Tag: Homeschool

New beginnings 2019

So my poor site has been languishing for a very long time now. I don’t blame you if this isn’t the blog you thought it was. We no longer do ‘formal’ homeschool, although given the adapted timetable that Smol has, we have to continue things like French, maths revision and of course, music. Currently she plays piano and recorder although she is aiming for flute in the next year. So far, she is still at the local RC primary school. Scotland has a tradition of denominational education but only, in practice, provision for Roman Catholic children. While we are Eastern Orthodox, this suits us well – she understands that her teachers are church-goers, believers in the same God, that we have the same Bible and same standards, so she feels there is less pressure on her to try and contain her thoughts around feast days and other religious times of year.

To try and re-engage with the blog, I decided we need a spring clean. She is almost 11 and the days of playing with dolls and lace and pinkness are fading in the backview mirror. I downloaded the *gorgeous* and easy to use ‘Weta’ Theme from Elma Studios

but so far I’m finding the new block editor a bit of faff – so back to the old ‘Document’ editor of wordpress it goes. What will I be doing on the blog then, now it’s not exclusively home-ed based? well…

  • Gardening: documenting the blossom, bird and bounty of our garden, which is a huge blessing as well as a LOT of work.
  • Making: I’m making some adorable dolls of different kinds (and price points) to sell over at Katherine & Kitty as well as little plushy toys, *genuinely squee worthy* doll clothes using repurposed silk, satin, wool, linen and leather scraps.
  • Baking: a bit more of this, although obviously we are still dealing with the sensory challenges of ASD for both of the women in the house.
  • Nature: I love walking the dog and will share our little finds when we are out and about.
  • Knitting and Sewing: Knitting has become a real passion of mine – I’m attending Edinburgh Yarn Festival for the second time next week so there will be a LOT of pictures of colour, shawls, fun and more projects. I still have things I bought last year that have not been knitted yet but we all know, whoever dies with the most yarn wins! Sewing is a challenge: I’m overweight and accepting my new/old body is an ongoing dilemma. Health-wise I’d like to be fitter but I’m 47 and let’s face it, my job and hobbies are sedentary. So understanding what to sew, how to fit myself and as she grows, to adapt things to Smol, while maintaining our ideas of modesty and appropriateness will be here too.

Now, after a thoroughly boring bit of housekeeping and the obligatory updating post, I’d love to hear if there are any topics in sewing, gardening, teaching, learning, whatever that you’d like to hear more about. I realised that I’ve learned quite a lot in the last almost 50 years and I want to keep a record of it here, for Smol and for anyone else who, like me, finds that “doing small things with love” is a revolutionary way to live. I’ve added the Prayer of St Ephraim, our additional daily prayer for Lent, at the top of the post. It really does sum up the way we have to live so perfectly and I wish I could use it all round but keeping it for Lent does make it more special. I’d also recommend “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger for families during Lent – short, daily meditations to help us focus on the themes of Lent and make sure the young – and older ones – are engaged in the readings.

Week 1: fiar “Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car”

This week we began homeschool again after the half term break. A few years ago we bought all the Five in a Row books and curriculum guide 1 and 2, so it made sense to use these as a good introduction. We also signed up for IXL Maths and English as a trial to see how K got on with online lessons, given her migraine problems with too much screen time. As it turns out, maths is the biggest issue in terms of motivation so we also signed up for MathSeeds, Reading Eggs and the follow on reading programme Reading Eggspress, as they are a lot more entertaining than endless lists and questions (sorry IXL).
Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car is a lovely hand illustrated book from 1973 by English author and illustrator John Burningham. It follows the adventures of Mr G, his open top car and the animals who invite themselves along for a day out. When the rain makes the dirt road muddy, they all try to get out of helping push, until there really is no other choice and everyone has to join in and rescue the car. The day ends with a nice swim and the invitation to come again.
We followed the suggestions in the FIAR vol. 2 book on what topics to cover during the week and mostly it went very well. I would say that there are definitely days where not much sit and study is possible so on those days I would be best to have outdoor activities alternatives planned.

  • Monday: Field Trip to the Glasgow Transport Museum. Different types of engine, old and new cars. Social Studies: friendship, cooperation, sharing, excuses. IXL maths.
  • Tuesday: Language: what is onomatopoeia? examples from the book. Art: sun rays, hatching, types of line
  • Wednesday: Science: friction examples, using blocks, slides, etc. Times tables.
  • Thursday: Maths (counting animals), Science (friction: sliding on the slide at the park)
  • Friday: Science – the water cycle, cloud types. Assemble lap-book. (NOT a great day for focus).

Overall the first week went really well. We didn’t fit in any visits to Church or too many nature walks, no time for German or French, and that will have to change. Next week I let K decide which book to look at and she chose one NOT from the FiaR curriculum – the School Ship Tobermory, by Alexander McCall Smith (we are currently reading book two in the series, the Sands of Shark Island).

We did dictation for the last part: the stamina needed for writing meant she was tired out for the rest of the day.

