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

DSC_1016

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!

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.

Homeschooling with bunnies

Yesterday we got bunnies.

I’ll let that sink in.

BUNNIES!

!!!!! BUNNIES !!!!!

For those of you who know me, this may come as a shock.  Getting a pet was not on my to-do list.  In fact, I think it was on my ‘How can I avoid this without ruining my children’s childhood?’ list.  But when Hubby showed me an offer of two child-friendly bunnies, along with all their kit, going free to a loving and spacious home something just felt right about it.  The owner, a very sweet lady, loved them dearly but was no longer able to give them the kind of home she felt they needed (running free about the house and garden).  I was struck by her sense of responsibility to do what was right for the animals despite her own desire to keep them.  So yesterday afternoon they arrived to check us out and it soon became clear that we were perfectly suited.  So we told the kids.

Prince was inspired to write this, dedicated to the new loves in his life <3

Prince was inspired to write this, dedicated to the new loves in his life ❤

Princess snatching some reading time before swimming this morning.

Princess snatching some reading time before swimming this morning.

Now we are adjusting to being bunny owners. And not just any bunny owners – Homeschooling Bunny Owners! Pets obviously provide many opportunities for learning, and I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of every one that comes our way.  So far Princess has been doing reading practice with ‘My Pet Rabbit’ and Prince (having already read and practically memorised all three books we’ve borrowed on bunnies) walks around spouting rabbit facts at us, such as “When they flick their paw you mustn’t touch them – they are about to groom,” and “Two sisters tend to get along best.”  Prince even said he’d like to take responsibility for cleaning out the hutch!  [Delighted Mommy giggle here.]

Have you got pets?  I’d love to hear how you incorporate pet care into your child’s education.

Behind the Scenes

Seven is a really big number.

Seven is a really big number.

I’ve recently started a new schooling system. With the advent of my Prince turning SEVEN (shock, disbelief) I have felt the need to take my relaxed, interest-led, natural learning method a notch up the formality rating. Whilst I still absolutely believe in the benefits and necessity of keeping learning fun, relaxed and relevant, I also have found that some days my kids need a little prompting. With their limited world view there are some things they don’t learn about, simply because they don’t know about it. This is where I come in! I see my role as ‘Chief Instigator and Inspirator‘. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.  But it should be.)

When I let my children learn naturally, I am usually surprised at how much of what they do would be classified as ‘official schooling’ if I had instigated and formalised the learning which happens. For example, yesterday Prince saw a French book lying around so he picked it up and began reading. Sitting next to him, I peered over his shoulder and pointed out that if he read the helpful translation lists at the top and bottom of the pages he would then be able to understand the cartoon strips. With a little help he then read two pages of French conversation, practicing pronunciation and extending his vocabulary! This is my ideal:  unprompted interaction between kids/parents/tools produces effective learning.

But natural learning is not what this post is about.  Why?

Whilst I see first-hand the benefits of learning as opportunity and desire present themselves, I have also seen that there are some things I’d like my children to know which don’t come up in our everyday life very often. Also, there are some days when I feel we have done very little learning of any kind, and although I am comfortable with this every now and then, I desire to foster a habit of industrious activity rather than laziness. SO! Here is my new and improved ‘Natural Learning with a Structured Twist’: It’s very simple really. I started by drawing up a Monday – Friday timetable. Under each day I put in topics that I think are important to make sure we hit from time to time. Over a few weeks I tweaked this until I ended up with this:

My super-secret, under-cover Spring '13 timetable!

My super-secret, under-cover Spring ’13 timetable!

Now, I know how formal this looks. But looks can be deceiving. The key to keeping this natural is this: KEEP IT SECRET! I don’t let my kids know that behind the scenes of our seeming unstructured day is a chart which prompts Mommy to casually say, “Hey guys!  Let’s play ‘Flags of the Word’ together!’ on Tuesday. Or that when I start playing a French computer program on Wednesday, and they just happen to be sitting close by, I am actually taking advantage of their inability to stay away from electronic media, and capitalising on the attention I know they immediately pay to All Things Computerised.  As they listen and – usually – come and join in with me, they are absorbing new words, better accents and French sentence structures without any idea that they are ‘being schooled’. When I write maths problems on our activity board for ‘fun’, this is exactly what they think it is – little do they know that it is actually Friday’s ‘Basic Skills’. In reality, this is not a timetable for the kids – it’s for me.  I am kept accountable through the structure, then implement it through life in as natural a way a possible.

Another key to the natural flow of this new system is flexibility.  One of the joys of home education is it’s flexible nature, and I never want to lose this.  If we don’t get to History on Monday – never mind.  We’ll pick it up on Tuesday… or next week.. or we’ll do double another time… or we’ll forget about it.  Since we don’t break the year up into terms and holidays, but rather school throughout the year (and indeed, the days and weeks), there is no pressure to make sure we cover every thing, every day.  If we miss something, I can always put it down to an inset day 🙂

Reading is Princess's newest learning passion!

Reading is Princess’s newest learning passion!

Lastly, I hold to my belief that children learn best when they are self-motivated and interested. If a child is showing a new passion for music, then take time to indulge that for a while, even if it means cutting back on writing. If, as happened to us, a recent trip to France sparked an enthusiasm for French, then this is a great time to become immersed in French books, programs and conversation. If science needs to take a back seat for a while, so be it. You can always come back to those subjects you left behind, but you can’t always recapture the spark of excitement which lives in your child temporarily.  Don’t miss it – nurture it!

