100 ways to home educate – How we do it

I volunteered to join in with the 100 Ways to Home Educate blog hop with gusto but now that I’m sitting in front of my computer, I’m left thinking, “But how do we do it?”

I’ve been really reluctant to talk much about this in anything but vague terms, partly because it’s ever evolving. As the girls develop, as I read and learn more, as our circumstances change, home education looks different in our family. So I suppose that openness to change is a defining characteristic of our approach. Talitha is five and a half, Ophelia is three years old and Delilah seven months old. Obviously, Talitha is the only one who’s of compulsory school age.

I can’t claim that we are unschoolers. I do offer activities using resources I’ve assembled and often have a plan for our days, even if loose and flexible. At the same time, I don’t force anything (though I might encourage) and I’m not particularly bothered if the day takes an entirely different shape to the one I imagined. The majority of my children’s time is taken up in free play and independent creating. Some would probably call us eclectic or maybe semi autonomous.

Certainly there’s been no typical week here for quite some time. Between Delilah’s birth seven months ago,  Laurence splitting his weeks between our home in Bristol and his work in Cornwall two weeks after, our trip to Thailand in December, packing up the house and moving in January and the last six weeks of getting to know Cornwall but staying in temporary accommodation a fair way from where we’ll be – well, the rhythms are all over the place.

Still, a few things remain constant. We spend some time each day reading. I read to them a mix of books I’ve chosen and books they have. There’s always a chapter book in there for Talitha (we’re reading Finn Family Moomintroll), picture books for Ophelia and Delilah and a Bible story. Everything else is ever changing. They might ask me to read a few pages from a Wildlife Trust magazine or an Usborne non-fiction book (space, volcanoes and Ancient Rome are current favourites), for instance.

We’ve come to really enjoy this dedicated time reading together. Though I do most of the reading, Talitha will sometimes ask to read to us. Ophelia also “reads” to us, keen to attempt anything her sister is doing.

The other constant in our days is time outdoors. Wanting our children to have masses of  outdoor play was a big motivator in choosing to home educate so we try to get outside every day, no matter what the weather is doing. We loosely follow a Charlotte Mason inspired nature curriculum mainly to give me ideas of things to notice since, having only lived in the UK for just over a decade and having a rather indoors childhood myself, British seasons, flora and fauna are all still new discoveries to me.

Some days Talitha might do workbooks or play Mathseeds or Reading Eggs on the computer. We play card games or she builds structures with various manipulatives (we have a Spielgaben set and cuisenaire rods) or Duplo and we talk about patterns, numbers and how to work stuff out. She loves writing out sums and testing me on them. If she has a question I don’t feel I’m answering well enough, we sometimes look at Khan Academy online to see how they’ve explained it. We were using a free maths curriculum for a while but, though she enjoyed it, I found it too labour intensive. At the moment, this interest-led approach is working well for us. Numbers naturally pop up everywhere in life, whether it’s telling the time or working out how much pocket money she has left. It’s amazing how much kids learn just by having an attentive adult on hand to chat things through with and the time to work on problems at their own pace.

Similarly, writing is child led. She loves to write lists and letters. I often find pictures and sentences related to something we’ve been reading about or something happening in her life. She’s been asking to learn cursive so I’ve started to introduce it using a printable from Twinkl and I can see that it might help her grow more confident with her spelling since she’ll be able to follow the shape of the word. Neither spelling nor cursive are things I’d be inclined to even mention right now so it’s interesting that she’s taken such an interest in them.

In terms of topics, we tend to be led by what either of the girls are showing an interest in. I jot down questions in the notes on my phone and remind them about them when it makes sense. Often something will emerge from an experience or a TV show. We went to a planetarium show back at half term and we had a book about space so we’ve wound up looking at videos and reading stuff off websites about the solar system. We talked about the recently discovered solar system with planets similar to Earth when the news broke.

We’re still finding our way with groups here in Cornwall but so far we’ve done one or two home ed groups a week and met up with friends outside of that, which is pretty much what we did in Bristol too. Talitha was doing ballet and swimming in Bristol and she’s asking to get something similar started again but I’m conscious that we need to move into our new house first and just get a bit settled. Also, at three, Ophelia might like to try something low structure too.

No doubt our approach will morph with time. They are so little yet. And I’m sure Ophelia’s path will look quite different from Talitha’s as we can already see that they’re quite different people. For now, this is a little look at how we’re gently dancing together.

