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.

When your day just doesn’t work

This week did not go the way I planned it.

There was nothing catastrophic. No one died, we didn’t go to hospital, and our house didn’t burn down.

But life in its most mundane, frustrating form got in the way. It all started on Sunday when we were discussing our week and my husband suddenly remembered that he had to go away on Monday and would be back late on Tuesday. Which was fine, except that he was also going to be away on Thursday and back late on Friday. Which was a drag, but it happens. The bigger problem was getting kids to extracurricular activities on Monday night, and the fact that Monday night is when I normally do my grocery shopping. And the stores were all closed (limited Sunday trading) by the time we realised.

We muddled through, but Monday afternoon our heating stopped working, and didn’t get fixed till Friday afternoon. It was cold. It made me feel miserable, especially because I started feeling sick mid-week. The cold, achy, my-throat-is-so-sore-I-can’t-swallow type sick.

But the day that everything really went belly-up was Thursday.

It started well. I was up and dressed and gave every appearance of being organised. My throat hurt, but ibuprofen is wonderful. I had an appointment in town, but it was 8:45am and would, I was sure, take 10 minutes, tops. Just sign a form, show some ID, and be back on the road going home. We had an audiobook. It would throw us out by maybe half an hour. We’d be fine.

The appointment took nearly an hour. It was a bureaucratic groan-fest full of calculating dates of this and dates of that, answering pointless, mind-numbing questions that bore no relevance to my situation, and being told I needed documents that I hadn’t been told to bring. My kids had books and colouring. They were great. But they couldn’t do that long. was shifting in my seat in boredom. Near the end, Rosebud had a dirty nappy. I had left the nappy changing things in the car because hey, it was going to be 10 minutes.

By the time we were done, and got back to the car, and I had sent Bookworm to a nearby store for wipes because we’d run out in the changing bag (because, you know, I’m not organised), and I had finally changed Rosebud’s nappy, we were done. In many senses of the word.

We got home and I put on the end of the audiobook we’d been listening to while we coloured and had morning tea. By then I was feeling quite unwell, so I told the kids that Rest Time was before lunch that day, they could make a sandwich if they needed, but please go upstairs quickly because Mummy needs to lie down now.

In the end, we got maths done that day, but that was about it. I could wax lyrical about how they learnt valuable life lessons anyway (like sitting patiently while someone ask’s Mummy irrelevant questions), but it’s probably not true that day. The afternoon was filled with everyone being irritable, and more than one full-blown tantrum. There wasn’t much redeemable from that day.

But you know what? I don’t care. Because sometimes life throws days like that. If most days get ticked off as productive, it doesn’t really matter if a day here and there is a failure. Some days we just feel crummy. Some days bureaucracy rears its ugly head. It’s life. I used to feel the pressure to perform all the time, but I realised this week that I don’t need to. We school year round so that we can have days like this.

I had a day off scheduled on Friday and I could have moved the work to that day instead but I didn’t. Instead, we helped a friend out. And when we got home, I was reminded that my kids have, in fact, been learning life lessons all along. I was exhausted and sick when we got home. My kids put me to bed, brought me tea, made dinner, and got themselves ready for bed. They wrote me sweet notes of encouragement too. I love my kids with all my heart. Even on the days when things go sour. Next week we’ll start again. Hopefully we’ll have a warm house, and keep our rhythm. But I am giving myself grace for the moments we don’t.

Creating rhythms and rituals

C77F2518-74FC-41EA-AF94-B8FB30767AD7I will be honest with you. Sometimes my days are hard. As much as I like people to think that we all wake up cheerfully and plunge into fascinating, delight-driven learning, where everyone is enthusiastic and our conversations are riveting, where my children flow seamlessly from exploring a fascinating maths concept to discussing the Fall of Rome to designing and crocheting their own blankets, all before lunch – that’s just not my life. We do have some great conversations. One day they might crochet a blanket. But often, I have to convince them that learning is a good idea. Sometimes, I know that we should be doing a nature walk, but I can’t face the thought of getting coats and boots on everyone, tramping out in the wind, to look at nature that I then have to convince them to draw or write about in their nature journals. It just seems too hard.

But you know what? Some things work, without seeming to take any effort from me. And that could be because some of my kids are now big enough to help out, and can get things done for me (I’m learning the wonderful art of delegation!). But I think that it is mostly because of the two Rs – Rhythm and Ritual.

I have discovered that when we are in a rhythm, the next thing just happens. This is totally different to the “S” word. Here in the Disorganised Homeschool, schedule makes me twitch. I just can’t keep to them. They make me stressed out (Although, I do call the girls’ bookwork lists “schedule books”. Go figure).

