reached half way it started to get a little advanced for Princess. She is only six, after all – still my baby. So while Prince continues to storm his way through, Princess has gone back to redo the earlier books. I like to make sure the foundational understanding – in any topic – is rock solid. While we have fun reading about Fred’s silly adventures, Prince is upstairs doing drum practice.

After this, we swap. Prince reads Life of Fred: Honey with me while Princess is whizzing through some mental arithmetic and recorder practice. As Prince moves onto his written math work, I hop on to Duolingo for a bit of French. I enjoy learning, and love that the kids see it as a natural part of everybody’s life – not just something children are forced to do between 9 and 3, Monday to Friday.

11:15am

Princess recently commented that we hadn’t been doing as much free learning time as we used to, and she missed it. I love to have feedback from the kids, and really believe in the value of listening to their opinions. So this morning I call ‘Free Learning Fun’. This means ‘you can do anything you want so long as it’s educational.’ It’s a great way to fuel their natural love of learning. The kids have a quick conversation and decide to play Flags of the World. They just use the European cards for now, and focus on learning the flags, countries and capitals of our continent.

While they play I sneak in another round of Duolingo, and work on writing a script for my next Advanced Creative Writing Open University assignment. At some point I notice that the sun is shining brightly. As we have solar panals, this is my cue to do any electric-heavy housework, so I quickly pop some washing in the machine and enjoy the thought of a free spin.DSC_1015

11:45am

The kids take a break from playing Flags of the World. I pull out the Kindle, and we all snuggle up under a blanket for a couple of chapters of Black Beauty. Reading together has so many wonderful benefits. It’s a great way to fuel a love of books and teach your child to read; it creates shared experiences; it starts conversations; it expands horizons; it strengthens bonds. Most of our curriculum choices are based on reading aloud together.

12:00pm

Lunch time. We don’t always eat this early, but that’s the way it happens today. After eating, the kids carry on their game while I do a bit more script writing.

12:30pm

Another snuggle gathering. I love the way so much of our learning takes place under blankets full of love. This time it’s history, and we are nearing the end of Story of the World volume 1, which we thoroughly enjoy (Prince almost always begs for the next chapter when we’re done). We’re in the midst of the Roman period, and today we read about the intense persecution of Christians. After reading we get caught up in a chat about the Ichthys symbol, so we do a bit of research and some drawing on this topic.

1:oopm

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Officially this is free time. Prince gets stuck into drawing, which is both his highest passion and talent. Princess gets out her plethora of card making supplies and soon the house is covered in paper. It’s messy, but I love it. Especially as they are old enough to tidy it up themselves. They also read, play, and generally amuse themselves productively. Although not officially a learning time, there is plenty of learning going on if you look carefully.

I make use of this time to do things I need or want to do. Today it’s a mix of housework, studying and research.

4:30pm

Tidy up time. We always try to tidy up before Daddy, Nana and Uncle Sean get home (yes, we have a full house – just the way we like it!), so even though Daddy is already here, we still get things sorted. This end of the day sort out also help me to relax after the kids are in bed. Clutter is not my favourite. Tidying up keeps the kids occupied while I get supper sorted (fish salad tonight) and make sure the kitchen is clean.

5:30pm

I leave the kids with Daddy while I nip out to pick up my brother. When we get back it’s dinner time. We try to eat early on Tuesday’s as we host house church from 6:30pm.

 

7:30pm

Bed time routine begins. This tends to get dragged out these days. If it finishes quickly, the kids get reading time in bed. Prince is currently working through many books, but mainly the Narnia series. It think he’s on Prince Caspian, but he moves through them so fast I can’t keep up. Princess is into Milly-Molly-Mandy right now. Tonight, however, there is no reading time left, so it’s prayers and lights out.

8:00pm

I love to end the day snuggled (again!) with my husband. We usually put something on to watch. I almost always get a foot rub. I know – Best. Husband. Ever. Tonight we watch something on his Ipad in bed, so as not to share germs with the other adults in the house. We watch some documentaries on healthy diets, and fall asleep inspired by ideals we might never achieve, but enjoy striving for.

And that’s it! A typical day this year. What will it look like next year, I wonder?

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!

Homeschooling on holiday: our camping trip

We recently took our first family camping trip to one of our favourite places – the New Forest. I had been looking forward to this trip as an opportunity to enjoy some unique learning and bonding with the kids. I envisioned rustic evenings and adventure-filled days.

Yeah, I’m an idealist.

As it happened, hay fever and a terribly uncomfortable gravel tent pitch meant we didn’t embrace the fullness of my camping vision, and had to leave for home a couple of days early. However, we had some fantastic fun with some very special friends (who, very sensibly, ‘camped’ in a nearby cottage). We made the best use of our time that we could, and overall enjoyed learning, laughing and loving despite the set backs.