We learned about onomatopoeia and made notes about the words in the book which we thought were onomatopoeic

Using similar techniques to the book illustrations: Sun, leaves, cross-hatching

One morning she decided to get all her old phonics books out and read through twenty of them…

A week’s lesson planning. FiaR makes it very easy to fit around other commitments and make sure you’re getting a good spread of lessons.

Organise and Conquer!

Now that we are homeschooling properly (whatever that means) I find that our lack of organisation feels like a huge problem. I’m not sure that it is, but how we feel about something can change what it actually is or does in our lives. So being or feeling disorganised means i enjoy our days less (and get a lot less sewing done).

While looking through the incredible Ambleside Online website – a free curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason approach to teaching, I found so many fantastic links. Lots are very American, some have really hideous web design but most are worth a good look at. For instance, there are literally hundreds of really good free books if you are looking for ‘living’ or more classical literature, all available online from the Baldwin Project. Best of all, the Ambleside site says very clearly:

It’s normal for a child in Year 1, and even Year 2, to need all of their school books read to them. Children who are still learning to decode phonetics will not be able to comprehend their lessons unless they have help. Easy readers such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books can be used additionally for phonics practice. (Easy readers have not been scheduled into the curriculum because the age/year at which a child will need such practice varies.) Parent and child should be working towards the goal of the child reading the majority of his own books by Year 4 or 5. A transition suggestion is buddy-reading, where parent and child take turns reading a paragraph at a time.

Still, I feel like I need a little help with organising both the records of what we are reading together, how we are practicing Wee Bear’s writing and reading, and maybe even looking more than one lesson ahead. (I’m not there yet. My brilliant idea last night was a giant solar system collage poster, since she’s really into the planets right now. No, we illustrated and dictated a little story about princesses and zombies and pet bats. Thank you Halloween commericialism.)

So the two sites I would send you to for homeschool (and indeed home organising in general print outs are) Donna Young’s Printable site. Practical rather than pretty, there is SO MUCH information it will blow your tiny mind. Mine has exited, stage left. I’m using the Zaner Bloser cursive practice sheets – or hope to – as WB has developed a bit of a phobia about cursive. “No Mama, don’t write in CURSIVE!” – whether that’s because it’s harder (and anything requiring effort is verboten for her) or she can’t read it, I’m not sure. At any rate, we don’t want to scare the horses and the best thing (for both of us) about Charlotte Mason is her emphasis on short lessons stopping before the child gets bored and resents the lesson. If we happen to be writing as part of our story time, that’s not an issue. Those days when we sit and “do class” it has to be short – this little bear wants to be moving.

Young children may be impulsive, need to move and have trouble focusing enough to listen to an entire story and narrate it. Charlotte Mason knew this and therefore recommended that children not do formal school until they were 6 years old. She said that no child under six should be required to narrate. They would gain more from playing, exercising their limbs and getting to know their environment first-hand in a casual, natural way by being outdoors.

Some children still aren’t ready at six. There is nothing to lose and much to gain by waiting until a child is ready. More is required from Ambleside Online with each progressive Year, so the child who is not ready for Year 1 at age 6 may not be ready for Year 2’s more intense history at age 7. Some children need a year or two more to mature. One Ambleside student wasn’t quite ready at age 6; he couldn’t keep still and was easily distracted. He didn’t start Year 1 until he was 8. Two years later, he is in Year 3, reading most of the books himself and enjoys school – a couple years made all the difference. Had his parents insisted on making him sit still for school at age 6, it would been a struggle for both the student and his parents and he would have quickly learned to dislike school. How do you know if your child is ready? When he can listen along and follow a story and tell enough about back to convince you that he comprehended.

In the years when a child’s readiness is still developing, there are things you can do to prepare him for Ambleside Online. Severely limiting TV watching will help his mind to reach its intended potential and help his ability to focus attention. Jane Healy’s book Endangered Minds explains the relationship between the visual information of TV and a child’s attention span. Help your child become less dependent on visual images by reading him chapter books with few pictures – perhaps Peter Pan, Pinocchio, fairy tales, or E.B. White’s books. These sorts of books encourage him to form pictures in his mind as he receives auditory information. Get him used to hearing well-spoken language in the form of poetry and well-written stories like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series, nursery rhymes and classic children’s poems, A.A. Milne’s Pooh classics, and James Herriot picture books. Cultivate an interest in growing things by planting a garden (or even a potted plant) or watching insects. Listen to music together, including classical music by Mozart and Bach. Go for walks and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature together. Help your child learn to be observant.

Ambleside ONline FAQ

Finally, I’m enjoying the many printables available from – there are so many for free and those that are paid for are very reasonable in cost. The idea of ‘notebooking’ or journalling fits in very well with both the Project Based Homeschool approach and Charlotte Mason but for at least a good while, I will have to pull back my expectations about how much writing she does. It seems to work really well right now if she draws the pictures and I do the writing to her dictation – the opposite to what I was expecting but hey, it works! Please check out the Notebooking tutorials and try out some of the downloads. I am seriously tempted by “Managers of Their Homes” but that might be going a bit far. After all, Charlotte Mason herself pointed out that while children do grow like plants (needing good soil, weeding when the plants are fragile and growing, etc) people – including young ones – are not “rows of carrots” who will all turn out the same.

