Getting back on track

I have let this blog slip lately. Actually, to be honest, it’s not the only thing I have let slip lately. Part of the reason that I haven’t been blogging is that I haven’t felt that inspired to write about what we’ve been doing. We have been in survival mode quite a lot.

We’ve been getting learning done – at least the “important bits” – maths, reading, writing. But we’ve been missing the fun bits – poetry teatime, Morning Basket (and with that, a lot of our history), art, handicraft. It’s all fallen by the wayside.

I have been struggling to get up before the kids, and struggling to be organised in the mornings before school. My washing has been piling up, my house has been a mess, and I have had many days of being Super Cranky Mummy.

It hasn’t been all that fun. We’ve had some fun moments. We went to Bath last week to immerse ourselves (get it?!) in Roman British history. We have been baking and visiting friends, but mostly it’s been a bit of a drag, with me berating myself for not being organised, but lacking the energy to actually get organised, and then taking it out on everyone else.

At least, that’s how it feels on a grey, drizzly December afternoon when I am sitting here with a cold, two people in our household are on the other side of the world visiting family, my head aches and I ate chocolate that I really didn’t need to. Maybe it’s not that bad. But I suspect that it is.

So, I am going to take the rest of December to focus on what’s important – to get back on track. I am going to cultivate early nights, and getting up when my alarm goes off. Eating well and getting exercise. Cooking and reading good books with my kids and laughing together and playing board games. Singing Christmas carols and reminding ourselves of the magic of Christmas with the Prince of Peace being born – and letting his peace filter into our home and chase away the bickering. I am going to plan and gather to start 2019 with inspiration and excitement. And I am going to rest.

I am going to set goals – little goals, not big sweeping unrealistic ones. I am going to look up all the links I have been saving to check out and decide which ones we want to try.

Maybe we’ll finish December just as tired as we started it. But maybe we’ll finish it physically and emotionally recharged, and have a good January.


Creating a culture of curiosity

One of my biggest goals as a home educating parent is to engender a sense of curiosity in my children. I would consider our home ed journey a success if my children walked away from it with a love of learning, a strong character, and a profound curiosity.

My husband and I both love learning. We often watch documentaries, we frequently send each other links to interesting articles. Right now as I am typing this my husband is showing me photos of weird and wonderful deep sea creatures from some Russian fisherman’s Twitter feed. (The alien invasion has apparently already happened. Those fish are weird.) We want to create a culture of curiosity in our family. Here are some of the ways that we go about it.

We create an inspiration-rich environment. My husband and I both grew up with books. I am talking bookshelves-shoved-everywhere-there’s-a-spare-corner type books. Continue reading

What we’ve done this week…

We have made it through the first week of our Adventures in British History. It’s been a funny old week. We were all happy to be learning and doing things, but everyone was sooo tired and grumpy after camp, and no one is really over it yet. We only did some of our bookwork, yet we were running behind all week. Lunch was late every day, and it made our afternoons short.

I decided to cut science, copywork, and maths drill from our schedules this week and add them in next week. Because Bookworm decided to go and break her collarbone last week, we also had to lose her writing and grammar work. Maths was pretty much the only thing we did consistently all week, and even that was shortened to times tables practice in the case of Buttercup, because her new maths book hadn’t arrived. It arrived yesterday, finally, along with the last book in the series for Bookworm and Snugglepot to move onto soon. Continue reading

First day fun – making memories

We really school year round, so a first day of school can feel a bit artificial. But we had a very light August, and we have just had a week off to go on camp. Plus, everyone else is talking about back to school, and we are starting a new history adventure, after all, so I thought that it might be fun to do some back to school things.

I started by getting some shiny new stationery as a surprise. Colourful pencil cases (we’ve been doing a common pencil pot for a few years now), new schedule book folders, and a squeaky-clean new history journal notebook.

Monday began with our traditional back to school breakfast – bagels. Continue reading

Get set for Adventures in British History

I am writing this with the jet lag of being on camp for a week. We have just spent a lovely week with other home educators on a farm in Cornwall. There were lots of good conversations, and I came away inspired. My kids ran wild with friends all week, and had an absolute blast, apart from a fractured collarbone sustained during a raucous game of Capture the Flag.

After we’ve had a sleep, and tidied up the post-holiday debris, we will be embarking on an exciting adventure in British history. We will be using Our Island Story by H E Marshall as our main spine text, and supplementing with Usborne History of Britain, Brittania by Geraldine McCaughrean, and Tony Robinson’s Kings and Queens.