Rhythm, unlike a schedule, is a flowing, a beat. When we finish lunch, the girls always go and get books and head up for Rest Time. I never have to remind them and I never ever have to convince them. It’s not because they are weird or drugged – I used to have to convince them way back when. But now, it’s just so much part of our day that it just happens. It’s not discussed any more than we would discuss whether we are eating dinner that day. It’s easy.

Other examples of beautiful, easy rhythm in our family are Bible time in the morning, read alouds over lunch, Maths Drill, and our morning checkpoints. None of those things take any effort whatsoever on my part any more (Except breaking up squabbles over emptying the dishwasher during checkpoints. I may have rhythm, but my kids are still humans).

I was reflecting on all this yesterday morning. A week or two ago I talked about what our days look like.  I mentioned in that post that I wanted to get in the habit of everyone running up and down the street for some exercise between Maths Drill and bookwork. I tried it, and I got arguments. Lots of arguments, and complaints. But I put on my Mummy steel-capped boots and insisted that we do it anyway. Yesterday, a beautiful thing happened. After Maths Drill, the kids got up, went and put their shoes on, and ran outside. Suddenly, it wasn’t hard, and didn’t take energy. It just happened.

The second R is ritual. Rituals are the little things that anchor the rhythm in place. Like rhythm, they take a little while to set up, but then, they just happen. They come to be expected, and appreciated, and missed when they are not there. They can be things that you do, or things that you use. Like lighting a candle on the dinner table. It’s a small gesture, but it anchors the dinner, makes it special, sets it apart from other meals.

So, here are some of the rituals here in the Disorganised Homeschool. We always start Bible time with our School Day Prayer, and we always finish it with the Grace. We always use the same pens for Maths Drill. We always use our teacups with cornflowers for poetry teatime. For our monthly movie night, we always have hot dogs and popcorn for dinner.

As you might have guessed, I am not an organised person. Being consistent is really, really hard for me, and takes a huge amount of energy. Lots of people think that I am organised. I try hard not to laugh in their face. Because I’m not. I’m really, really not. The thing that makes me seem organised, makes me feel organised, is rhythm and ritual. What are the rhythms and rituals that make your days flow smoothly? I would love to know.


Maths meets art meets…lunch

Last Saturday, my dining table was strewn with scissors, markers, glue, tape, and bits of paper. An innocent viewing of a video changed the course of our day, even our week – we had discovered hexaflexagons. The morning became filled with talk of equilateral triangles, folding directions, flexing, and trying to find hidden faces.

Just a few of the many, many that were made!

Hexaflexagons are strips of paper which are folded into equilateral triangles, then twisted into hexagons. By pinching and pulling on them, known as flexing, you can expose three different faces (for the simple trihexaflexagons). They are fun to make and addictive to play with. We discussed geometry (how to make an equilateral triangle, how to fold a strip into a hexagon), history (how they were discovered), and how a 2-dimensional shape with two obvious faces can somehow have a third face (mind=blown!). We decorated them and tried to make cool patterns when they were flexed. It was a beautiful fusion of maths and art. Even better because it was a Saturday morning and we were learning without any thought of “school”.

Things took a further turn (flex?) yesterday when maths made its way into lunch. Inspired by Vi Hart, we decided to make hexaflexamexagons. The results were messy, but tasty. They didn’t work as well as we hoped, mostly because of the cheap tortillas I bought, but they were fun, and we had some success. We’ll definitely be making them again.

This is what I love about a family culture of learning. It inspires exploration, creation, and fun. It feeds our minds, and sometimes our stomachs, too!

What life looks like now

I decided after a hiatus of 18 months that it was about time to revive this blog. I let it slide because life was just too busy to commit to it. Life is still busy, but now that Rosebud is two, I feel like my head is kind of coming out above water again. Sometimes.

I could do a long boring post of all the news since I last blogged, but it would be, well, long and boring. So I am going to give you a snapshot of what our days look like now, and the news can filter in where it’s relevant.

I looked back over my last day in the life post. Some things have changed dramatically. Some are pretty similar.


Our Homeschool Day in the Life (March 2018)

6am: My alarm still goes off at 6am. On the good days, I stumble out of bed and shuffle downstairs, thinking to myself that 30-mumble hurts a lot more than I expected it to at 20. On the other days I lie in bed reminding myself that consistency and diligence is the key to a successful day. Sometimes it works.

When I do make it to the kitchen I make tea and sit down with my Bible, resisting the urge to look at my phone. After some quiet time I sometimes call my family in Australia, or sit there succumbing to the phone temptation, or enter a tea-drinking time warp.

