Monday, 5 December 2011

Our home education day-what works for us

Cross posted from my blog.

Other home educators' days always interest me and I've picked up so many ideas from other people.

This is a list of organisational ideas that have worked for us. I haven't written in aspirational ideas, for example, that I manage to have the slow cooker on each morning. It would be good if this were the case but it isn't! We have only been home educating for two and a half years so there is plenty of room for improvement.

  • First things first-start with the Bible and prayer.
  • A set order to the day-this has helped so much. This is easy to remember, unlike a school style timetable which can be different each day. Plus, whilst a child might not like every subject they get used to that fact that it just happens at that time.
  • Front load the day with the most important work. I would prefer that English and maths were done; if we fail to do art or computer studies it matters less.
  • Spend time with the little ones at the beginning. How this works for us is that after Bible time, I set Middle Son's English. He goes off to do this and I read to the younger children.

  •  Mr Exuberance, aged 34 months, is now happy to play independently, whilst his sister has time learning to read.

  • Toddlers can be challenging. I feel a bit of a fraud writing this as my little one is nearly three and is much more able to play alone, in the same room, for a few minutes, that he was even six months ago. If I needed so much time to teach reading now, I would either use nap time, if it still existed, or teach when Middle Son was free to play with Mr Exuberance.
  • Personal reading time after lunch.  The younger ones play educational games on the computer-next target for change. I hope that soon they will listen to talking books in this time.
  • Set finishing time-good for everyone!
  • Planning-I make major curriculum decisions before the beginning of the year and a rough plan of how I would like things to work.  Each week, there is a planning session for the details with a weekly chart of what I have planned-yes, we don't always keep to it but it is invaluable on a busy morning. 
  • Trips-We've realised that the best trips are closely related to the children's work. Now we also try to tie in books for the little ones and turn down trips that don't fit in with what the children are learning. 

  • Extra-curricular activities-the ones that work best for us are close to home. Petrol costs can quickly outweigh a slightly cheaper course, ignoring the time issue and exercise walking to a local event.
Do feel free to comment with your own tips. I am always looking for ways of making the day run more efficiently.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The End of the Holiday...

Almost all our school materials have now arrived. Woohoo! The kids are all ready and eager to begin schooling, so I reckon we'll kinda get going on Thursday, and hope some creases will be ironed out before we get a good start on Monday.
We tend to stop working over school holidays - not because we have to, but because we have so many cousins in and out that it would be really difficult to carry on schooling. So our term times loosely follow local school terms.

For the Wee Guy, we are using:


Abeka for Maths and Language. He's now onto his third year of Abeka Arithmetic and Language. It works well for us, the lessons are clear and very easy to follow. 

The girls are using Abeka's DVDs for Maths.


Mystery of History for, er, History! We haven't used this curriculum before, but it's set out in such a way as to be used with all three kids. For example, after Lesson 91 has been read (and talked about), these questions follow:

Activities for Lesson 91

91A—Younger Students
Write a story about what it would be like to have a pet elephant. What would you want him to do for you? Where could he take your family? Where would he sleep, and how much would he eat?  To make your story believable, read some information about elephants in the encyclopedia and weave these facts into your story.

Dictate the story to your teacher and include it in your Student Notebook 
under “Africa: Tunisia.” (Tunisia is the modern country in Africa where Carthage used to be.)

91B—Middle Students
Pretend you are a soldier with Hannibal’s army. Write a diary page of what it is like to travel with the elephants. Although it was not a funny expedition, you could write your diary page in a humorous fashion. Use your imagination. 
File your page under “Africa: Tunisia.”

91C—Older Students
1.  Write a synopsis of each of the three Punic Wars. These wars were considered pivotal to history, and the tactics of Hannibal were ingenious. Pay attention to the name Scipio. 
h ere was more than one. File your research under “Africa: Tunisia.”

2.  Are you a war buff ? If you like battle scenes, research the details on the Battle of Zama, Scipio versus Hannibal. It was quite a showdown.

And so, there are a variety of questions suitable for the different age groups. 

One area of study I am keen that they improve on is the ability to read, understand, chew over, and regurgitate - whether in writing or orally.

For Bible as a subject, the girls are going to use The Truth that Frees as a teaching tool. 

Much of what might come under the category of Language/English/Literature will be a selection of books and materials 

- they will listen to lectures, take notes and answer a question I've set them: this question may ask for an essay, for a summary, or for a discussion on the topic.

- we will read chapters of books together and, again, I will set relevant questions for them. We plan to carry on with Ruth: Her Story for Today, which I posted about here.

