The Sassafras Twins and

Our Grade 3 science curriculum this year has been based around the adventures of the Sassafras twins, a living book curriculum by Elemental Science.  The living book approach is based around the Charlotte Mason philosophy that you should use ‘real’ books to teach, instead of text books.  I’ve always felt very connected to the idea that books are teaching tools in and of themselves, no additional work needed, so this approach appealed to me a lot.  The curriculum revolves around a novel, starring the Sassafras twins Blaine and Tracey, as they adventure through the world of science.

Though you can just use the main story as a living text, there is also a curriculum that goes along side the novel, expanding on the scientific information embedded in the story.  We used this curriculum for the first book on Zoology quite happily, but I found that the same approach wasn’t working for us when we used it for the second book focusing on  Human Anatomy.  Backing up a little I will say the there is nothing wrong with the curriculum, it is detailed and allows for lots of learning to take place.  It includes copy work, experiments and projects as well as resources for further learning.  For the first module, I found the additional materials worked really well for us and we enjoyed all of the experiments and activities.


However, when it came to studying the Anatomy module, we suddenly found ourselves quite bogged down by the curriculum portion.  Perhaps it is the time of year, or perhaps the methodology just became a bit repetitive, but we went from enjoying our science to sort of dreading it.  I think a big part of the issue is the vocabulary involved in learning about Anatomy and the fact that Neirin is still a learning writer.  We are still working on cursive and handwriting in general, so to couple that process with handwriting complex vocabulary about the human body was a real struggle.  I had considered leaving it aside altogether when I was introduced to a technological solution for our issues.

Huwyl, is now attending public school and was introduced to a website called in his Language Arts class.  It’s a collaborative tool that allows various contributors to build boards and resources together, in Huwyl’s class it was used to record information and perceptions on the novel they were reading in class.  When he showed it to me I could immediately see it’s potential as a learning tool; it is really intuitive and allows users to add images, videos and even record their own voices.  Below is a mock up I made for comparing novels using themes and setting.

It is really easy to create a virtual pin board that is full of information and quick to create; as soon as I started playing around I knew I had the solution to our science slump.  Instead of laboriously going through the process of asking questions, writing up the answers on the white board and then waiting for Neirin to copy it down, we went hi-tech.


When I started to play around with the site, I could see immediately a variety of applications.  Above is the first board that Neirin created alone, in response to a chapter on the 5 senses.  It brings together information he remembered from the chapter, as well as videos and images he was able to directly source from Google still within Padlet. 

Like most kids, Neirin finds typing a lot less stressful than handwriting, so instead of a miserable kid whining ‘Do I have to?’ every few seconds, I have a perfectly happy one learning without really noticing.  This resource also allows him to be more creative in response to the material, not being limited by what he can comfortably hand write and draw.  My favourite bit on this particular board is the GIF of the two kitties fighting with the tagline “Taste my green Lightsaber” on the section devoted to taste.  A perfect marriage of science, science fiction and kittehs.

When I decided to make the switch over from hand written notes to Padlet, I spent some time converting Neirin’s existing notes into a virtual board.  This gave me the chance to try out the format and see what it can do, I was also able to present Neirin with something of a fait accompli.  As we went forward he just needed to add to the board with each chapter, rather than starting from scratch which, I felt, would have been rather self defeating.  As well as speeding up the process of note taking, we now have a fun resource that we can use for reference, or to share with friends, that can be easily understood.


While I’m happy to work on foundational skills as an important part of our homeschool, I also don’t want every day to feel like a torment.  I believe that skills like handwriting take time to evolve, but I don’t want to limit my kid’s conceptual understanding to what they are mechanically able to produce.  Since we first starting our schooling process, when Huwyl was only 5, we used narrations to reflect learning; this allowed us to explore interesting material without bogging us down with written work.  As time has moved on my philosophy remains the same, expose the kids to material that encourages them to think, question and evolve.