Check out the days and ways covered so far on 100 ways to home ed and see the linky below for new ones added in the month of March.

Half a year with three children

Delilah is seven months old and I’ve been meaning to write this post since just before she turned six months old. So that says something about how it’s all going, I guess. I feel like it’s all been a bit nonstop, with this baby and the move and a host of other unsettlers that come with family life and getting older.

For the first time in five and a half years of being a mother, I genuinely feel like I want a holiday and I don’t mean anything like our family trip to Thailand back in December.

I find myself thinking, “When this settles”, “When that settles” about so many things. When the baby’s sitting up, when we finally all move to Cornwall, when we’re in our new house, when we’ve settled into a new community…

At the same time, I know I don’t want to wish our lives away. There is so much to smile at in the every day, the right now. My kids can see it. They don’t wake up thinking about the future. They’re ready to enjoy today. I have to hold on to that because it won’t settle for quite some time since we’re not even moved into our new house yet. And then life has a way of throwing something else in just when you’ve got your head around everything.

Right now, I’m struggling. I feel rubbish even admitting that because I know I have so much to be grateful for, so much that I am grateful for and it seems whiney not to be able to just flip the switch and be 100 per cent positive.

I’m getting through the days with the kids but keep winding up wondering why others are so much better at it and enjoying it more than I am.

I know that isn’t rational. If another woman said that to me, I’d wish she could see the brilliant life building stuff she’s doing. In fact, maybe if I were doing more support work right now, I’d have a bit more perspective – just a random musing.

This was supposed to be a reflection on what it’s like half a year in with three kids. I suppose, in a way, it is. I feel like my parenting bandwidth is maxed out. I have no desire to be any busier parenting-wise. But it’s impossible for me to say if that’s purely because of the kids or because of all the other stuff going on in our lives right now.

I cannot separate my experience of having this seven month old from my experience of mothering a five and a half year old and an almost three year old. None of us would be the people we are without Delilah. Everything that came before her is a struggle to recall.

She fills our lives with smiles and growls and giggles and raspberries. She pulls our hair and bites our faces because she’s teething. She fills my mind with beauty even just writing about her right now. I put these words down and everything feels that little bit more manageable.

Because it will all get more manageable in its own way. Or at least it will settle. And once we’re in a new home and in a new routine, when we’re less exposed and raw, life can throw that new thing in and hopefully we’ll be a little bit more ready to take it on.

Home education in times of chaos

I skipped out of doing a home education update for the last couple of months. It’s just been too much with three weeks in Thailand then the house move. Though we’ve now moved out of our home in Bristol, we haven’t moved into our new home near Falmouth. We’re staying in a holiday home near Newquay. It’s beautiful in this part of Cornwall but it’s also a bit remote both from Laurence’s work and from the groups we’re likely to join with, ongoing.

So the days with the kids are pretty long and we’re all doing rather a lot of driving. There is so much to enjoy about being here, though, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make the most of it with some days out planned to locations that will be a bit further away once we’ve moved.

I only say this to explain that I wasn’t sure I’d give an update this month either because we’re still feeling unsettled. Then again, transitions and times of being out of routine are also a part of home ed living so I thought I should write about that too.

Home educating through chaos-5

With the chaos of new baby, travels and house move it’s been difficult at times to maintain any sort of predictable rhythm to our days but one thing has remained the same. We read a lot of books and spend a lot of time outdoors. I was also making time to listen to Talitha read but we even fell out of a routine with that. She was instead left to read to herself or her little sisters, which she preferred at the time. Then, suddenly, I realised she was really reading everything, even chapter books. In fact, she started reading ahead in The Folk of Faraway Tree both because she didn’t want the session to end and also because then she felt less scared when I read the next chapter.

It’s become a habit for her to take books to bed, rushing independently through the bedtime routine so she could get into bed and curl up with whatever book she’s reading. Sometimes she manages fine on her own. Other times, she’ll enjoy reading then ask me to read the same chapter of whatever book again so she can learn any words she wasn’t sure about.

Her questions about reading or writing pretty much direct where we go in those areas at the moment. I’m just amazed by how this is all coming together, almost on its own. Ophelia too has started picking out letter sounds. Her progression is already incredibly different from her sister’s. It’ll be equally fascinating seeing how that takes shape too.

Home educating through chaos-6

Balancing their needs has been particularly challenging lately with one or the other making it clear when they’re feeling neglected. I often feel like there’s not enough of me to go around. At the same time, they’re learning important lessons about patience, independence and compromise.