- they will read and write book summaries, reviews, or they will write essays connected with the book. Again, the synopsis of some of their reading books will be in the form of discussion - of questions and answers, of thought and opinions.

Again, we will be using Pudewa's Excellence in Writing materials to help with writing style.


Katie is keen on drawing, and definitely has some talents in this area that did not come from me. She is going to use Artistic Pursuits to develop some of her artistic skills.

She will do Art with the Wee Guy too.


The girls will use Abeka DVDs for Science. 

The Wee Guy is using Abeka's science curriculum for his age group.

Here's a selection of some of the books we'll be using this coming year.

And now, it's 'hop to it'... there's work to be done!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Over the summer

I sometimes get asked if we "do school" over the summer. The short answer is "yes". I find that it is not helpful to have children at home/round the house with "nothing to do" for too long, so we do have a structure to the summer "holidays".

Every year is different, but this year our schedule is something like this. We get up late (compared to during term time) and everyone has more free time. And we go to bed later.

The younger six do reading and writing until lunchtime; then they all go outside for an hour. After that, they are free to do whatever they want (within reason) until we start to get ready for supper in the evening.

Every week we have at least one outing or event to attend - we try to do things that we don't do during term time.  We also try to meet up with friends, and we still have our regular swimming and gymnastics lessons. (French, sailing and football lessons stop for the summer.)

The younger six children are competing in the Reading Challenge run by our local library (conveniently next door) so we are focussing on reading. One of the older children helps me by reading to or with the two youngest for an hour+ a day.  I also try to make sure that they do some writing each day, even if it is simply copy-work. Each child keeps a list of the books they have read, and I've promised them a monetary incentive depending on how many they get through. I vet their book choices, they may not read below their level simply to get through more books more quickly, nor are they allowed to choose books they've already read, or seen as movies (these are my rules, not the library's!)

The library has a good range of children's classics as well as children's versions of adult classics.  And it also has all the newer, trendy, "fantasy" type fiction books as well.  They had a popular children's author come to talk to the children about his work the other day, we really enjoyed listening to him, and it was interesting for the children to meet a real author.

Another older child is also helping me by typing up lists of who has done what over the year, which will be the basis of my annual education report. This helps me to pinpoint areas of weakness, and the children will sometimes work on a topic that has been neglected over the year, or practise something which they found difficult. For example, Annabelle (10) has to spend time each day working on  spelling, and couple of the others have workbooks that they hadn't finished.

As the children get older, I find I don't need to organise them so much (well, that does depend on the child, to be honest!), but instead need to discuss goals with them and let them find their own ways to get there. With younger children I find that organisation is *so* important if I am going to achieve anything.

So, over this summer we've had a loose sort of schedule involving mostly reading and writing, some catching up in other areas and outings we wouldn't otherwise do. And I take time reviewing what has been learned (or not) and planning for the coming year.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Two Neat Sites, and a Question

I just came across links to these two educational websites.

This one helps you comprehend the size of an atom.  Quite fascinating!
Cell Size and Scale

And this one has a short educational video for each element on the periodic table.
The Periodic Table of Videos

These are both interesting and useful websites that I would like to use as supplements when it comes time to study biology and chemistry with my children.  But there are many, many interesting educational websites like these that I would like to use in the future.  I'm not really sure how to keep track of them all!

So here's a question for other homeschooling parents.  How do you keep track of educational websites that you would like to use in the future?  There are so many fantastic resources online, how do you organize them all?  Any thoughts about the internet as an educational resource would be appreciated. :)

Friday, 17 June 2011

Thoughts at the end of a home education year

I initially wrote a post about what has and hasn't worked in our home educating this year. But the detail is probably only relevant to us and the overview can be encapsulated more simply.

When we have tried to keep to our principles things have gone well and when we haven't there have been problems.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Deuteronomy 6 verses 5-7.

Our aim is to have God centred education with a Biblical world view. This doesn't preclude good academics-certainly not. Failing to aim for excellence would not be God honouring nor loving our neighbour as ourself. It doesn't mean that we don't study any books except for the Bible or books about the Bible but everything is held or should be held to that standard.

Is this easy? Of course not. Not because it is hard to keep up with the latest in National Curriculum standards nor because it is hard to keep up with trends in education but because I serve a perfect God who hates wrong doing. He is perfectly patient but sees my impatience. He is perfectly loving but sees my selfishness. But there is forgiveness with Him that He may be feared.

Be with me, Lord, where'er I go;
Teach me what Thou wouldst have me do;
Govern whate'er I think or say;
Direct me in the narrow way.

Work in me, lest I harbour pride,
Lest I in my own strength confide;
Show me my weakness, let me see
I have my power, my all, from Thee.