My approach to education has always revolved around two interwoven strands, skills based learning that creates a transferrable base and subject specific learning that encourages broader thinking.  Something that I feel mainstream education gets very wrong is the direct connection between what a student is given conceptually vs what they can record.  A student can be a slow or even dysfunctional writer, but can still  grasp complex ideas well beyond the scope of their written work.  When we limit students to only what they can mechanically produce, we are missing out on the opportunity to expand and grow their understanding across all subjects and disciplines.

So as we continue to work on fluid handwriting, I am happy to use the wonders of technology to quickly and efficiently record the materials we are using.  I’m not sure what Ms Mason would make of all this flashy nonsense, but I really fail to see how anyone can object to light saber wielding kittehs.  All in the name of science, of course.


Tech Support

Despite being a teeny bit Amish when it comes to to wonders of the modern world, I want to talk about how we use technology as a tool.  That is something I feel really positive about and have utilised since the very early days of our homeschooling.  Even something as little as reading blogs for information or ordering resources online, involves the use of technology and enhances our lives.  We can reach out to like minded people all across the globe and benefit from their knowledge and experience; something I do on a regular basis and I’m constantly amazed by what is ‘out there’.

As the boys are getting older I’m finding technology is playing an even greater role in our school, and having the added benefit of saving my sanity when I really need it.  To have lessons taught for me feels miraculous and being able to enhance or support my own teaching with resources available at the click of a button equally so.  We live in the information age and I want my children to know how to access and use what is out there, whilst learning to filter the reams of junk and nonsense that are equally available.

So right now, January 2017, what wonders of technology are we using?


Teaching Textbooks.

After 6 years of teaching Huwyl (grade 6) maths, I reached the point where I really didn’t feel like I could do it any more in a beneficial way.  Ok I actually felt like that about 5 years ago but this is the first point where I felt my boy was ready to go it ‘alone’, in the sense of working without me.

I will do a full review of our TT experience once we are further in, but so far I’m already feeling the relief of not having to teach a subject I don’t enjoy to a child who doesn’t enjoy it either.  If nothing else, that was worth the money.  For 45 mins each morning Huwyl works away on his computer (so far quite without incident) and I can get on with working with Neirin, who still needs much more 1-1 teaching.  I can honestly say that this programme has lifted a weight from my shoulders and left me an altogether happier Mummy, which can’t be half bad.

Touch Typing Read and Spell

This is a programme designed by the British Dyslexia Association to help students with learning differences learn to spell.  The idea behind the programme is that children learn to spell ‘through their fingers’, circumventing both the issues created by hand writing and the part of the brain that struggles with spelling.  Spelling becomes a more kinaesthetic process, as with typing itself, and is taught alongside that skill.  So the programme allows kids who find writing difficult, or even painful, to develop a life long skill while improving their spelling.  Win-win.  Again I will write about this programme in more depth soon, but for anyone looking to support a struggling speller, this is well worth a look.

If you decide to get this resource check with the Homeschool Buyers Coop, we bought it through them at a substantial discount.

Art for Kids Hub  

Neirin loves to draw and these tutorials allow him to create drawings that he is proud of while learning drawing skills.  To be honest this one is very much child driven, for me art is something created solely from the imagination (everything I class as ‘crafts’) and I’ve never been a fan of product art.  I’m a snob, I know.

But Neirin loves these tutorials, they give him enormous satisfaction.  He does produce his own drawings too, but the tutorials give him a guide and a set of criteria to work to that allows him to end up with a piece of work very close to his goal.  He is very self critical so the frustration of not meeting his own imagination was real and undermining his pleasure in his art.  While I encourage him to produce his own original work too, I love how happy these tutorials make him.  The main website and videos are free but their is a subscription option that I will be looking into in order to support this great family business.


Huwyl has his own Audible account (a birthday present from Nana and Grandpa) for fun reads of his own choosing, but I also provide him with classic literature from my account.  He’s always loved audio books and I credit his excellent vocabulary in part to the constant consumption of quality language through audio books.  He’s listened to a real classics (Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island…) that would be beyond his patience and motivation to read.  I think audio books are wonderful for everyone, but particularly for a child with learning differences as they provide access that would otherwise be unavailable.