I chose Our Island Story because it tells history as a story, rather than as an encyclopaedia. We have been using A Child’s History of the World the last couple of years and loved it. This looks set to be similar. If anyone wants to follow along with us, I have put my outline here. We will be doing a lot of reading aloud, as well as doing things like watching YouTube clips, cooking food from different periods of history, and visiting places that are relevant to the period of history we are studying. I am super excited about starting – it’s going to be so. much. fun!

We’ll be doing the read alouds during our Morning Basket time, and I will also be looping through some other books. I am trying some Charlotte-Mason-style Artist/Picture study and Music/Composer study, as well as doing some Critical Thinking, poetry and Spanish.

Just at the moment though the thought of doing anything sounds exhausting, so I am off for a nap.

Here is the link to the outline again: British History Outline

Finding consistent again

I haven’t managed my early mornings very well lately. I have always been a morning person (I really was the teenager who got up at 6 each morning – it’s the truth). My alarm is always set for 6am, and it has been for years. I love having time to myself each morning with a cup of tea, to read my Bible, check emails, make sure I am set for the day, and just breathe. The kids get up at 7, so in theory, I have an hour to myself.

The problem is, it hasn’t been happening. Rosebud has been coming in each night wanting to get into our bed, and in taking her back to bed I have been waking up, and then been unable to get back to sleep for a couple of hours. When my alarm goes off at 6, I have been groaning, rolling over, and staying in bed till Rosebud comes bouncing in at 7 to announce that “Mr Sun’s up!”.

I know that in reality, getting up at 7 is not a crime. But if I don’t get up at 6, or if I get up at 6 and spend an hour scrolling through my Facebook feed, then I feel behind for the rest of the day.

A few months ago, I hit a sweet spot. I read a blog post called How To Start Your Day Like The Amish, and a few things really resonated with me. I have tried strict morning routines before, and they just don’t work for me. I always overload them, and so they always fail. But this was more rhythm than routine, and I pulled out a few things that I liked the sound of. For example, the first tip is to clean the kitchen before you go to bed. We do this, mostly. But sometimes the table doesn’t get wiped down, so it’s covered in crumbs and sticky bits. Sometimes there are empty packets or milk bottles left on the bench, or dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher. When I get up and the kitchen is messy, my heart sinks and it affects my mood for the rest of the day. When I take 5-10 minutes to clean up properly, I walk into the kitchen and feel on top of life right from the start.

Another tip was to “walk around and just pick up the rest of the house”. Obviously, this can be overwhelming if you get up and it looks like the house has vomited on itself. But when I was in the zone, a strange thing happened. Because I was on top of things and knew that I would pick things up in the morning, it made me more likely, not less, to tidy in the evening. And I started walking around in the morning, mug of tea in hand, and straightened anything not done.

The tip on this blog post that made the most difference, however, was simple: Start something. Here’s the thing. In my morning routine days, I had things like “put washing on”; “dinner prep”; “sort washing”; “prepare fun learning invitation for my kids”. It was always really specific and always overwhelmed me. On the days I didn’t finish my list, I felt like a failure. But start something? I can do that. If I have energy, I can put a load of washing on, or even hang a load of washing on the line. If I feel like I have time, I can chop some veggies for dinner. If I want to, I can get out some things for school. Whatever it is, I can mentally tick off my list. I started something. Whatever I need, that day, to make my day run smoothly, I can start it, and feel like I am winning.

I also started showering as soon as the kids were up and I’d greeted them, instead of waiting till my husband had gone for work. It made me so efficient. I was doing crazy things like vacuuming the whole house before the kids had finished breakfast. Getting housework done before school meant I took so much pressure off our afternoons. I felt so good. I felt (lean closer so I can whisper this) organised.

It hasn’t happened for weeks, though. I got tired, the house got messy, I have struggled to get up, and I have been stumbling bleary-eyed into the kitchen to check Facebook and try and pretend the world doesn’t exist. My floors have been filthy, and every time I walk into a room I cringe at the chaos.

So I am here to report that I want it to stop. I am doing everything I can to get a good night’s sleep, and I am going to start my day the Amish way again (I have no idea if the Amish actually do this, but Amish women seem pretty organised). I am not approaching this with naive optimism – I know myself too well for that. I know that I will have messy house days (or weeks or months), but I guess the key to consistency is to just keep doing it. Reset, start again. Just do it. Summer’s nearly done. It’s time to start again with a fresh focus.