Our times away and now in the holiday home have shown me that they really don’t need much in the way of toys. We have books, a few crafty, arty things that the girls have been freestyling with, Duplo, Lego, Hama beads, cuisennaire rods and that’s it.

Home educating through chaos-4

Seeing what’s happened with the cuisenaire rods has been pretty interesting because they’ve not played with them for ages but now, with less stuff out, they’ve been loving these. They primarily build with them, without any interference from me, but sometimes Talitha uses them to work out sums she’s not sure about. It’s really sparked an interest in number bonds for her. I notice her working on the same concepts across day-to-day play and conversations, using her pocket money and these rods. These concepts have also been coming up in Mathseeds, an online game she plays. She’s had a revived interest in working on written maths in a workbook she was doing, which was a surprise. Some of her questions were really challenging my ability to explain so we’ve started looking at videos on Khan Academy together, which she’s enjoying more than I could have expected.

Home educating through chaos-2

While venturing into these new spaces with my 5.5 year old, I have to keep remembering that my very nearly three year old needs puzzles and picture books, play and singing and dancing a-plenty. I sometimes have to be firm about carving out time to do what Ophelia wants to do now.

We’ve been in Cornwall for a couple of weeks now and have started meeting up with home ed friends we met when we came house hunting last year. We’ve also tried a couple of groups so far and have more visits planned this week. It’s such a relief not to worry about the community aspect of our choices. Though, just to contradict myself, we’ve also just spent a lot of time on our own, mostly on beaches. Right now we’re just getting our bearings but I’ve no doubt we’re going to be just fine settling in.

Home educating through chaos

Actually, what’s been hardest about this time of change has been the spotlight it’s put on how stretched I am, personally. In times of overwhelm, I find myself inwardly screaming “Me too! Me too! I have needs too!” Things are often out of balance, messy, imperfect. I don’t have all the answers about how to fix that, though I do have a few ideas (I need to get back to volunteering and some other work, for one).

Whereas in times past I would have felt guilty about not having it all sorted, treating feeling overwhelmed as if it were a moral failing, I’m actively trying to resist that vicious cycle. I’m also trying to savour the times when it’s all just fine and when I’m feeling thankful that we’re able to choose to live this way. There are a lot of those too.
Every month, I give a little update on what we’ve been up to as part of This Homeschooling Life, a linky I host with blogger friends Jess and Polly. If you blog, consider linking up.

This Homeschooling Life is a linky sharing a week, a day or even just a moment from your life as a homeschooling family. We are hoping it will be a great way to discover new blogs and learn how we all do things differently.

The linky will open at 8am on the first Monday of every month and, throughout the rest of the month, the hosts will share your posts on their social media channels.

The Hosts:

Adele who blogs at Beautiful Tribe
Polly who blogs at Enchanted Pixie

The Rules:

1. Link back to one of the hosts. You will find the code for the badge at the bottom or if you prefer you can use a text link.

2. Link up a post from your month, no more than 3.

3. Link directly to a specific post, not your main blog.

4. Follow the hosts on at least one of their social media platforms.

5. Visit and comment on some of the other blogs linking up.

6. If you share on social media then you can use the #thishomeschoolinglife so we can all find each other.

This Homeschooling Life

An InLinkz Link-up

On leaving a place

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that we finally did it. We moved to Cornwall. Just over a week ago, we packed up our house, put most of our belongings into storage and drove to the holiday let we’re staying in while we wait to move into the house we are buying. The experience has been exciting and draining and about time. No more half the week without Laurence after six months of it being so. No more three-hour motorway epics each way for him, week after week.

It has also been destabilising. I knew it would be.

I moved countries when I was 19, leaving Trinidad and Tobago to come here to the UK, to Brighton specifically. I was leaving behind a familiar climate and culture but the timing also meant I was leaving my mother’s house and my childhood. We left Brighton for Bristol a year after I’d both graduated from university and got married (because wedding planning accompanies writing a Masters’ thesis so well). I was barely warming into doing something with my journalism qualification and I struggled to find work when we moved, which psychologically made settling into a new city unbelievably challenging.

On leaving a place-3

Bristol instead saw me become a mother, and I knew that I wanted to be at home with my baby. We began to talk about home educating her while still expecting. We chose a lifestyle that neither of us could have predicted. I felt the relief of a good fit, of feeling my decisions match my convictions about myself. I also felt a lack of agency from not working full-time for money. I questioned my motivations and abilities. Becoming a mother made me lose and find myself over and over again. It was utterly destabilising. I am familiar with feeling something like what I am now feeling.