Library MP3’s and Purchased MP3’s

While I really enjoy reading to the boys, it can be nice sometimes to hand over to an alternative narrator.  We often listen to the audio version of Story of the World or download audio books from our library for education and recreation.  We are really lucky that our library has phenomenal online resources and I often marvel at being able to access a book without having to leave my chair.


Speaking of books… I was a bit sceptical when I first tried out this app, I wasn’t sure it could add anything to our lives, but I was wrong.  I have loved being able to access non-fiction and fiction material that supports whatever subject we are learning about.  It has dramatically reduced my library dependence (can anyone say fines?) and despite having a cost it is well worth it to me as it negates my need to drag myself out in the middle of winter in order to continue learning.  The immediate availability is marvellous and has seriously boosted our reading stats for the year!

In addition to these key resources we have apps and sites that we dip into, to enhance our learning.  Spotify and youtube (essential) provide us with music and informative videos that expand our understanding of our subjects.  I rarely use a video as a stand alone, I like to tie it in with books and other kinds of learning, but it is a valuable addition and can give me a little breathing space during our learning time together.

So there you have it!  A bit of a sample of what we are using and loving right now; do you have any suggestions or resources you love?  I’m always looking for new ideas :  )





Spring Doldrums – Homeschool Edition

I read this article this morning about the spring doldrums and, I have to admit, I was relieved to know it isn’t just me that has a sense of things flagging at this time of year.  After checking in with my lovely Mum pals I discovered that, indeed, I am not the only one with diminished sense of purpose and enthusiasm.  As the weather is shifting I’m feeling a restlessness and desire for change.

When we began homeschooling I set out a few priorities in my own mind as to what I really cared about.  Some of those things have shifted but actually a good amount has remained the same.  I want our lives to coordinate with seasonal changes, to recognise their influence on our states of mind and wellbeing.  I want the boys to spend as much time outside as they can, to feel comfortable in nature.  But I also want them to have a broad education that provides them with transferable skills throughout their lives.  Sometimes it feels like these priorities are working against each other.

During the winter months I find it relatively easy to stick to a nice rhythm that allows us to get plenty of work under our belts.  I’d say that over the course of the year we get the bulk of our table work done between November and April.  In the early fall the farm still demands a lot of our time and the same in the spring and early summer; juggling the priorities of the homestead, the farm business and our homeschool schedule takes up a lot of my mental bandwidth.  I also really care about doing these things, growing a good amount of our food and teaching the boys these skills; so I’m not willing to step away from them entirely in favour of book work.

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When we moved to the farm it was to surround the boys with a certain kind of environment, we wanted to put them in the way of experiences that they could carry forward into their adult lives. Stephen and I both value academics but with practical skills to run alongside them.  As I write Huwyl is out feeding the calf her lunch time bottle, while Neirin collects the eggs from the chicken coop.  This work has a value not just in terms of the produce but in teaching them the importance of work and effort in making a life.  The farm doesn’t simply spring out of nowhere, it takes considerable effort and continuous work, that’s something the boys are a part of and the work they do contributes significantly.

But I also want them to be well read, to understand scientific concepts, to broaden their horizons with a solid understanding of art and history as well as strengthening their bodies with good physical exercise and sport.  I want them to experience all of the good bits of school, the bits I really valued and enjoyed, but without all the trouble of having to go to school.  Basically I want it all.

Each year I have to sit down and reassess what that means to me, how are we going to strike that balance this year?  As the boys evolve and develop, their needs and requirements change, so I have to change my strategies and approaches too.  It can be a bit wearing to constantly reevaluate, but it’s also what makes this work interesting to me.  I enjoy the challenge of researching, planning and strategising, there are always new possibilities to discover and new options to explore.  As the boys are getting older I’m also casting my mind ahead to the next teaching year and thinking about how the work we are doing now can flow into that as naturally as possible.