Assist and teach me how to pray;
Incline my nature to obey;
What Thou abhorrest let me flee,
And only love what pleases Thee.

John Cennick

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Most of the time, I don't do formal Geography lessons with our Wee Guy, but for the past couple of weeks, the Wee Guy and I have been doing some map work as well as learning some fascinating facts, by living vicariously through OMSH's family holiday.

Okay, their vacation.

Almost every leg of the amazing family holiday they're having has been chronicled on the OMSH blog (or, on PW's site). 

Their trip began in Texas, where they live, and so far, they've travelled through Oklahoma, 



and visited a snowy Yellowstone National Park inWyoming. They crossed into Montana, 

and visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona and New Mexico.

The fact they're in New Mexico tells me they're coming close to the end of their trip. They are almost home.

(In real life, they are actually at home now, but we're working some days behind them)

When we took our (almost) four week holiday to the US two years ago, we visited none of the places the OMSH family have seen, and yet, reading of their trip is bringing back some wonderful memories for me: 

the excitement of visiting places, previously only seen online or in photos; 

the enjoyment of each other's company, with the feeling of freedom that being on holiday brings; 

the joy of meeting friends - some of whom we'd never met before; others we had been missing for some time, and longed to see again;

and the (possibly unexpected) enjoyment of long trip together in the car.

I've loved 'travelling' with the OMSH family, and following an actual trip like this brings map reading to life for the Wee Guy.

Okay, and for his Mum!

As well as the Wee Guy finding individual towns, roads and parks in an Atlas (as seen below), we have also been sticking dots onto a map of the whole of the USA to give some perspective of the journey.

On the individual atlas pages, we place tape giving a rough idea of the roads they travelled. This is Wyoming, on Day 7 of their holiday. They travelled to the Yellowstone National Park and (I think) drove into Montana for a short time. (Did they do this just for the fun of having another state to add to their holiday? I don't know, but I do know that we did this on our trip!)

You can head over to the OMSH site to read more of their trip. Over the next week, we will finish their journey at our kitchen table, and I'll show you their final leg when we're done.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Homeschooling and a Whole Lot More

I posted this on my own blog, and am cross-posting here.

Homeschooling is still very rare here in Scotland, and so when I tell someone who's just asked me about my kids' schooling that I homeschool, a variety of reactions come my way.

We have the:

'What! You have your kids around you all day' 

... kind of reaction. When I smile and say with genuine enthusiasm, 'Yep, I have them with me all day. It's great!', the reaction normally translates into some version of, 
'You need your head seen to'.

Then we have the 

'Homeschooling? What's that?' 

...ones. They have truly never heard of such a thing, and can't quite get their heads around it.

Then we have the

'Er, are you really allowed to do that?' 

...ones. When I point out that these kids are my kids, and that legally, the responsibility for a child's education actually rests on the parents (though most parents choose to deligate the day-to-day education to a schoolteacher), they normally react with an, 
'Ahh... I suppose you're right. I never thought of it like that'.

And then there are some who react with:

'What? You teach them at home? Aww man, that's fantastic. Oh, I'd love to do that', 

'Oh I wish I'd known about that when my kids were school age'.

When we first began homeschooling, I had no idea the whole concept would grip me like it has done. I had no idea I would grow to love it like I have done. I had no idea that I would genuinely come to the place I'm at where I can imagine no other life but that of homeschooling my kids.

Is it hard work? Yes.

Are there days I would love to put my feet up and have silence in which to read a good book? You betcha.

Would I swap it for any other way of life in the world? No, I wouldn't. Not for anything in the world.

To anyone who has ever considered homeschooling but has real doubts as to whether they could do it, I say: Try it.

Try it. If it genuinely doesn't work for your family, then it's not the end of the world - the kids can go back to school.

But, if it does work, you will never be more glad of anything you've done as a family than this. 

Homeschooling is so much more than simply 'doing school at home'. It's a whole way of life which does, of course, include formal education. That part can be fun at times, or tedious at times, or mundane, or exciting. Some days, the kids will be enthused with what they're learning, and other days, they reckon pulling teeth would be preferable to the work they're having to do. Hey, that's life, and a lesson worth learning in itself. Whether a duty is fun, or horrendously boring.... there are times when it's just gotta be done. 

But it's all the rest of what homeschooling means that makes this life, for me, more than I could ever have hoped for. Here are just some of the aspects of my day to day life which I love:

I love that we can linger around the breakfast table and noone is rushing for a bus;

I love that when we sit for our morning devotions, we have as much time as we want. I love that any questions can be discussed, and that the Bible has something to say about pretty much anything and everything that life has to offer.