Who’s with me?

On being a basket case… or how I use baskets in our home education

I love baskets. They make me feel organised, in a disorganised kind of way. You can throw things in a basket and suddenly they look curated, collected, like they are Supposed To Be There. I don’t need to have a neat Place For Everything* – just a basket to throw it into. We have a stair basket, which I can throw things into when I can’t be bothered going upstairs to put things away. In a masterly stroke of delegating, I have made it one of the kids’ morning jobs to empty it each day.

I have been using baskets recently in our homeschool, too. Earlier this year I bought some plastic baskets for the kids’ school work, and they are the best thing ever for corralling work – they look neat and tidy on the shelf, and they can be carried to wherever in the housework is happening. At the end of the day, they can go away until the following day.

I have used a Morning Basket in the past, and have just recently, with the help of a friend, figured out how to make it fit back into our morning. It sits on a shelf in our lounge room, and it holds our Sonlight core read alouds, as well as other books that I want to share with my kids. At the moment that includes Usborne Politics for Beginners, and Spanish books by One Third Stories. It’s an easy way to remember to cover things – I just stick them in the basket and they are there for me when we sit down to do Morning Basket time.

A recent addition to my basket love has been our Browsing Basket. It’s actually been sitting in our lounge room for a while, being mostly ignored. The idea is that I put in a selection of books that I would like to inspire the kids with. That often includes books to supplement the history we are doing, non-fiction books like science books, nature study books, poetry books, etc.

The problem is, the kids just weren’t using the basket. So, I have now introduced Browsing Time. Instead of doing our Morning Basket read alouds during morning snack time, now the kids take their snack into the lounge room and spend 10-15 minutes reading books from the basket while they eat. We do Morning Basket straight after this and start with a quick discussion of what they have been reading. It allows for some Charlotte-Mason style narration, and sometimes gives us rabbit trails to follow.

It was the same friend who suggested using the Browsing Basket this way. She reminded me that giving kids the chance to read and make connections themselves, instead of only ever being spoon-fed information, makes for more effective learning.

So, I have been spending a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon picking books off our shelves to put in the basket. I start with what we are currently studying in history, and find books that will tie in well. I add a science book, and some folktales, maybe a spotters guide or a book of poetry. I love walking into the room, mug of tea in hand, to see them delving into books that they wouldn’t by choice pick up off the shelf.

I am looking forward to the possibilities of my basket-ridden homeschool this coming academic year. We are finishing up our wonderful trip through world history with Sonlight, and we are about to embark on an adventure in British History. I have been spending the last few weeks with my nose in books, finding texts, lining up chapters, scheduling, exploring, and getting super excited. I am hopeful that we will be all ready to kick off in September. I have been challenged by someone to blog about it here, so stay tuned!

*Excuse the Overuse Of Capitals. We have been reading A. A. Milne before bed recently, and it’s Got Into My System.

Order out of chaos!

Just a quick post to show how I have spent my Sunday evening. I have been doing some goal-setting this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post). After doing that and rejigging schedules I was inspired to clean out the kids’ bookwork baskets. I found knitting, a peg, a random assortment of bookmarks, a stack of books that are done with and need to go away, a few books that aren’t even school books, a pile of scrap paper and rubbish, a soft toy, a button, a random piece of plastic that I don’t have a clue where it came from or what it does, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, and all the pencils I bought recently and haven’t been able to find.

Now I have to deal with all the piles! But at least my baskets are all neat and tidy now, ready for a new week of work. And I have got pencils and pens to write with!

Enjoy your Sunday evening, wherever you are.

Slow days and sunshine

Sorry for the long break. It’s been holidays here and I have been too busy enjoying life with my kids to sit down and write about it! Here is a snapshot of some of the things we got up to:

After I was hospitalised over Easter I decided to extend my planned break from school from a few days to a whole week. I needed the rest and the neighbourhood kids were all on holidays too so it was great for my kids to get out and scoot up and down the street with them, and play together in the woods on the edge of our street.

As is often the case when you create an environment rich in resources and a culture of learning and exploration, I kept happening upon lovely little moments of discovery. Like when I walked into the lounge a few days after watching this video of artist Pontus Jansson balancing rocks on each other to create art, to see this happening:

I love moments of quietly watching them take ideas further all on their own!