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So, for my own enlightenment as much as anything, I’m going to outline how I mentally breakdown our year, while hoping to avoid actual mental breakdown if at all possible.

Sept- Nov – This season for us is very busy and active.  The weather is still nice so lots of outside time, activities with friends and farm work.  Our days can still be unpredictable with the demands of the harvest impinging on a regular schedule but we are beginning to get into our stride.  This season is an extension of the early summer season where school and homesteading/farming are very intermixed.  My goals for this season are:

  • Enjoy outside fun as much as possible, soon the weather will keep us in for most of the time.
  • Involve the boys in harvest chores, teaching as we work.
  • Revel in the freedom our homeschooling schedule provides, allowing us to indulge in time with family and friends.
  • Work on seasonal projects that involve outside work.
  • Introduce some of the key elements of our new academic year, begin working on our maths, spelling and history programmes.
  • Through September and early October we often only do a half day of academics that covers our core work.  If we don’t have farm work or an outside adventure we can spend the afternoon doing extra history projects of some science work.
  • As we begin to ‘close’ the farm and garden our days become more school focused, though we take advantage of every warm day that comes our way.

Nov – Christmas

  • School is now in full swing, we are doing full days (for Huwyl anyway, Neirin’s schedule still accommodates more free time) and touching on all of our subjects over the course of the week.
  • We take the odd day for Christmas celebrations with friends, but we are covering a good amount of work each week.
  • We still only work 4 days a week with Fridays as a catch-all in case something has dragged on.  Usually this is a day for free choice projects, chores around the house or seeing friends.

January – Mid April

  • This is where the bulk of our work is achieved.  We are doing full days and covering all our subjects.
  • Mornings are usually focused on core work (different for each child) covering spelling, history, french, literature, language arts and maths for Neirin.
  • Once a week we work on art history and some art projects as part of our history curriculum.
  • Maths for Huwyl and science projects are done in the afternoon.

Mid April – End of June (officially)

  • As the spring ramps up we are back into farm/homestead/homeschool juggling.  Life becomes a bit more fluid again.
  • Mornings for school with time for catching up or free choice projects in the afternoon.
  • As projects/books are finished they are not replaced.  This is the time where we get to leave things behind.
  • Opportunities with friends are taken up, fun is on the menu.
  • LOTS of outside time.
  • Nature rule is in effect (as it is all year really) if the boys are outside playing or active I don’t call them in.

End of June – End of Summer

  • A bit of review work each day, unless we are of having an adventure.
  • Begin nature journalling each day (when possible).
  • A list of projects for the boys to choose from each day, to avoid boredom and bickering.
  • Adventures with friends.
  • Farm work.
  • Regular chores.
  • Hopefully time for silent moments and drifting whenever needed.

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When I was teaching I remember fondly the projects that we used to do post exam season.  There was a feeling of space and the diminishment of stress that led to interesting chats and a slower pace.  I feel that this phase of the year embraces that philosophy too.  We are ticking boxes of work that has been steadily plugged away at over the course of the year and enjoying the sense of achievement that comes with completing things.  But we are also aware of being in a winding down phase that allows for other opportunities to be taken up.

This year, more than any other, we’ll be finishing the year with a strong sense of having reached our collective goals, both in school and personally.  I’m so proud of what the boys have done this year and I’m a bit proud of myself too.  Despite having homeschooled for 6 years now, each year presents new challenges and opportunities, this year was no exception.  As the farming season ramps up, demanding new things of us, and we look forward to the opportunities that summer brings, I’m happier than ever that we made this decision.  At least I’m happy most of the time.  Just like everything else, happiness requires effort and work.  But when the work is done, the payoff is always worth it.


A Morning

This morning, for the sheer fun of using my camera, I thought I’d document a little of what goes into a reasonably typical morning round here.  Nothing earth shattering but a slice of mid-January life.