7am: Gone are the days that I need to put on music to wake the kids up. Rosebud has a Grow Clock and at seven every morning enthusiastically goes to every room to inform everyone that “Mr Sun’s Up!”. They come down and get themselves breakfast, I chat to my husband for a bit then go and have a shower.

My strategy for keeping the mornings running is a thing called Checkpoints. Every morning by 8am the kids need to be up, dressed, hair brushed and beds made. By 8:45 they need to be done with breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, and tidied the kitchen. If they have done all this they can play, but only if it’s all done and only until 8:45. After 8:45 they need to get ready for school, which involves cleaning teeth, making hair neat, using the toilet or getting a drink or a jumper or slippers if they need to, and getting the Bibles out. By 9am they all need to be at the table, ready to work.

I used to have lots of complaints about Checkpoints. But now they mostly accept them, and the definitely keep our morning flowing. Because the kids  know what they need to do by when, it means they can get on with it, and I can get on with my own tasks – vacuuming the kitchen and lounge (which I do every day, because Dog); feeding said dog; putting washing on; doing a quick tidy; saying goodbye to my husband; drinking more tea and mentally girding my loins for the day.

9am: We meet at the table for Bible Time. We do our school day prayer, read the passage in the Bible that we are up to, and do our catechism question. We use the New City Catechism, and it has a song for each question and answer. Dancing sometimes breaks out. Once we have composed ourselves we go around the table and pray, each saying a Thank you and a Please prayer. We finish with the Grace, then into…. Maths Drill! I give them a 25 question sheet with basic maths facts, set a stopwatch, and they complete it as fast as they can. Buttercup does just one column, the older two do the sheet.

9:30ish: With Bible Time and maths drill done, we head into bookwork. The weather here has been awful the last few months, and we’ve hunkered down inside a lot. But a couple of weeks ago it was sunny one morning and I made everyone go outside between maths drill and bookwork and run up and down the street a few times. It made things go much better through the morning, so I would like it to be a regular thing.

We use a variety of resources for bookwork. Sonlight, IEW, Conquer Maths, Miquon Maths, Reading Eggs. XTB Bible notes, and some random bits and pieces. They each have a folder of “fillers” to do if they finish early or are stuck and waiting for my help. The fillers have some colouring, some word/maths puzzles, a fiction book, and a non-fiction book.

I spend this part of the morning going between kids helping with maths problems, explaining writing tasks, listening to Buttercup read, checking work, motivating, dealing with squabbles, helping Rosebud find things to do, stopping Rosebud drawing on people’s work, preparing food, and sometimes, if I am lucky, getting washing on or out. Tea is consumed during this time.

10:30ish: We pause our bookwork mid morning for a snack and our history read aloud, and geography song. This is a recent thing. I used to have all our Sonlight Core read alouds and work in one spot as a morning basket at the start of the day. But we were starting bookwork too late and maths and writing weren’t getting done. So I tried doing it as an afternoon basket. But it just meant that there were a few months were the Core work just didn’t get done. So now I have split it. We do Bible at the start of the day, History, Geography songs and Aesop’s Fables at morning tea time, literature at lunch and dinner, poetry during our weekly Poetry Teatime (more on that later), and catch up on everything else on Friday afternoon. It seems to be working better, although the jury is still out on the Friday afternoon slot.

After morning tea everyone goes back to finishing off bookwork. Rosebud goes down for a nap at about 11, which gives me a lot more freedom to help people finish off work and get lunch ready. I am trying to be organised and get dinner prep happening here too, but this is the Disorganised Homeschool, so don’t worry – it doesn’t always happen.

12:30: When everyone has pretty much finished their bookwork, we sit down for lunch. Sometimes Rosebud is awake for this, other times she is still asleep. We eat, and I read our current literature read aloud. This is an Institution. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday, a Sunday, or the middle of the school holidays. I am expected to read while we eat lunch, unless we are running late or I am too tired, in which case I put my foot down in order to hurry everyone off to….

1pm: Rest Time. We still maintain this time with religious fervour. I don’t get any arguments from anyone about this time. Everyone scatters to their bedrooms. The kids each have a calico bag which is their “Rest Time Bag”. Like a library bag, they fill it with books, take it upstairs, and (in theory), bring it down again at the end to put the books away. Before you run away screaming “Oh no! This is looking organised! Run for your lives!”, I still have to go on a book hunt at least once a week, and still daily go looking for a culprit who has Not Brought Down Their Bag. But it’s a nice idea in theory, so I cling to it.