Homeschooling: a surprisingly joyful choice

When our only daughter was born a little over five years ago, we gave a lot of thought to where she would study. We live in Edinburgh, where nearly 25% of children attend fee-paying private schools. Often these were set up as charitable homes or hospitals, for the orphans of Edinburgh. These days, they still offer a few places to ‘fatherless bairns’ free of charge but most of their students are from Edinburgh’s substantial middle & upper classes. They pay extortionate amounts of money each year – in fees, uniforms, music lessons, kit for sports, trips etc – and in return their children are drilled in a wide variety of academic subjects (no shortage of languages there) as well as hopefully given the sense of confidence – and sometimes entitlement – that their parents believe will pave a smooth path to university and joining the ruling classes. To be fair, that’s often how it works.

Papa Bear, who regularly mentors visiting high school students on work placements before they apply to university, says that the biggest difference between state & private school students is not intelligence or academic ability: it’s confidence.

We were reluctant to go down that path and not just because we couldn’t afford it: we both have first class honours degrees (& I have a PhD) after being in some pretty grim schools where a tiny percentage of students went on to university. I am the first member of my family to attend university, never mind have two degrees! While we don’t like the cookie-cutter approach of state classes, we felt the same was true of expensive private schools. That’s not prejudice, it’s just a fact when you have 30 children in a class. In our local primary school, the first year students (aged 4-5) are split into a class of 25 and one of… 40. Yes, forty. Two teachers and a teaching assistant but still.

In the end, we visited half a dozen nurseries, read online about different approaches to learning and found we agreed most with the Montessori one. It respected a child’s individuality, encouraged independence and cooperation with peers as well as focussing on real life skills. The fact that Montessori graduates tend to have a great record of creative thinking and confidence didn’t hurt either.

The school we chose didn’t take children until the age of 3, although we attended a parent and child group a few times a week once she was 18 months. It was a nice space and Wee Bear was happy to explore. When the time came for her to attend Children’s House, we moved across the city so that we could walk there each day – in ten minutes! – and enjoy freedom from the tyranny of the car. In fact we sold our car, but that’s because we couldn’t afford it.

Two years later – and two teachers later – we are taking her out before she completes her final year of Children’s House. Montessori operates on a three year cycle, so she should be there until she is 6 and transitions to Elementary. Why are we doing this crazy thing, having signed up so much to the Montessori philosophy that we moved house, and have invested a large amount in her education so far?

At the most basic level, she’s not happy. 90% of her peers left age 4 to move into mainstream schools. That’s up to their parents and we are not judging. Four children stayed on, including her. The other girl doesn’t speak to her at all (or anyone else, being the most reserved child I’ve ever met in my whole life) and one of the two boys hit her on the first day back. She’s worked hard to become his friend but its a daily struggle. All the other children are younger than her. I see a regression in her behaviour, as she tries to cope with classmates who don’t know how the room operates or respect her space. I see a daily reluctance to go to school. I see two hours of aggressive behaviour when she comes home, ever day. I see someone who is, frankly, bored. The school have tried to help but I don’t think they have the qualified staff to make much more than positive sounds.

So we are trying homeschool. I know, I always thought homeschoolers were a bit mad or religiously extreme or… Just odd. Now I’m one of them and yes, I am odd and I am religious.

We signed up to St Raphael’s Homeschool and bought a few books – the traditional kind of rhymes, stories and curriculum that have been used for years. We bought reading and writing materials from Simply Charlotte Mason whose “no twaddle” approach to reading material, emphasis on respect, good habits, practical life and short lessons to build a child’s concentration share a lot of common ground with Montessori and found a ton of free materials for extending reading, writing and lots of religious materials from Paidea Classics – as well as some books that can be bought.

How is it going? Well, we are working out our notice at Montessori but she goes less and less. When she does go, she comes home with an attitude or a virus. At home, we can squeak in a ten or fifteen minute reading session before dinner or whenever she shows signs of being ready. We talk about history, maths, the universe, writing a lot. We do baking, sewing, gardening, housework and yes, watch Dad’s Army on DVD. It’s her favourite show.

Best of all, when I freaked out that she was too frustrated with the online classes, her absolutely wonderful teacher spent nearly an hour on the phone with me. We came up with a plan combining both the early Elementary and Elementary classes as Wee Bear is too far on for the younger class in some areas, using the school as both a curriculum and support network, so that I have back up and we can listen in until she gets to the point of wanting to participate again. In the meantime, she has one-to-one attention from me and I am following their curriculum at our pace. I’m not sure how it will go after Christmas, when we are home full-time, but I genuinely can’t wait to be watching her learn & helping her move on at her own speed.


She’s reading and writing – this is her Christmas list – so we are, I think, already half way there.