For the last couple of weeks Stephen has been doing all of the morning chores on the farm, there are lots of reasons for this but one of mine is that it gives me the chance to rustle up a hearty breakfast for us all before the day begins.  I also like the fact that this breakfast can be cooked while I’m still in my pj’s rather than the layers of clothing required to head outside first thing!

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The first chore of the morning (after making the pancake batter ready for breakfast) is to process the milk.  This involves sieving and filtering it to get out any hair or particles that we don’t want to sup down.  Once it’s filtered it goes into a jar, is marked with the date and popped in the fridge.  Then I clean the milking machine (3 times) usually at the same time as cooking pancakes.

Speaking of pancakes…

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These pancakes are the unsoaked version of this recipe as I am often not organized enough to remember the night before.  Last night (instead of soaking oats) I made fresh butter from our raw cream and that went on the top of the pancakes along with a good dollop of maple syrup.  If I’m lucky this will keep the boys going until at least 10.30 and maybe even lunchtime if they steal some of Daddy’s!

After a goodly amount of being threatened with sticks gently cajoled with fluffy rabbits, the boys will finally be dressed and ready for school.  Today, upon request, we started with science and this experiment.

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The boys were so in love with this experiment!  3 pans of milk and colour later I had to drag them away to do our other school, which today revolved around board game frolics.  We don’t do homeschool via board games every day (I wish) but having triumphantly finished our maths chapter and spelling level a celebration was warranted.

Before that, while the boys rejoiced in their science fun, I put together our day’s bread ready to rise through the sunny morning.  I also cooked a second pot of beef stock from some of the bones we got in our beef pack, purchased from our beef raising neighbour.  I try not to do major kitchen projects during the week (like cheese making) but there is usually some broth/stew/soup/cake on the go each day along with regular bread making as and when it’s needed.

I’m at the pleasant point of being able to juggle different kitchen tasks along with our every day work without it feeling terribly onerous.  A pot of bubbling broth, a bowl of slowly rising bread, yoghurt happily culturing away, a soft cheese setting up,  all of these require little tending but provide the back bone of our larder, allowing for other snacks and meals to happen.  At this point running out of broth would pretty much call a halt to half my meal plan for the week!

But enough of this and on with the board games…

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Huwyl chose one of our cooperative games to start with, Neirin went uber classic with a jolly couple of rounds of Guess Who (of which I am undisputed Universal Champion of the Universe) and I chose Junior Scrabble because, yes, I am that cool.  Looking at the box of our not new Scrabble I noticed the picture of the little girl imagining herself as an astronomer and I wondered if a modern game would show something like that.  Firstly she wasn’t wearing an eye watering shade of fuscia, a current no-no if the clothing stores are to be believed, and I can’t imagine a new board game endorsing a little girl to wear a bun, glasses and indulge in too many books, not when she could be shopping or some such.  But I digress.

So there you have it, a quiet Thursday morning, nothing too strenuous or exciting, a pleasant trot through the morning like so many other mornings.  And yet, of course, not like any other at all.

Playful Maths

I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about maths.  A lot.  Not so much the maths itself but about how I teach maths and how my children learn maths. I’m currently undertaking an e-course through Stamford University Online called How To Learn Math, which has opened my eyes to so many possibilities and helped me to address many of the poor lessons I absorbed as a maths learner myself.

I’ll try to come back to this topic a bit more when I’ve finished the course and I’ve developed some of these ideas but basically there are some fundamental principles that I’ve been getting wrong.  Messages that I received that I’ve been passing on to my children, with a negative impact on both them and me.

See I’ve always hated maths, I loathed it.  I felt stupid in maths class and even as an adult, taking courses as part of my post graduate when studying teaching, I was in tears in a room full of strangers.  It was crazy nonsense to me and I couldn’t make sense of any of it.  Now this may make me sound like the worst possible person to teach a child maths but here are my thoughts on that:

1) I am INCREDIBLY motivated to make sure my children don’t have the same experience I did;

2) I can respond to their specific needs and pace, I don’t need to be an expert to do that and;

3) Many actual maths teachers are terrible at teaching maths.