I love that our kids are part of each others' lives every day. I love that the Wee Guy knows his brother, who is ten years older than him, as well as he does. This level of intimacy would be difficult with this age gap if they were at school or college.

I love that in the middle of a Maths lesson, I can be told that I'm loved, or that Genghis Khan was amazing, or that Big Brother's sheep are going to be moved that afternoon and so schoolwork has to be done quickly, because - as you all know - Big Brother can't do anything with his sheep without a certain Wee Fella helping. 

I love knowing that at any given time, I can have any of my kids wander into the room and say Hi. 

I am constantly amazed that God brought this homeschooling life to me. I am one of the least likely candidates you can imagine. I am what is not suited to being a homeschooling Mum in a thousand different ways, and yet God saw fit to gift me in this way. I am humbled. I am grateful. I am blessed beyond words.

Everyday home education

Today we got back  - or at least are trying to get back - into the swing of normal routine after yet another public holiday. (Believe me, I love days off as much as anyone, but when home educating a few children, every break in routine makes for more work later.)

Our current routine runs something like this.

Julian and Alex get up and leave for work before 6am.  The children have to be up for Family Worship/ Devotions by 7.30am at the latest. If they want breakfast, it has to be before 7.30am.  (Quite a few of the older dc don't bother with breakfast until 10am!)

Then we have a quick tidy up/run round various chores, and settle down for lessons by 8am.  

And after that, well, we're not back in routine yet; and every few months that routine changes. Because several of the older dc have had / are having exams, I've tried to let them work out their own routines and study as and when they feel it works best for them. This has led to a fair amount of nocturnality (is that a word? grin), since at least one child works best between the hours of 10pm and 3am; and sleeps quite a bit of the rest of the time.

I have the youngest five with me in the classroom all the time, and the others pop in and out as need be. (Or they email me with qs, or chat on MSN/Facebook - we use technology a lot.)

I like to get individual reading done (with two or three children, 20 mins each) early on in the day if at all possible.  I probably find teaching reading one of the hardest parts of home education. It wasn't so bad when I had  - say - eight children under nine, but now with three under nine and another eight older than that, who need various types of educational input, I find reading quite intensive, and  - grin - to be honest, a bit trying.

It doesn't help that my youngest has recently been patched (because of a squint) and his eyesight via his "lazy eye" is really quite dire. (The Opthalmologist did warn me that this would happen, short term.)

So reading is no one's favourite lesson right now.

We move on to various other lessons, and I find that after maybe 90 minutes of written work the children are ready for a break of sorts, so we often watch a video.  This term we're studying Ancient Egypt (I do tend to follow the UK National Curriculum quite closely) (though I vary when we study the different History topics, we do go through them all eventually), and I have a good DVD (from the BBC) on that.

Although I am in the classroom with the five youngest, I am continually "interrupted" by other dc needing help with Maths, French verbs or Shakespeare. The older children are very good at looking up problems online, and often if I can't help (e.g. I have never studied Chemistry in my life) them myself, I can show them how to find the answer. Google is an amazing tool.

(There are so many educational resources available freely online now, it is a huge help)

 . . . . out of time, but wanted to post a little insight into our lives right now. More later as time permits. And if anyone actually *enjoys* teaching reading, do let me know how you do it!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Memorization Project: Christ in the Old Testament

An old pastor of mine came up with an interesting memorization project for the Bible class that he teaches (for older homeschooled students).  His students memorize one verse from each book of the Old Testament that "either explicitly or typically reflects the revelation of Christ in the Law and the Prophets."  I think this is a neat idea.  You can read more--and see a chart of the verses to memorize--in this blog post:

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

EPGY Math, a Review

I'm planning on starting more structured homeschooling with my boys this fall.  For the time being, the only subjects we are doing in a routine way are Bible and math.

Elijah uses an online math program called EPGY math.  EPGY stands for "Educational Program for Gifted Youth" and it is run by Stanford University.  As the name suggests, it is mostly geared towards gifted students, particularly high school students who are ready to move beyond the limited math and science offerings at their local high school.  However, EPGY also offers a comprehensive K-7 math curriculum (which is relatively affordable, compared to their other courses, which are quite expensive).

When we started EPGY, I wasn't really sure where Elijah stood in math, since we hadn't done any formal lessons together; so I started him at the very beginning, i.e. kindergarten level.  At first I heard the dreaded words "This is boring!" accompanied by lots of dramatic flopping around in his chair, but as he moved into more challenging material, he got more enthusiastic about it.