Day One:  After setting up camp, we spent our first day picnicking, walking and playing in the forest. The kids had tons of fun just ‘being’ in the natural woodland. The educational benefits of being outside are often overlooked and under-supplied, but this day was a feast of connecting with nature.Day one

Day Two:  Having just signed up for membership with the National Trust, we took advantage of unlimited free visits and went to Kingston Lacy twice. This day was our first visit, where we enjoyed relaxing on the lawn, exploring the hidden bamboo garden, and reading poetry in the shade. After a lovely lunch in the cafe, we then went to Studland beach, another National Trust owned area, where we licked ice-creams and paddled in the sea. I highly recommend National Trust membership to homeschooling families. There are properties all over the country, and they offer opportunities to enjoy beautiful gardens as well as historical houses.IMG_2033

Day Three:  Salisbury cathedral is one of Hubby’s favourite buildings, so this day was dedicated to enjoying the architecture with our friends. We were blessed to be there while the boys’ choir was rehearsing, and all our musical drama kids got to watch as the boys treated us to some high quality singing. The kids followed an activity trail here and learnt a bit about the history of the place, as well as appreciating the craftsmanship of the building itself.IMG_2184

Day Four:  We went back to Kingston Lacy to explored the house this time. We got to see beautiful marble staircases, real cannon balls from the destruction of Corfe Castle, the cutest turtle footstool ever, and Prince’s favourite – an extensive Egyptian artifacts collection. The kids completed an activity trail here too, and collected badges at the end. We followed up this morning with a little walk around Christchurch castle ruins and another beach trip. Then we headed home to our oh-so-comfy beds.Day two

Although we didn’t get to do all the things we had planned, our few days away were full of blessings. They gave us a chance to spend more time together as a family. They offered new and exciting learning opportunities. And they created memories which we will hold close for years to come.

But I am never camping on gravel again.

Sunshine soaked learning

“We must challenge people to think, “Why learn indoors?” 
Robert Brown MSP, Deputy Minister for Education and Young People

My poets, inspired by nature.

My poets, inspired by nature.

We packed up a bag of books, snacks, drinks and picnic blankets and headed off to our local field. The sunshine was bright and the weather set to be glorious all day long. I wanted to get out into nature and soak it all up before the heat of the day set in too much. And it was even more delightful than it looked. Although we try to go outside for at least a walk around the block whatever the weather, on days like this we can’t seem to help being out as much as possible. It’s like the sun is calling us, eager to shower us with health and inspiration if we’ll just step outside.

Sunshine girl

Sunshine girl

One of the (seemingly endless) blessings of home education is that we are not restricted by timetables and classrooms. On days like this we can take our work outside with us. And when we do so, it seems that just like the sun feeds the plants, it feeds our minds and increases the fruit of learning. In fact, this is not just a theory – evidence has shown that grades and personal development both benefit from taking learning outside of the classroom. I recently read a publication by Natural England which stated that,

“A recent synthesis of the evidence highlights the wide ranging benefits to children of learning experiences in natural environments (Dillon and Dickie, 2012). However there is also evidence to show the extent to which children are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural environment (England Marketing 2009).”

(School Leader and Teacher Insights into Learning Outside the Classroom in Natural Environments – A Study to Inform the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, Forward. Emphasis mine)

The benefits according to this study included improved motivation, better behaviour, and increased self-confidence. Really, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I believe we were created to be in nature, and whenever we do what we are created to do, we thrive. (One of the reasons I think education should be child-tailored to individual gifting and passion.)

Who needs sand when you can build with cut grass?

Who needs sand when you can build with cut grass?

In our hour on the field today we read history, nature studies and poetry. We interspersed this with playing, running, laughing, climbing, chatting, relaxing, eating and drinking. It was a feast of joyful learning, spurred on by the energising sunshine and fresh air. As we packed up to walk home again, Prince said to me, “I’m going to write a poem when we get home – called ‘The Lonely Field’. And he did. Princess asked, “Please can you help me write with dandelion milk?”  (A fun idea we read about in our Nature Year book.)  And I did.

Thank the Lord for the simple blessing of nature, and the delight of home education!

The Visitors of the Lonely Field.

The Visitors of the Lonely Field.

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.

Learning fun: a useful tool

Some of the fun ways we use the white (green) boards in our house.

Some of the fun ways we use the white (green) boards in our house.

One of my favourite homeschooling tools is the whiteboard. I love how versatile it is! We currently have three in our house, and each of them has a different purpose. We have our “Verse of the Week” board, which we currently use to write one verse from our Friday morning Bible study on each week, and try to memorise it. Then we have our regular notice board, which is topped with an encouraging Bible verse and used to just write reminders and notes on, such as “put the bins out tonight”. Lastly we have our activity board. This is the one we use for ALL kinds of things – from maths to geography to language to just plain silly fun.

There are so many ways to make learning fun at home, and the white board is an invaluable part of this process in our family. Below is a chart of some of the things we have done with our whiteboard (which is sometimes green… just semantics, y’know…) over the years, separated into categories. And colour-coded. Because it makes me feel more organised than I really am.

Please feel free to download this chart and use it for your own family. And if you have any other great whiteboard ideas please share them – I’m always looking for more 🙂

Fun and educational ideas for your whiteboard.

Fun and educational ideas for your whiteboard.

Encouraging, spiritual and character-building ideas for your whiteboard.

Encouraging, spiritual and character-building ideas for your whiteboard.

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