There, I said it.  The way maths is taught in schools is largely bad.  And do you know how I know that?  Because the nice lady on the Stamford e-course told me so.  There is a whole section at the beginning about how many of us are scarred by our experiences in the classroom and how things need to change in order to help everyone be as successful as they can be in maths.

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Number Pegs activity from Playful LearningThe fractions activity is from the post Playful Learning – Learning With Circles 

So here are some of the key things I’ve taken away from the course so far, they may seem small but to me they have been profound concepts that are already altering the way I teach.

1 – Maths is not about natural ability, most of us are capable of being good at maths.  I found this idea shocking as, like many people, I always saw maths as something of a gift.  You either have it or you don’t.  This is what is known as a fixed mindset and is the kind of mindset that prohibits learning.  If you believe you are rubbish at maths and can never improve you won’t.  In order to grow you require a growth mindset, allowing you to accept change and develop; but in order for that to happen you must…

2 – See mistakes as positive.  What?!  But mistakes are bad aren’t they?  That’s why we call them mistakes!  I mean we all say that ‘we learn from our mistakes’ but really we know that is tosh and that being good at stuff is what counts (and if you can be good with no effort so much the better).  But in fact our brains benefit from making mistakes, our synapses fire much more when we make and subsequently correct mistakes, more even than when we get it right.  That’s right, we learn more by getting it wrong.

And finally (for now)

3 – Speed does not equal success.  This may seem like a small detail but in fact is central to our perception of what makes us successful in maths.  Speed in class, speed in tests, getting the answer first.  I don’t think I’m the only person who associates being quick and being good at something.  But this is the enemy to understanding, the rushing through things without strong understanding.  I was rushed and I rush in turn, leaving behind the hope of really getting it for the short term satisfaction of the right answer.  This is a mindset I’m hoping to abandon in favour of allowing my boys to really understand in their own time. If that means sitting on the floor for 40 minutes working with manipulatives to do 5 subtraction questions (like we did yesterday) then that is what we do.  And we’ll do it everyday from now on.

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{Santa Geometry Activity from Ed Emberley’s website, December activities.                       The wonderfully inspirational Picture Pie book by Ed Emberley.}

The course is taught by Jo Boaler and she uses a great quote by Fields Medal winner Laurent Schwartz.  The Fields Medal is like the nobel prize except harder to win, so I’m going to assume he’s a pretty clever chap.  Yet he talks about how he was often the slowest in his class and how he always worked slowly throughout his career.

“What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other.  This is where intelligence lies.  The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really relevant.  Naturally, it’s helpful to be quick, like it is to have a good memory.  But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual success.” Laurent Schwartz

This idea that being quick wasn’t important was like a boulder being lifted off my spirit.  I had never realized what an ingrained idea this is until I challenged it.  Why is it good to be quick? Why can’t we explore things deeply and with real understanding?  Well we know why of course.  In a classroom understanding is not the main goal, it can’t be; proving that the ‘standards’ have been met and that the school is doing it’s job is always the first priority.  Not because teachers or parents or even politicians want it this way but because when we judge one another by a ‘norm’ instead of by looking at individuals in a way that respects them as distinct, we lose the opportunity to really connect.

So the idea of speed being king has also gone out of the window.  It’s a relief all round I can tell you.  I’m taking on board what Jo Boaler says about learning, that we should always be at the edge of our understanding and therefore making mistakes and growing from them.

Another idea that is being reinforced by this course is that maths is not arithmetic.  Arithmetic is a part of maths but maths is so much more and that we have to work at strengthening the whole maths brain not just the memorization part of it.  This is something Stephen and I have been talking about for a while and we’ve begin drawing in other elements.  We’ve incorporated games to introduce strategic thinking, apps that allow for more fun, stories to touch on maths concepts, songs and rhythmic movement to reinforce learning  and generally tried to approach things with a more varied perspective.