All in all, I would highly recommend it, especially for a child who is looking for more challenge in math.  What I like: the course is completely self-contained, no parental instruction needed (usually), and Elijah can move at his own pace through the material--faster when he already knows the material, and slower when he is having trouble grasping something.  They introduce some more advanced concepts (like variables and basic linear equations) at a very early level.  And they provide lots of nifty reports and charts so that you can watch your child's progress.

Elijah has really learned by leaps and bounds with EPGY math, and we plan to continue using it for a while, though we may take a break over the summer to do a little speed drilling.

The catch (you knew there would be a catch, right?) is two-fold:

First of all, it isn't free.  I'm homeschooling on a tight budget, so I'm trying to make use of as many free resources as possible (thankfully, I have access to my parents' bookshelves, which are well stocked with homeschooling materials from years past).  But I wasn't sure of my ability to teach math--as with grammar, I can do it, but I can't explain it--so I decided that for now, I would be willing to pay to have someone else do the teaching. 

Secondly, EPGY math is not available outside of the US.  Sorry. :(

Time Management cross posted

I posted this on my own blog, but thought it might be relevant here too.

Listened to an interesting "sermon" (Family Living Talk) on sermon audio yesterday, about training your children to be ready to leave home (none of ours are at that stage yet!). One of the points Dr Beeke made was that it is sometimes worth taking time out of your (busy) life just to work out what you need to do and when, and make some sort of schedule/timetable for the next week, month or whatever.

It takes time to work out a schedule (well, it does take *me* time), and sometimes I'm loath to spend that time, since it is "good thinking time" (ie when my mind is fresh and the house is quiet - there's not a lot of that round here) rather than "get a bit done here and there time" - like just now when I can write a sentence or two, go and do something else; talk to a teen for ten mins; write a bit more etc.

I guess you either get what a I mean or don't! Some (very little) of my time is high quality thinking time; and I've been unwilling to use it to write new schedules. But Dr Beeke made the valid point that it is an investment; using an hour today might save me several hours over the next few weeks.

So I'm going to try to work on a short term schedule. It will be short, because seven of the children plus Julian go off to the US in seven weeks. And it will be a bit of a chaotic schedule since many children are sitting many exams between now and then.

But I think Dr Beeke is correct - using time to organise time saves time. (I hope!)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Imperfect mom

I could do a long post on this (honestly I could), but since I am a very imperfect mom I don't have time. But today, I can't believe it, it is so embarrassing; I managed to miss an optician's appointment for Henry.

I find it hard when writing here to differentiate between the "difficulties" of home ed from those associated with a larger family.

Either way, it's a tough life sometimes.  . . . and the times when I come across as incompetent and disorganised really get to me.  I know if I had two children who went to school I'd probably laugh off missing an appointment; but since I have 12 and they don't, I can't.

Pride I guess :-(

All's well that ends well, the opticians (who know us well, seven of us have glasses, and another needs but refuses them) agreed to see us just before closing time.

Henry with his old glasses in front of the bookcase in his bedroom

Perfect children

I guess we all know that home education produces perfect children. . . . .


This hasn't much to do with home education, but is just a snippet of our day. The children have about an hour in the garden/yard every lunchtime to run around,  burn off energy, play football (and on occasions break windows etc).

Today we reached a new low. Using water guns/pistols (which I don't mind, we have rules for their use - e.g. do not aim at the Cat, or any other animal (like birds or a squirrel); don't aim at anyone who doesn't have a gun (i.e. who is not playing the game) and do NOT aim at windows.

Well, today a child decided to aim a full water gun at a window. Trouble was, it wasn't our window, it was the neighbour's . . .and since the window was not far away, the water splashed loudly all over it.

(Cringe cringe cringe - I bet they are wishing our children were in school "like normal kids")

After some thought I decided to take him across to personally apologise; hoping that this will sober him enough to never do it again. The neighbour was very kind. I hope he's got the message.

So, for the avoidance of doubt, home edded children are every bit as naturally depraved, naughty and unpredictable as any others :-)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Learning to read

It has been ages since I've tried to write a post here - doing home ed is easier than writing about it, I guess. Or else it takes more time.

We've had a fairly unusual couple of weeeks, which threw our carefully planned timetables out the window, but are now settling back down to routine. Or trying to, it is difficult when there are so many bank holidays so close together.

(We don't do lessons when J is home - not formal lessons that is, though there are always things like gardening, board games, and football matches)

I know that as a home ed mom I am unusual in that I hate *hate* reading aloud to my children. It is something I never did when they were tiny (pre-school) and it is not something I've ever really taken to since.