I fully intended to do school as normal the second week of the holidays (we school year round so I try to work when everywhere is crazy because school’s out and then take our breaks when it suits us and the world is sane again). But the siren call of kids playing on the street proved irresistible to my kids, and it was impossible to get them to focus on anything. We battled through with maths and writing, but it was a bit of a lost cause. My poor unsocialised home educated kids spent quite a lot of time out on the street socialising those two weeks!

Last week we finally got back into school proper, and I remembered another reason why I don’t like taking long breaks. I had all the battles all over again – “Why do we have to do school? It’s boring. Why can’t we go out and play? Why do you get to tell me what I have to do? Why do we need checkpoints? Can you write for me? It’s too hard”. Boy oh boy. I was single parenting that week as well while my husband was away, and it was pretty intense some days!

But we also had lovely moments. We did a lot of cooking. Snugglepot made a delicious coconut lemon syrup cake, and we tried our hand at homemade pasta and homemade tortillas. We made sushi, and after sampling some chestnut soup at our favourite National Trust property, and getting the recipe from the chef, Bookworm is very keen to try it out herself.

We watched lots of educational YouTube videos, read lots of good books, and had lots of good conversations. We planted seeds and watched eagerly to see which ones germinated first, and exclaimed over the differences between the tiny seedlings. We made ballerinas with paper snowflake skirts. We stayed up late to play Cluedo, and generally had a pretty good time.

I am looking forward to normal again, but every time we have weeks like that I ache to include more of that in our normal. Maybe one day I will work out how.


The freedom of home

3B482A88-BDD2-4502-93F3-205822FA8D29This isn’t the post I was planning to write. I was going to write about maths manipulatives, and I was going to do it at the end of last week. But then tonsilitis happened, and although it was resolving by the end of the week, on Thursday I started getting pain in my neck, and by Friday morning I couldn’t move my head without excruciating pain. I ended up in hospital for the weekend with IV antibiotics to treat cervical lymphadenitis  (infected lymph nodes in the neck).

I have a lot of respect for the hospital staff – they were friendly and professional and did a great job looking after me. But there were some things that drove me crazy about being in hospital. The most serious one was (of course) all about tea. You all know how much tea I drink (if you don’t, just have a look at my usual sort of day). I woke up on Saturday morning with their early drug round, then had to wait for nearly 2 hours before I got a cup of tea. I had been wise enough to ask my husband to bring me in my own tea bags, but I didn’t think of asking for a mug. The hospital mugs are small. After breakfast I asked one of the tea ladies for another cup and was told “We don’t usually offer a second cup, you know.” She did bring me one, but by that stage in the day I would normally be on my third cup, and I had to wait after that for the tea trolley to come past again at morning tea time. Even then I had to chase the trolley up the hallway for my tea because I was in the shower when they came past (I think the staff and patients all had it firmly fixed in my head that I was slightly crazy by the end of my stay).

Another problem was lighting. The first night they didn’t dim the lights until well after 11:30pm, and they didn’t turn them off completely until around midnight. The other patients and I were all exhausted, and we couldn’t see any reason why they would need to be on. The second night I asked them to dim them a whole lot earlier, but there was still a lot of movement and noise, and it was still late when they were switched off.

These problems are part of what my husband calls “the disempowerment of being in hospital”. It’s not a deliberate deprivation of liberty, but a function of the workings of an institutional setting. The staff don’t have time to be running back and forwards making tea for everyone whenever they want it, and on a busy ward the lights get turned off when it’s convenient for the staff, not for each individual patient. But it was oh so nice to get home and be able to make tea when I wanted to, in my own mug, with the milk just the way I like it, and go to bed when I wanted to.

It got me thinking about how much freedom home brings. Which made me think about home educating. I’m not anti-school, and I know that school can be a great place to be. But the fact is that school is an institution. And like any institution, that leads to some level of disempowerment.

It’s not a tragedy, and not a reason to ditch the institution. But since we can be at home, I am going to celebrate the freedom that comes with that. The freedom for my kids to do school in their dressing gowns. The freedom to sprawl on the sofa during maths. The freedom to take school outside, or out of the house, if we feel like it. The freedom to read to the dog or your older sister. The freedom to learn at the pace you are ready to, and to do it with your favourite toy on your lap.

Home brings freedom, so much freedom. Freedom that I took for granted, until it was taken from me for a couple of days. I want to cultivate in myself, and my kids, an appreciation of what we have. Because we are privileged, more than many. And I don’t want any of us to take that for granted.

I’m feeling heaps better, by the way. Antibiotics are wonderful. I will write about maths manipulatives soon, but for now, I’m off to make a cup of tea – because I can.