With that in mind I’m making sure that our maths hour includes not just our textbook work but work that works on skills and on building what I’m starting to call the ‘maths brain’.  The part of the brain that works on logic, spacial recognition, reasoning and strategic thinking.  This goes beyond simply working on arithmetic and begins to incorporate other elements, especially those of creativity and movement, in order to solidify learning.

One of my go-to resources when exploring any topic is Playful Learning.  I’ve been a fan of Mariah Bruel who runs and orchestrates that website for years, and my admiration has not diminished since I had the chance to make small contributions to her blog over the last year or so.  Her charm and warmth shine through all of her work and she has a wonderful knack from bringing together ideas in ways that creates clarity and inspires action.

I’ve owned her book (also called Playful Learning) since it came out and regularly use her resources page as well as the wonderful contributions on her blog to give me some ideas for inputting more creativity into my teaching.  Today’s maths lesson with the boys came almost exclusively from Playful Learning related sources so I thought I’d share them for anyone else seeking a bit of inspiration.  I’ve popped a link beneath each photo so that you can find these resources easily yourself.

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{Freeform geometry creativity from Neirin at the top followed by his pattern work based on the Learning With Circles post.  This was the making patterns activity. }

Today when I was talking to Huwyl about a correction he needed to make (in a different subject) we talked about how the word ‘mistake’ has such negative connotations, I said I wished I had another word I could use instead that expressed our new understanding of the value of mistakes.  He thought for a minute and then said “You could just point at the mistake and say ‘Your brain needs to grow here’, then I’ll know I need to look at it again. ” That moment alone, from a child who has been horrified by mistakes, smiling up at me over a spelling correction felt like a huge shift.  I feel like we are finally finding our way to where we want, and need, to be.



Breathing Space

This week we had the joy of hosting our science club at the farm.  We were doing a botany and tincture making day so it was perfect to have people here where there was plenty of room to spread out and plenty of plantain to tincture!

The children and parents roamed the fields and woods collecting leaves and flora, with so much space we never felt crowded and we were blessed with the most beautiful mild, sunny September day.  The whole event felt like a lovely gift, the chance to share our home with friends and watch our children soaking up learning as naturally as breathing.  breathing space-9962 breathing space-9963 breathing space-9964 breathing space-9968After the fun and frolics of botany learning, friends playing, mums chatting and the buzz and energy that comes from spending time with good friends, quiet fell over the house.  The boys tried to settle to their own quiet activities as I tidied round but none of us could find our groove.  I knew we needed to head outside again, to walk in the sunshine and fresh air just us, our family.

breathing space-9965breathing space-9969 breathing space-9971We scooped Winnie up and took ourselves off into the fields, roaming under the kind of blue sky that only seems to happen in the autumn.  The boys and the dog ran free as I strolled along behind, absorbing the warm breezes and soft scents blossoming up from the bountiful grasses.

I adore having friends over and the boys couldn’t be happier running rampant with their pals.  But there is something about the landing afterwards, when it’s just us in our own space without the distraction of other people, that can feel a little rocky.  It can leave us feeling scratchy and out of sorts.

breathing space-9977 breathing space-9978breathing space-9972Walking along our familiar path, but finding new treasures and fun along the way, returned us all to ourselves.  I felt that after so much outward energy, teaching our friends about our farm and connecting over lunch and laughter, I needed to take a deep breath in.  The rest of the afternoon tottered along in it’s own rhythm, with cooking, tidying, making and playing all happening alongside each other.  Nothing too exciting, nothing majorly of note but just what was needed .  Just the things that make up home.


The Way We Were – Part 2, Kids are Kids

When I take the boys out with me and there is a bit of waiting time for them, I often get the same comment from people, “They are great at using their imaginations, it’s lovely to see children playing like that.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s roughly it.  The thing is every kid I know plays like that, they spend hours at it, inventing games, running around like maniacs, making cities out of furniture.  You know, being kids.