That makes me feel like a "bad mom" or at the least an inadequate home educator (in fact to be honest, there is so much that other moms do differently or better than me, that if I was to compare myself to most of them I'd crawl under a rock!)  I guess my point is that we are all different, as well as similar, and that there is no one "perfect" way to home educate.

I do teach the children to read very methodically (unlike some other moms who wait until their child asks to be taught, or who read to their children so often that they learn by osmosis), using Peter and Jane. But that is the children reading to me, not me reading to the children.

We have a rule that no-one must talk or interrupt while I am listening to a child read; they need silence to concentrate.  And no, taking them into another room would not work, since the other dc left in the classroom would promptly down tools (pencils) and riot. Or at the least they'd start chatting mindlessly; or arguing about who was in whose seat/space/chair.

(Yes, they argue almost every morning about which part of the table they get to sit at, and what chair they get to sit on. Somewhere along the journey I've become too lax in my parenting. . .!)

When we began to home educate I used to spend two 15-minute sessions a day with A, who was three at the time, moving to one 20-minute session as he got older. But as we had more children and more children who were learning to read, that time has become a bit squeezed, and although I aim to listen to each child under ten read for 20 minutes a day, it doesn't always work out that way.

I recently came across the concept of audio books, which is working well for us just now, since it bridges the gap between a child being a completely independent reader, and still needing help with unfamiliar words. Initially I borrowed audio books from the library, but that was complicated because (a) many of the audio books were not really that suitable for us (a lot of fantasy/supernatural fiction) and (b) it was hard to find the paper copy of the book as well.

So in the end I bit the bullet and bought a KS2 set of audio books from TTS Education. So far, it is proving very popular and it does increase the children's confidence.

I just had a quick glance at more of the TTS website, but better close it down quickly "a home ed mom and her money are soon parted".

Friday, 18 March 2011

Home education and money

Cross posted from my blog

I was going to call this "Economical home education" but education isn't cheap and probably shouldn't be. Before I upset everyone, just think, the main cost for most organisations including schools is the salary bill. Most home educators have given up all or most of one salary for the children's education. It is easy to say that the large figures suggested as the cost of bringing up children don't apply but once the loss of income is factored in, home education isn't cheap.

Then there is the cost of those lovely parcels of new books. I love getting new books, looking through them and working out exactly how we will use them.

Is it possible to make savings? Well, of course, and here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. Do remember that I am only two years into home ed. We believe that the children's education is important and is a higher priority than holidays or meals out. Yes, we do have both (thank you Tesco vouchers for the meals out!) but if anything has to go then these go well before education and there has been a year when that happened.

How to avoid over spending on home education.
-look before you leap.
Many publishers have free chapters on line. We have used these on more than one occasion before buying. This is particularly helpful if it is difficult to see a physical copy of the book.
Ask a friend if you can see their copy.
E-mail friends abroad who may have seen the book. This saved me an expensive mistake on a curriculum that I would have had to buy from abroad.
Read reviews.

-Buy second hand. This works better for some books than others. Great for the Latin book that is also used in schools. Not so good for the really popular science book which isn't published in the UK. Beware of old editions of science books-the information may be incorrect. Fine if you are sure of your ground on the number of planets or the genome project but a problem for most of us.

-Teachers' books. This is a difficult one. It isn't always clear whether a teachers' book is just an answer book or whether it has more information.
I couldn't manage without the Latin teachers' guide with its comments on how to introduce a subject, common mistakes and ideas for further activities.
What I thought was an English teachers' guide turned out to be an expensive answer to comprehension questions.
I currently don't use maths teachers' books but enjoy maths and think it is a useful exercise to work out the answers myself. If I didn't like maths it would be different but again a proper teachers' book is more useful than a mere answer book.

-Use good but inexpensive resources. "Mothers' Companion" could be used alone up to age about 9-10. I don't use this alone but it is a great resource. I hope to review this properly at a later point.
I haven't used Ambleside on line but this is free.
Don't forget the library.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Unscheduled learning

Much though we tend to stick to timetables and schedules, that doesn't mean that the children don't learn outside of "school" hours.

Several months ago, Alex (who is now working and no longer home schoooled) bought Rosetta Stone French Level I.

He didn't use it much, it lay dormant in a locker somewhere  . . . . .

Then a couple of weeks ago, JoE (12) found it, during his "free time" (that is time which is not lesson/school time, nor chore time) and became enthralled with it. JoE has progressed through much of it, and is quite quite fascinated, he chooses to spend time learning rather than playing.

So much so that one or two of his siblings have wanted to join in, so to avoid discord, I've just purchased Rosetta Stone Level I Latin American Spanish.