2pm: Rest Time finishes, and the girls come down and watch an episode of The Famous Five, while I make more tea and take a deep breath for the afternoon. After they have watched, they are hungry, and we go into our afternoon activity. I am trying to create a rhythm to our week. So, in theory, on Monday we do Nature Study, Tuesday is free for either catching up on housework, visiting people or just having a free afternoon, Wednesday we catch up on missed bookwork or do art or handicraft. Thursday is given over to Poetry Teatime and science experiments. Friday is our Core Session, where we catch up on any read alouds, do art appreciation, watch YouTube clips, and do timeline and map work.

The afternoons are a work in progress. The only consistent thing we do is Poetry Teatime, where we sit around with nice china and read poetry. I could say more but really it deserves its own blog post, so stay tuned.

3:30ish: When our afternoon activity is over, we are supposed to do housework. Often we scatter to play. I’m working on it.

5pm: As the kids get older, life gets busier. At the moment we have evening activities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Otherwise it’s play, dinner prep, and tidying up from the day.

6pm: Dinner, and more reading aloud of our current book. We are way ahead on our literature read alouds, and that includes adding in extra books. I often get asked to read more than one chapter, because we just need to know what happens next. I love the books we are being exposed to through Sonlight, and the fact that reading together is such a part of our family culture.

7pm: We move into bedtime routines, and after we have cleaned up the kitchen, my husband and I collapse on the couch, or head to bed to read for a while before we succumb to exhaustion and fall asleep, ready to repeat it all tomorrow.

Phew, what a long post! Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I would love to hear what your daily rhythm is like.

Camping fun

Apologies that I haven’t posted yet this week – we’re on a home education camp with limited internet but lots of fun, food for thought, and that all-important socialisation that we apparently miss by not being in school. 

I’m loving the old-time village atmosphere, where the kids roam free together and come home when they are hungry, you don’t have to lock your door, the young people are respectful and helpful, and there’s a strong sense of community.  

I’m loving the teaching, and the conversations with people. They are fun, and deep, and inspiring. 

I’m loving the rest from preparing lessons and supervising writing and maths, even though I am still washing and cooking and doing dishes. 

I’ve made blackberry crumble from berries my kids foraged for me. I’ve watched my kids do country dancing, and run off hand in hand with new friends, and find the courage to look an adult in the eye and thank them (a big step for us). 

I’ve stayed up way too late chatting with old and new friends, and wrestled my kids into bed when they really just want to keep playing. 

It’s great, and I will post again when it’s done and normal life hits. For now, I need to sleep and get some energy for tomorrow. And see if I can find somewhere with enough internet to post this….

Summer Days

There has been a much longer gap than I intended between posts. It’s partly my fault – I had a little incident with a cup of tea and my computer. But it is also because despite our plan to school through summer, these August days we have found it soooo hard to stay in routine.

Some of that is the weather. We have had some lovely sunshine and it’s hard to sit at home with books open when we could be outside, catching up with friends and watching Rosebud explore the great outdoors. She had her first taste of sand and her first taste of grass this summer.

Baby toes are the sweetest things!

Some of that is a sleep deprived Mama. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in living memory, and it is starting to get to me just a little bit. Our mornings have been derailed by me sleeping in and then struggling to hit the ground running.

Some of it is, I think, that the kids know that all their school friends are on holidays. There is a bit of a holiday atmosphere in the air, and it’s permeated its way into our household.

Some of it is that my school planning has been in a state of flux. Buttercup is hitting compulsory school age now, and so although we started our school year in January, I kind of feel like we are having a mini start to the year in September. The back to school sales and all the pictures online of people starting school haven’t helped.

Whatever the cause, our summer days have been lazy. Which is good, I think. It’s nice to take a month to slow down, do a little less, and breathe, reflect and plan. We’ve had shorter weeks, and I am loving it. I’m hoping it will give us the stamina to carry on till the end of the year.

Along the way, I’m remembering how much learning actually happens when we don’t let education get in the way. I’ve watched the kids playing for hours in the backyard, reinventing their own version of Swallows and Amazons. I’ve seen epic Lego masterpieces, and elaborate cardboard sweet factories being built. I’ve seen loads of children snuggled in various places and positions with books, and overheard them reading poetry to each other. I have seen one learn to be generous to and care for a sister she was struggling to relate to, and I have seen them learn valuable life lessons in decluttering and saying goodbye to things.

Our family life has been quite busy, and it won’t settle down for another month or so yet. But I think, on reflection, it has been a good summer. Today it’s cold and wet and it feels like summer is ending. All our normal activities will be starting up again soon. I’m trying to work out how to tweak our days to run more smoothly, so that we can finish the year well. There’s a bit more tweaking to do still, so watch this space – I’ll let you know how we go.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How has your summer gone (if it’s summer in your part of the world)? Are you feeling ready and energised for the months ahead, or are you hiding under a blanket hoping that no one will notice?