I know that formality, structure, and curriculums are the favourite choice of many home-educating families. But if you’re looking for something a little more natural, then maybe you want to create your own Behind the Scenes timetable.  And maybe you have some other great ideas for keeping the balance between structure and freedom?  Please share them with us all 🙂

A delight-directed journey to the ocean

I have mentioned before that we take a natural learning approach to homeschooling our kids. Delight-directed learning is another term I like to use to describe what we do, and I’d like to share an example of the way this works in our family.

Octonaut happy kids!

Late last year the ‘Octonauts‘ became a popular cartoon series on TV here in England. Although we don’t generally watch TV, we happened to stumble across this program and Prince instantly became hooked. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Octonauts is about a team of animals who go on missions under the ocean to help sea creatures who are in trouble. Having checked it out, my husband and I agreed the cartoon was fun and harmless, and so let him watch it whenever the opportunities arose. Quickly the Octonaut fever grew, and by the end of Christmas he and his sister were the lucky owners of almost all Octonaut gear available! It was then that I started to notice his increasing knowledge of sea creatures and the ocean.

By May this year Prince’s love for Octonauts had started to fade slightly, but replacing it was a deeper interest the real ocean and the creatures who live in it. For his birthday we decided to celebrate this with a trip the to the London Sealife Aquarium, which he LOVED!  From then on his passion has grown and grown. As he showed greater interest, we helped him to learn more by providing him with books, documentaries, posters, field trips and other sources of information (some of these were free, others we spent money on).

Allowing Prince’s learning to be directed by his delight has had amazing results. In less than a year he has gone from knowing practically nothing about the ocean, to being an expert on sharks (most especially the great white, which he thinks is just beautiful) and knowing more about the ocean than anyone else I know (adults included).

It may be obvious that through this passion Prince has learned a lot about science, but what may not be obvious is that it has also contributed to other areas of his education too. For example:

– His reading has improved as he borrows, buys and reads every book he can on the topic.
– Similarly, his vocabulary has increased to include many specialist words he would not otherwise have come across.
– He is grasping mathematical concepts such as percentages, size and weight measurements.
– He has written and illustrated several books on the ocean and its creatures.
– He researches and draws anatomically correct pictures of varieties of different species.

Delight-directed learning really is a delight, and I am so thankful to God that we are able to pursue this style of home education!

Natural learning

As a homeschooling Mom, one of my greatest joys is watching my children learn new things. Right now we don’t follow any particular curriculum, have any set ‘school work’ for each day, or follow any term timetables. Instead, we are adopting a relaxed, holistic, natural learning method. Whilst there are merits with a classroom style approach to education, I believe that the best learning happens in every day life, as we pursue our interests and talents, as we master necessary skills, and as we encounter people with a passion for different topics. I think this is especially true for young children, who find it so hard to sit still and listen to lessons. As the kids get older I will re-evaluate our style, but for now natural learning is working for us.

So what does this natural learning method involve, and is it effective? The short answers are ‘a willing heart’ and ‘yes’. For the longer answers, read on 🙂

It’s hard to say what a ‘typical’ day looks like at our house, in terms of education, but here are some things that happen fairly often:

  • Top: a graphic design project Prince and I created
    Middle: ‘Shark’ from ‘WordWorld’, by Prince age 5
    Bottom: Copywork by Princess, age 3

    Reading.  All kinds of books are read in our house. So far today, for example, the kids have read (or listened to me read) ‘The Life of Jesus’, ‘Usborne First Illustrated Maths Dictionary‘, ‘The Story of the Olympics‘, various sections from ‘Animal Kingdom’, ‘The Big Dark’, ‘My Daddy is a Giant’ and ‘Lines and Squares’. Out of all these the only one I initiated was the poem, ‘Lines and Squares’. This reading has provided learning in the following ‘school’ topics: English (reading), religious education, maths, English literature, history and geography.

  • Drawing.  My kids are prolific drawers! They have usually drawn a few pictures each before I am even out of bed.  They take great care and devote a lot of time to their pictures. This, obviously, covers the topic of ‘art’, but we also find that their drawings inspires learning about other topics, such as geography. Today Prince also helped me create the graphics for his birthday invitation in Adobe Illustrator, which provided some ICT learning.
  • Dancing and music.  Princess especially likes to dance. She is inspired by her cousin, and also loves to choreograph her own dances and put on shows. We have a variety of classical music we love to listen to, and our favourites are Vivaldi, Mozart and Andrea Bocelli. With this we cover some P.E., music, and performing arts.
  • Questions and conversations.  Prince is at that inquisitive age, where it’s practically impossible to keep him from learning! He’s always asking questions about things, and having conversations with Daddy or me about topics which interest him. Sometimes we expand upon this by looking up more information in a reference book (our dictionary or atlas), or searching on the internet. A lot of educational topics are covered this way.
  • Writing.  Both kids like to make their own books, written and illustrated. Prince is developing quite a collection. They also write messages on their pictures, write out the ‘verse of the day’, and today Prince wrote out names on his birthday party invitations. We use these opportunities to learn spelling, grammar, handwriting, composition, creative writing, etc.

There are so many other opportunities that come up ever day – it’s impossible to even remember them all, let alone list them! We do field trips, cooking, painting, gardening, counting, telling the time, astronomy, patterns, imaginary play, construction, French, life skills, science, environmental awareness, health and nutrition, and much more.

In summary, natural learning is a fun, holistic approach to eduction. The key to making it work is, in my opinion, an open, willing mind and dedication. When we take time to see and take hold of the learning opportunities in every activity we can inspire our children to learn and seek out knowledge through their everyday life.

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