There is little balance right now. I feel great highs, exhilarated by the move and where we’ve moved to. I drink in my children playing so happily, so naturally on the beaches. I feel great lows. The loss of community, of familiar markers, of a routine. I delight in this concentrated time with my children, enjoying the kind, hilarious, creative people they are. I despair at my inability to cope with life with them. I worry about my choices. Every alternative looks appealing.

I know this is temporary. I mourn to move on. It is not petty or ungrateful. It is a natural part of leaving a place I loved.

On leaving a place

How do we nurture our children’s self esteem?

Every now and then I have one of those I-hope-I’m-getting-it-right moments. I had one of them last night in the kitchen, chatting with Laurence about awkward conversations I’ve had about home education recently. Home ed is an easy concern trigger for me because it’s so blatantly alternative. Yet I wander down this hole when thinking about a lot of my day-to-day decisions when it comes to my children, knowing there’s no sign from the sky with a clear answer.

“I’m not worried about their education,” he answered. I waited for some form of “I believe in you, babe” call to positive thinking but instead he gave me this reminder that we pass to each other every now and then: “As long as they know they’re loved, as long as they love others, as long as they do good in the world – that’s what it’s about.”

The work of parenting involves a whole lot of confidence building so they have the tools to realise all those things. Where do we get started with that mammoth task? I was asked to share how we nurture our children’s self esteem as part of Families’ #LoveYourselfProject and it’s struck me that no simple to do list works here. It’s the sum of so many of our own little attitude shifts, so many little actions along the way.

It’s less about about telling them they’re beautiful and more about refusing to complain about our own perceived physical flaws. It’s less about praising their intelligence and more about listening to their stories, showing them that you value what they say.

I don’t go in for much praise. Personally, a lot of praise made me worry about my performance growing up, accomplishing the opposite of what it was intended to do. I was told I was so bright. In response, I felt I must not fail.

Confidence building answers deep questions that live inside all of us: “Am I safe? Am I loved? Do I matter?” Our role is to answer our children’s questions with actions that say: “You are safe – you can trust me. You are loved – there are no conditions on my love. You matter – I respect you.”

The questions are asked over and over again from birth onwards, and they will be answered, one way or another. If our own store of positive thinking is running low, it will be difficult to find the resources to adequately answer them the many times a day they’re asked.

Certainly I’m in a place right now where I realise that I must address my own hurts, my own past and grab hold of the answers to my own questions (“I am safe. I am loved. I do matter.”) so that I have energy for even basic parenting, let alone to model the confidence and freedom I want my children to grow up knowing.

This post was brought to you by Families

When everything is changing

2016 was a year I didn’t blog so much. I was tired from growing another baby. I was daunted by the task of raising my older two. I was (am?) dealing with personal grief that can’t be discussed here. I watched too many of the people I love struggle. I felt too many things. I couldn’t organise my thoughts. I didn’t know what I believed about a lot of things. Coming here often seemed inauthentic. Saying something real was exhausting and terrifying.

Yet I’m still here, writing, and I can see the good things the last year gave us. 2016 will always be the year Delilah was born and filled our minds with that arresting light unique to new babies. By dredging up a lot of uncomfortable things about myself, the year has given me the opportunity to begin to face what really lies behind conflicts with my family, particularly with my children.

We’ve just come back from a three-week trip to Thailand as you might have seen if you follow me on Instagram. It was a real privilege to make a holiday of my brother-in-law’s wedding, and an opportunity to spend much needed time together and to reflect.

More than ever, I am convinced that God is in it with us. Not that there are answers to a lot of our questions. Or that I can expect circumstances to radically change. If anything, this year taught me that a lot of life’s hurts don’t go away. They simply dull over time. But I believe that He is walking with us, even as we learn to live with pain.

This year brings huge change for us. This month, in fact. We’re finally moving to Cornwall, where Laurence is already working. That too brings a mess of different feelings. I’m excited about being near the sea again and about the lifestyle it offers. I’m looking forward to getting rooted in new communities in ways we possibly didn’t pursue enough here in Bristol. I hope it means we’ll get more time together as a family now that Laurence won’t have to go away for work.

Still, it’s hard to leave the friends and family we have in Bristol. I think of those outside of Bristol and know that we are moving a lot further away from them too. We signed contracts on our house some time ago and I got emotional about selling the house two of our children were literally born in; a house that only one of the three is likely to clearly remember. I can’t think about any of that too much, to be honest.