We spend hours each week with our other homeschool friends and they are all the same, playing crazy games that only they understand while the parents sit and watch, chat, sort out bangs and scrapes etc.  No intervention required.  Yet everywhere we go, either when I’m alone with the boys or as part of one of our groups, people comment on how lovely it is to see the kids playing happily, enjoying life without a screen to keep them quiet.

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So who are all these kids that aren’t playing?  I  know that we are a culture that is becoming more and more dependent on screens to keep our kids occupied but is it really getting that bad?

Stats Canada is saying that obesity in children is on the rise, linked to children leading a sedentary lifestyle.  A recent CBC report talks about tv and screen use as a factor in obesity in children:

“Kids are playing video games, watching TV, not getting out and exercising. So all of these factors are kind of conspiring against kids despite our best efforts.”

And the organisation MediaSmarts cites a report stating that:

“Television is one of the most prevalent media influences in kids’ lives. According to the 2011 Active Healthy Kids Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian youth ages 6-19 average about six hours of screen time per day, with TV programs (watched on a variety of different screens) accounting for much of this time. [1]”

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I literally have no concept of how a child could be watching a screen for 6 hours every day but even if these statistics take into account computer use for school work and research, that is still a whole heap of time spent staring at a screen.  While I’m happy to use the computer as a tool and have some tv time (in moderation) for recreation, it most certainly should not replace all of the other wonderful and creative activities that my children enjoy.

We recently cut back on tv viewing and computer usage, we were noticing some negative impacts and with the summer here it just made sense to be outside or enjoying our own creativity.  The long winter months make screen time a bit of a blessing but when the sun is  shining there is so much more to do!  So we cut it right out and saw a blossoming of creative play with our boys, less dependency and more making, playing and frankly more getting along with each other.  It confirmed to us that screens really have to be kept in careful moderation in our family.

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When we visited Cumberland Village last week it just confirmed to me that children really haven’t changed much over the years.  It’s easy to overcomplicate things but they are the same fresh minded mud monsters they always have been and always will be.  They love to run, play, learn new things and run and play a bit more.  Fresh air, friends and some rope swings really do take care of business 9/10, plugging in not required.

As the kids played one of the volunteers at the museum commented on how nice it is to see the kids really enjoying the simple play area and all that the museum has to offer, they were so enthusiastic about the new learning, excited to be playing like crazy, no ennui, no affectations of being ‘bored’.  He said it reminded him of his own childhood some 50 years ago.  It seems natural to me that this should be so, but we live in a world in which a free and unscheduled child is a rare beast indeed.

And this is what I try to remind myself of when things aren’t going well and I get myself in a tangle.  When I feel fried, or intimidated by the beautiful internet visions of wondrous activities I could be presenting to the boys on a daily basis, or just ready to hide behind the sofa and take a week long nap,  I remind myself that kids are kids, that they are actually quite simple creatures in lots of ways.  Good food, fresh air, something to do and somewhere to run.  Someone to bring them along and someone to pick them up and dust them off when they fall; a soft lap to land on when things are tough and arms willing to let them dash off when things are good.  It’s the way it’s always been.

kids are kids-9262kids are kids-9266So maybe we live in a bubble, maybe all of us raising our kids this way, with one foot in the mainstream world and one in a world of a our own creating, are hiding a little.  Denying the reality of the world as it is.  And that is just fine and dandy with me.  There will be plenty of time for the boys to choose all that the world has to offer and it will be up to them what they pick.  But when they look back on childhood they will have memories of outside games, summer swimming, tree climbing, wagon rides,  book reading, bike riding, fruit picking, sibling bickering, and a million other moments I can’t even imagine.

Just like all the kids that have gone before them, like all the crazy boys who loved to run, jump, dive, scream, get mucky and get into mischief.  Just like kids are meant to do, because kids haven’t changed, just the world they live in.  What they need is the same as it ever was, as it ever will be.