What 10 years of home educating taught me

I’m not naturally one to spend too much time on reflection; I’m a futuristic thinker who wants to power on, move forward and get the job done! But when it comes to the 10 years I’ve spent dedicated to facilitating my children’s education, I think a little bit of reflection wouldn’t go amiss!

I’ve honestly loved the journey – hard stuff and all; we learn and become stronger through the lessons we learn, but here are a few things that might help others along the way.

Consistency pays off

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Around 12 years ago I discovered the Charlotte Mason philosophy and her methods of educating being implemented in the homeschooling arena. This pedagogy immediately struck a cord with me, heart and soul, and thus began my deep dive into all things Mason. We begin implementing the methodology with our four children 10 years ago and we haven’t looked back since. Our approach to the philosophy is that it truly is a ‘guiding principle’; not a curriculum to be followed, a purchase to be made or a list to be ticked but a life to be lived. We’ve found our own freedom within the philosophy and have stayed the course. I believe consistency brings security to our children but how we implement it through their days is so key. Check out more about my approach to the philosophy on my community page here or my courses here.

Not a curriculum to be followed, a purchase to be made or a list to be ticked but a life to be lived.

It’s actually all about me!

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Mama certainly sets the tone for the home – if I’m not doing great, then the atmosphere of our home is impacted. There are always going to be days when we’re distracted or emergencies (physical, practical or emotional) have to be dealt with, but I’ve found self-leadership to be vital in finding our freedom and not burning out in this homeschool life.

Know yourself, pursue the best version of that and say sorry to your children often. Remember you’re the adult – verbal warfare with a 4 year old at 10am is never going to go well (smile) and know when to press pause, or even better, the ‘reset’ button.

Homeschooling is not for wimps; it helps to frame it as a ‘career’ that requires training, encouragement and goals – what are you working towards and how are you leading the way?

Homeschooling doesn’t produce perfect children!

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I don’t think I ever truly believed this but we may be subconsciously thinking educating and discipling our children at home is a formula to producing children whom we can proudly and perfectly present to the world at the age of 18 (ta da)!

There is no secret formula.

If we understand that our children are ‘born persons’; whole, complete and capable of so much more than we can imagine, then we give them a voice and listen to that voice.

Children are human, therefore they are unique (just like you and I) with individual needs, desires, and personalities – we can’t box them in or ‘carve’ them into something they’re not. We can’t be intimidated or afraid of who they are; their struggles, their expression, their challenges or their victories. We’re continuously learning to trust their creator, point them to Jesus,  love them deeply, communicate with them regularly and keep their world wide.

“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
― John Holt

Soon we’ll be sliding into our 11th year of homeschooling looking a little different (less students, sob) this year (check out my podcast with MacKenzie over at Cultivating The Lovely, episode 76 for a Boden update) and just like you I’ll soon be deep in planning, fresh pencil shopping and laminating ALL the things!

So, whether you’ve already got going, never stopped or like us, have a couple of weeks left of the summer break – happy new school year to you!

Room For It All!

“Who can be wise, amazed, temp’rate, and furious,loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.” MacBeth

Maybe not a man Macbeth, but a woman (or maybe it’s just me) can feel and flow with various emotions in one moment right?

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As I watched my youngest daughter and her friend walk through the pretty park grasses towards the graffitied skate park I was struck again by our life lived with truth in tension.

 

Urban art meets natural beauty is like a prince and pauper story; we’re not sure if it could or should work, the image makes us somewhat uncomfortable and marrying the two seems unbearable. But here it is in front of our faces.

I see this tension slip so often into our understanding of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy in the 21st century; we want to walk through the grasses but close our eyes to the graffiti; the problem is if we keep walking we’ll slam into it eventually! Maybe there’s room for it all?

Where do you feel the tension? Technology? Modern book choices? Rap music or growing independence? I know, I feel it too. But I’m growing to realise that the soil of the atmosphere I intentionally cultivate at home; the feast of books I lay out to choose from, the sounds that surround us, the conversation that simmers around the meal table, my interests and time well spent set my children’s feet in the grasses. 21st century life, art and culture is all kinds of crazy but it’s also pretty cool…and it’s when we happen to be alive, so let’s live it well with our eyes open, hearts huge and minds renewed. There’s room for it all.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect – Romans 12:2

 

Life On The Park – March

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Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

Emily Dickinson

March entered the park with a smile; eager and ready to bring the beginnings of spring growth and glory. My early morning walks are greeted with sunrise and frost but with an alert eye I can see the creeping catkins from the poplar tree and the beautiful blackthorn blossoms making their way into my sight.