So much would be easier about staying yet we’ve felt strongly that we needed to go. Right now we float in liminal space. We are packing up the house, decluttering, booking things in, ticking points off a checklist. Then we will be staying in a friend’s holiday let, waiting to move into a new home. We must embrace uncertainty for now. There can be no “once we’ve done this, we will feel settled”. More patience is needed than that. More patience and, for me, more writing too.

Eight baby nice-to-haves we’ve enjoyed this time around

I almost called this list “eight baby essentials” but changed it because I don’t believe there are any essentials. Other than a sling. I don’t know how I’d do the baby thing without a sling. But then not everyone gets on with them. At any rate, many (all?) of the things on this list are definitely not essentials but they’ve all made this third time round that little bit sweeter.

1. Babywearing weather cover
A babywearing accessory I could have done with the last couple of times us a babywearing weather cover. With Talitha, I wore Laurence’s oversized snowboarding jacket and felt anything but glamorous. This time I decided to just get it over with and buy a Mam Babywearing weather cover (pictured above) so I’d not have to worry about the cold and rain but could still wear my own coat.

2. Moveable baby station
How did I only just get a handle on this with baby number three? With Talitha, I had a baby station upstairs in the nursery she never slept in. With Ophelia, I changed her everywhere and never knew where anything was.

This time, I have a Sunjellies basket that I put all the changing bits in (I have a few changing mats), plus my water bottle, phone and a pen and notebook for jotting stuff down because, let’s face it, my memory is totally shot by now. The basket was especially useful in the newborn period when I needed to limit how often I went up and down the stairs for the sake of recovery.

I also have everything I need for changing set up in the drawer of my bedside table so I don’t need to get out of bed should a change be needed in the middle of the night, which it constantly did in the newborn days with babies two and three. Oh, and I have two nappy buckets, one upstairs and one downstairs so I can quickly chuck dirty nappies in to await laundry day.


3. Pabobo night light
Speaking of not getting out of bed, I like having a night light when I’m bedsharing with a baby. It’s reassuring to be able to effortlessly check on them periodically. It also means I don’t have to turn on a harsh bedside lamp and fully wake us both up. Pabobo sent me their automatic night light to try out and it’s proved just the thing this time. It’s gentle, pink light doesn’t keep any of us up and it turns itself off when the sun rises. Its sleek design means it doesn’t feel too “kiddy” in our bedroom either.

4. Water bottle
Thirst during breastfeeding caught me completely off guard with Talitha. Who knew it could be so sudden and intense? This time, I bought a pretty blue stainless steel water bottle from Klean Kanteen so I’d always have some within easy reach and ready for one-handed drinking.


5. Cuddledry baby towel
The concept behind this towel is so simple yet something of a stroke of genius. I’d heard of them before but Cuddledry recently sent me one to try. Basically, it’s a super soft towel that buttons around your neck so it hangs like an apron. Then it has a baby hood in one of the hanging corners. As someone who needs to really concentrate not to get sopping wet extracting a baby from a bath, this is a fantastic innovation. This is their unisex grey stars design featuring a subtle star trim. It’s stylish and practical.


6. Padraigs
I longed for a pair of padraig slippers since Talitha was a baby but I just could not justify the price. This time we’re in a better financial position so I decided to just go for it. They keep Delilah’s feet toasty, especially when we’re out with the sling and I smile whenever I see them. Now, if only I could have bought them for baby number one and got three babies to wear it for my money’s worth?!

7. Washable wipes
On a pretty different note, I’ve discovered washable wipes this time and I’m never going back. I used cut up bits of terry toweling last time but they got pretty ragged after a while. This time I invested in Cheeky Wipes and they are such a pleasure to use. They’re so much more effective than cotton wool and masses better for the environment too. You do need a lot of them for the newborn phase but we use them for hands and faces too so it’s been worth our having a lot.

8. Sophie la giraffe cosmetics
And as we’re talking about baby care, I’ve enjoyed trying out Sophie la giraffe’s organic cosmetic range. The hair and body wash even has a natural detangler. The body lotion doesn’t set Delilah’s eczema off but I haven’t dared try the wash on her, and just water does the trick anyway. The older girls and I have used both though and we love them. They smell light and fresh and really do the job. We’re Sophie fans in this house and have had a giraffe for each baby (had to keep replacing and we kept losing it!) so it’s been fun trying out these products they’ve sent us.