I am able to help with French, since I studied it at University; Spanish however, is completely beyond me; and another child wants to spend their free time learning Arabic (utterly outwith my comfort zone!) (They've even asked for Rosetta Stone Arabic for their birthday!)

There is a six month money back guarantee with Rosetta Stone and (no advertising intended, grin) if you get the home school pack you can install up five users on each of two PCs - suits us.

I've not scheduled Rosetta Stone into their learning, it is completely something they want to do, so that they can do it. . . . autonomous learning.
I had to take some pics today  - JoE with his French. It has a headphone set and you can't pass each level till you can recognise speech, and -  much harder for us,given that the dc have a cross between Lewisian Scottish/BBC English / American  accents - they have to also pronounce the words correctly.

When he is really fed up he comes to me for help - by my accent is not much of a help at all! (I can do the grammar etc ok)

Monday, 7 March 2011

To schedule or not to schedule.. . .

It's been a long time since I've posted on here - sorry. Real life tends to get in the way of  blogging sometimes.

I thought I'd respond to Sharon's post on creating a learning environment/relaxed home education, as distinct from setting a timetable and being very scheduled. I do think that most parents (at least in the UK where home ed is about 20 yrs behind the US in many ways) tend to begin their home ed journey being quite scheduled/timetabled/organised, and then move to being less so.  Esp when parents take their children out of school, and feel the need to replicate school at home.

(Not all our learning is formal or scheduled, there is always time at weekends for Dad's input)

I also do feel that unschooling or child led schooling is much harder (in most ways!) than having a timetable and knowing what has to be done and when. Or to be fair, it wouldn't work easily in a family like ours, where I am a full time wife and housewife, with my husband out of the house 12 - 14 hrs a day, and no outside help; and was blessed with 12 children in less than 13 yrs.

I simply could not have coped without my trusty timetable/schedule, making sure that at least the basics got done with each child, when I was pregnant and very sick.

I did used to have a very complex schedule (I think you might have seen it once, Sarah, it was up on the wall when you came round!) detailing what each child should be doing every hour of the day from getting up till going to bed.

That worked/was necessary for us at that point in time (and we didn't always keep to it anyway), but it was a useful tool at the time.

What is important is that we work with and for our children / families, in whatever situation we are in. No two home educating families will ever be the same, or do the same things, use the same materials, etc.

I love the ability to personalise my children's education. But I also sometimes rely (and in the past more heavily) on simple routines and materials.  A schedule is a great servant,  but it can be a bad master.

Years ago (c 1998; when I had seven children under 8) I remember Alexander asking me about Alfred the Great and I was about to reply "that can wait until it is time for History" - and then I thought to myself, "don't be ridiculous, he's genuinely interested, tell him about it for ten minutes"  (And then I had to get back on schedule and do reading or whatever with Constance, Rupert, check that Lucy was playing happily with JJ, and that JP and JE were still napping)

Life was  busy then. It is busy now, but in each situation God has blessed and helped us. May we all find the best way to bring up our families for God's glory and their good.

Recent group work  -  a huge advantage of having children close in age is that they can work on projects together.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Sometimes I wonder if our relaxed approach to homeschooling is really sufficient, and worry that perhaps I ought to be starting more formal studies with my oldest son, who is six years old.  But more often, I remind myself that Elijah has really learned quite a lot just through every day living: exploring and reading and thinking and talking to me and to other trusted adults.  Not only do I think that there is no need for formal studies at this point, I think that it would really be better to postpone them.  At this point I'm planning to start more formal schooling this fall.

The other day, my sister and her husband Mark stopped in for a few minutes.  Elijah climbed up into Uncle Mark's lap, and Uncle Mark asked him, "So, Elijah, how was your day today?  Did you do any school?"

"School?!?" Elijah asked with an astonished and alarmed expression.

I had to laugh.  No, Elijah had not "done school" that day.  Instead, he had done the following:

Read a book about Eli Whitney (inventor of the cotton gin)
Drew pictures, using the encyclopedia for inspiration
Read a book about various astronomers
Made a flag with cardboard, paper, crayons, and tape
Read a book about various explorers
Built various things out of legos
Read a counting book to his brother (who is three)
Read a book about the planets to his brother
Discussed why the book about planets was outdated in that it called Pluto a planet, and reviewed the three qualifications that make a planet a planet
Read a fiction book about a horse named Lightning
Reviewed 1 John 2:12-29, which he plans to recite in catechism class the coming Lord's Day
Observed and discussed mockingbirds courting outside the dining room window
Drew a racetrack on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, and had bicycle/tricycle races with his brother
Observed his uncle working on the brakes on his car

He may not have "done school" that day but I think he had a productive day of learning, don't you?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Things of a very vaguely scientific nature

Cross posted from my blog-apologies to anyone who has already read this.

