Weekly wrap-up: or why I love home educating

I was thinking today about how much I love home educating. Some days I think I don’t. Days when one child is yelling about how she doesn’t like maths, another child is telling me that she hates school, another child is scribbling all over her work, the baby is getting into everything she shouldn’t, and the dog is dragging her manky blanket over all the school books.

But those days are few and far between. Not the days when the baby gets into everything. That happens most days (She’s “helping” me type this right now). I mean the days when I just want to load everyone into the car and push them out at the nearest school gate, then drive like a mad woman to the airport.

Most days, I sit and watch the learning happening, and think “I’m so blessed to be able to do this”.

Today I saw Snugglepot draw a picture in her history journal of grave robbers robbing a beehive-shaped tomb of a Mycenaean king. I saw Bookworm drawing a picture of the birth of the Greek goddess Athena from Zeus’ head, and I saw her use the word “for” correctly in a sentence, then tell me that she’d used it because she was learning about coordinating conjunctions a few days ago and realised that she was joining two thoughts and needed to use one.

Confession: I had never heard of the Mycenaeans until we read about them this year in history. And I didn’t know what a coordinating conjunction was.

I am learning so much, right along with my kids. And. I. love. it.

I love seeing their eyes light up as they make connections. When they understand that the planet Mars is called that because it’s red like blood and Mars is the Roman name for Ares, the Greek god of war.

I love seeing them turn with excitement to tell me that four is a homophone. And that bow is a homonym. Just because they noticed.

I love seeing them watch, enraptured, a harp recital. Did you know that harps have pedals? Or that harp players don’t use their little fingers when playing? We do, now.

I love watching them spend ages playing a game inspired by Swallows and Amazons, drawing up ship’s papers, making a chart of their island, allocating roles of Captain, Mate and Able Seaman, and sailing off on adventures.

We discovered this week that the Hittites came from Turkey, and were famous for their iron. There was a knife with a Hittite blade discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

We have encountered the Psammead in Five Children and It. Read aloud time is a beloved part of our day, and it is so lovely to see my girls enjoying books as much as I do.

The two oldest girls and I have done some crochet, and Buttercup has surprised me with some very neat embroidery.

These are some of the things that we have learnt about this week. Lest you think our days are full of sunshine and happy learning, I have also been screamed at many times this week. I have had a headache most days. My house needs baby-proofing again because Rosebud is cruising along furniture and the living room is not set up for an active baby. One of the girls said today “I hate bookwork!”. I have a messy kitchen and I have had a Mount Everest of washing in the basket for most of the week. I haven’t had nearly enough sleep to function normally.

And yet, I love what I do. It’s great fun as well as being very very hard. I’m seeing my little people learn to love learning. I think I’ll keep my day job!

Have you learnt anything interesting this week? I’d love to hear it!



Life lessons from Ancient Egypt

We have been studying Ancient Egypt in history recently. It’s easy to see why it’s an essential part of any history curriculum. Majestic pharaohs, mysterious tombs filled with treasure, strange tales of gods with animal heads, a hippo/lion/crocodile monster that eats bad people after they die, code-like hieroglyphs, battles and boats, massive pyramids and colossal statues, beautiful queens and women who rule. There’s something for everyone.

It is easy to find crafts and hands on activities too. Sugar cube pyramid anyone? Crack the secret code. Turn your doll or an apple into a mummy. Make papyrus with brown paper bags. Walk like an Egyptian. Pinterest is awash with inspiration to satisfy the cravings of even the craftiest of crafters.

“Papyrus” with Egyptian artwork. It’s satisfyingly stiff and crackly.

We have learnt about Menes the first pharaoh and Cleopatra the last pharaoh. Ahkenaten who worshipped the sun and Ramses III who fought a battle at sea. We have discovered how they irrigated their crops and what they ate. But as I reflect on what we have learnt lately, there are other, bigger lessons that we have been learning. Life lessons.

I don’t mean that lentils are tasty, though I wish my kids would learn that one. Or that if you are a naughty girl the Devourer will eat you in the afterlife (very thankful that one is not true!). I mean lessons like that of Jean-François Champollion, who worked for fourteen years trying to decode the Rosetta Stone before he deciphered a single word.

One of my children struggles with perseverance. She is gives up on average after about a minute and a half. Fourteen minutes is a long time for her to stick at a task, let alone fourteen years. So we are choosing to make Champollion one of our role models. To carry on with something just a little bit longer before we give up. If Champollion can work day in day out for fourteen years before he got a result, we can work just a little longer before we decide that our maths is too hard, or that our sock is lost forever.

Another lesson we can learn from the Ancient Egyptians is to manage our resources well. The Egyptian farmers built irrigation channels and catch basins to make the most of the Inundation – the yearly flooding of the Nile River. Careful engineering meant that the once a year flood would provide all of their water for the rest of the year. If they didn’t make the most of it when it came, there would be no rain later – their crops would fail.

It’s easy to let time pass and miss opportunities because we are busy or distracted. But if we work hard when the time is right, then we can manage our resources well and have provision for later.