Youngest daughter keeps asking to do "experiments".  Recently, we investigated ice and melting using an idea from a DK science book, "In the Garden".

I've been really impressed by some of the ideas in the book but this idea around freezing and melting was particularly good-home ingredients, little mess and results that were fun to observe.

We half filled a muffin tray with water. We used tap water although the book suggests rain water. I didn't know how long I would have to wait for rain. We then put in pieces of flower and leaves in the water and a loop of string in each hole.

The flowers have strange tints as they were previously used to look at transport in plants, using coloured water.

The muffin container went in the freezer for half a day, we took out the finished product and hung it outside and talked about how long it would take to melt.

This current interest, probably stemmed from our cell model using jelly for cytoplasm, a truffle for the nucleus and various other sweets for other organelles. Thank you to Apologia for this idea.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

New Resolve and a New Timetable

Well, we're back to 'school' with a vengeance. As Henrietta pointed out in the previous post, we aren't under any obligation to keep to school terms. But we had Dad on a two week holiday, so there was no way we were going to 'do school'. (We actually tend to keep to other terms, more or less, because of cousins being off school, swimming classes working in with school terms etc)

Anyway, while we were on holiday over the past week or two, the girls and I spoke quite a bit about things that were working and things that weren't.

We have now devised a fairly rigid timetable, and have decided to maintain it as much as is possible. It's quite a tight schedule, but we're going to stick with it for the first three weeks of term anyway and then we'll review it. The first couple of days back after a relaxing holiday can be a bit of a struggle anyway, but at this time of year - with dark mornings that cry out to you me that bed is the logical place to be - it can be rather painful! However, so far, so good.

After three weeks, we're going to review it. If the schedule has been too tight, we will take some days at the beginning of February to catch up. If needs be, we'll tweak the timetable and give a little more breathing space within it. I have suggested slaving for three 'hard working weeks' and then having one week of catch-up (and catching our breath!) each month.

Have any of you worked to this kind of schedule? If our initial three weeks prove do-able (just!), we may have a three-week month and play catch-up for the fourth week. We'll see.

The Wee Guy is lower primary level. His timetable has Maths and Language every day. We use Abeka for each of these subjects. As well as his daily diet of these subjects, I add a weekly (sometimes twice a week) spelling test (often done on the whiteboard, because he enjoys this so much more!) and a written piece of work. The subject varies week on week. A few weeks ago, we'd read the tale of Androclus and the Lion. So, Calum's writing for that week was a story of a dog coming to the rescue of a boy who'd fallen out on the moor (his choice).

He does memory work too. We learn Scriptures (Isaiah 40: 1-5 just now) and maybe some poetry (The Land of Storybooks, by Robert Louis Stevenson right now).

Each week, we do some map work and, with some inspiration from OMSH's wall map ideas, we're pinning pictures of different places on our wall and linking them up to the map. Sometimes we read about a specific country, think about issues that may be concerning believers in that country, and talk about how we could pray for the peoples of that particular nation. 

The world is a fascinating place.

Here are our wall maps at the moment.
The Butt of Lewis lighthouse and Afghanistan are our photos right now.

Our lighthouse the day we 'showed OMSH the world'

Our plan is to have a UK map to the right of the World, and a proper USA map to the left. 

The Wee Guy has also begun learning to draw. By this I mean that instead of just drawing his picture and colouring it in, we are trying to learn specific skills to make drawings more life-like. We are using Usborne's Drawing Animals. I have no skill in this area. I mean none whatsoever. 

Step by step....

This is his orangutan hanging from a branch. (I say 'his': we did do it together, following the step by step instructions, but it's mostly his work.)
In my book, this is good. Really good and artistic. But I admit to having the artistic ability of a piece of wood!

We read quite a bit together, and he reads for pleasure - at the moment, mostly these books:

You get the drift??

Then we spent hours listening to innumerable facts about soldiering through the ages.

"Mum, did you know.....?"

"Yes, dear"

"Did you?"

"Er.... no. I meant no..."

"Well, wait til I tell you...."

(Mum stifles yawn and feigns interest) 

Clearly, I was cut out for this homeschooling lark. I have such enthusiasm for all my children's interests. 

So, after all that, there you have a glimpse of the Wee Guy's schooling. I'll post about the girls' soon. 

Providing we haven't been besieged by a Roman Army, decimated by the Vikings or speared by the Greeks.