Practically, that means for me taking a week off school when our apple trees are ready to harvest, so that they don’t drop and rot on the ground (ooops…. it makes a mess, I can tell you!). But it also means putting in the hard work of character training when children are young (digging the irrigation channels) so when the Inundation that is the teenage years come, we are ready to use the wonderful opportunities that they bring, instead of being swamped. It means teaching our children that if we save our money by not buying every sweet and toy that catches their eye, then later we can travel and build memories. For me as a mother of young children, it means not shirking my task, but investing in my children while they need me. The season will come when I can finish writing a blog post without a million interruptions, or get a full night’s sleep, or drink tea while it is hot. It’s just not now. The Egyptian farmers, like farmers everywhere, live their life according to the seasons, with busy periods of work and periods of rest and maintenance. We do well to do the same.

History has always fascinated me – it’s full of colourful characters and darn good stories. They catch the imagination and lift us for a little while out of the mundane. But one of the things I love about home educating is the chance to go deeper with our conversations, to let history shape us and direct our future. To learn from the successes and failures of the past, and to be inspired by those whose stories we read. That’s what I want to pass on to my children.

On managing transitions…

One of the best pieces of advice that anyone has given me about having a smooth and easy day is this:

Manage your transitions well

The times when my day most often gets derailed is when moving from one activity to another, from one time of day to another. Breakfast to jobs. Morning Basket to bookwork. Playtime to pack up time. Teeth time to bedtime.

Once I have lost them, it takes simply ages to get everyone back together again.

So now, I try and focus on managing the transitions. By being deliberate about them, by creating little rituals around them, our days are peaceful.

When we don’t manage the transitions well – peaceful? Not so much.

Here are some of the ways I try to make it work:

I have transitions that give me time to gather myself. The kids watch a 15 minute program between morning jobs and the start of our learning time. It gives me time to make a cup of tea and check that I have everything we need. We will sometimes do this when we get home after being out somewhere, to give me time to decide what we will do next.

It’s thinking space. Breathing space. A chance to get my act together so that I can pretend I know what I’m doing with our day. I sometimes use DEAR time (drop everything and read time) the same way.

I prepare for the transitions before the previous thing ends. I try to organise what we are doing in the afternoon before rest time ends. I try to organise breakfast before the music plays for the kids to get up (music is another good transition tool. A signal that it’s time to change).

Some days everything goes to pot and this doesn’t work. Some days I forget. Some days life gets out of control. But when I do manage the transitions, we keep our daily rhythm much better.

Do you have any tricks for managing transitions? I’d love to hear them!

Our week so far…

This was meant to be a end of the week review last week but I was busy getting ready to go away for the weekend for our 12th wedding anniversary. So it’s a mid-week review instead!

We are doing Week 15 of Core B this week. We are finishing up the Ancient Egypt section in Usborne Time Traveller this week. It’s been one of our favourite history books so far. We’ll come back to it later – it is scheduled out of order, something that really bugged us at first. We almost didn’t read it as scheduled, but I’m glad we are. Something that I am learning about Sonlight is that they have good reasons for scheduling things the way they do. Time Traveller is covering the same topics that we are reading about in Child’s History of the World and Usborne Book of World History, but it gives a different perspective. The cries of recognition as we read about something that we came across in another book are fun for me to hear. It’s nice to see them making connections.

We are trying a new thing at the moment. I’m calling it “history journalling”. I have given the girls each a sketchbook and in our Morning Basket time we are spending a few minutes creating a page about what we have read and discussed. I’m leaving it pretty free for them – they can choose to write, or draw a picture, or do a diagram or map. I’m using the discussion questions in the IG as a prompt if they want it. I am expecting Bookworm to do a fairly detailed drawing or to write about it, Snugglepot to caption her drawing, and at this stage Buttercup can choose whether or not to join in. The other day she stuck in a map of Egypt that I photocopied out of World History. It’s a way of them making connections with what we read.

This is Bookworm’s page from yesterday

I also started using Khan Academy with Bookworm. We have been using Miquon maths but she was having a bit of trouble understanding multiplying fractions with whole numbers, so I pulled up a few videos to show her. I have had the Khan academy app on my phone for ages and not used it. I think I will be making it a regular thing!

This is Snugglepot’s journal page. We took a detour while reading about Ahkenaten to discuss Nefertiti and she decided to draw their wedding. It’s a modern version!

Today we have been having a bit of an alternative day. One of my good friends is moving away (sniff…) and so she came over for coffee this morning. We started our day late because I was up with Rosebud overnight and needed a sleep in. So we have only done half our Core work and no bookwork. But… Buttercup spent the morning doing a jigsaw puzzle that my friend gave us. All three biggies spent a good few hours playing with a wooden train set from said friend, including figuring out how to put it together and make the ends connect. Right now they are all making cards (cardmaking is a shared craft love). I think that free play and developing creativity is so important, so while part of me mildly panics about not doing maths yet today (we might still get to it), another part of me knows that they are still learning, and it is still time well spent.

Does anyone else struggle with having the courage to take an alternative path in learning?