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My wanderings are under the watchful eye of silent, stalking pigeons and magpies sat high in the trees, like watchmen on the walls they guard the high places and occasionally make their mark by flying fast overhead.

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Bird life is busy; we watch blue tits and blackbirds carefully collecting and curating nesting materials from our garden as the duck and drake continue their courtship in the river. Goldfinches,  green finches, great tits, blue tits and the our favourite songster the robin frequent the feeders around our home bringing joy to the most mundane indoor tasks.

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I’m now catching the ends of the dawn chorus as night turns to day; the layers of song fill the air for miles most likely lead by our choral experts, the blackbird or robin.

Our senses are beginning to awaken as life on the park makes it way to front stage; a bumble bee in flight, a ladybird hiding in a leaf, three herons spotted flying overhead and the comical sound of the green woodpecker hammering at the dead trees. Crocus in bloom, daffodils daring to rear their yellow heads, many sunrises and many March sunsets.

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March brought snow and warm sunshine within the weeks we were graced with; premature sun chasers gathered children and brought picnics and blankets to the park but returned home to fires and tea – we’re not quite out of the woods yet.

March builds on the hope of February; what we knew was beneath is now appearing above ground and gleefully teasing our anticipation of a fresh start.

 

 

Life On The Park – February

“Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the Spring when it is gone.”
–  Roy R. Gibson

February is kind enough to bring sweet whispers of spring; hope in the form of snow drops and aconites bobbing their heads in the late winter winds and rains.

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The park is still dark, despite glimmers of sunshine we’re still walking under cloudy skies and in cold temperatures but it hasn’t stopped the natural world moving forward like it always does so faithfully.

The slightly lighter mornings have beckoned me outside a little earlier. One morning I took a slow stroll by the river and through the woods to be greeted by a beautiful mistle thrush guarding her territory as a flock of green finches chatted loudly in the trees above. I have to admit I gasped and stood watching for sometime, they seemed beautifully unaware of of my presence – or just knew I was a friend (smile).

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This month we’ve witnessed life in pairs; two robins in the gardens, two squirrels stealing from my bird feeders, the male and female great tit flitting around the front of the house along with Mr. and Mrs Blackbird and we were strangely delighted to watch two drakes fighting for the same duck on the river; we’re not sure who won!

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One evening we miraculously managed to get our whole family out for a walk together with our dog, Eli – we all stood in awe listening and watching the great spotted woodpecker knocking for attention on one of the trees above us, wonderfully choosing his tree in our regular tramping ground.

The catkins are peeping out and fluffing up nicely, a lovely sign of spring being just around the corner when we’re still getting snow forecasts on our weather apps!

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Great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits and cute stripy headed coal tits are regular visitors to our feeders at the front on the house – we still (quietly) squeal with delight and grab the camera when they’re tucking into our seeds and peanuts.

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The greenery of spring bulbs are rearing their lolloping leaves amongst the snowdrops, the crocus are spreading colourfully across the grassy park hills and the pathways are brightening up beautifully.

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I’m learning to lean into the lingering winter but my heart is definitely longing for spring.

Blog audio recording:

Nature Nut In A January Rut?


“Just living is not enough; one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” – Hans Christian Andersen

I have a ‘thing’ when I read a book, study an artist or discover a new poet that I have to ‘know’ about their life; I’ll do a quick wiki search, find a podcast interview or just innocently stalk their social media platforms. I find it important to connect the hand crafted piece of work I’ve devoured with the creator themselves.

Exploring Nature With Children‘ was no different.

I’ve actually been acquainted with Lynn Seddon for the past 11 years; she was the first English person I contacted when I started homeschooling and was new to the Charlotte Mason philosophy and she reached right into my world to add wisdom, friendship and incredible inspiration.

When Lynn wrote to tell me about ENWC I was so excited for her but wasn’t surprised that at last she was sharing this beautiful insight with the world. Lynn sent me a copy of the book to look through, to use with my children and share with you guys. I can wholeheartedly tell you that I’ve used it, devoured it, implemented it and lived it with my children – and we love it!

Last summer Lynn and I finally met in real life whilst recording video footage for the Modern Miss Mason course ‘Navigating Nature Study’; as she pulled up to the country road parking spot we waved crazily at each other. I was waiting for her donned in my nature mama’s ‘uniform’ of orange raincoat and Union Jack wellies; Lynn arrived and jumped out of the car not at all looking like I imagined a ‘nature nut’ to look; she was beautifully dressed in a vibrant, fun dress and immediately injected life into my day. She has the most beautiful personality;  she’s kind-hearted, has a free spirit and incredible creative insight, I loved my time with her and there have been many more Leah & Lynn dates since!

I can not only highly recommend her resources to you but I want to honour the woman who spent months, days and hours crafting the book, journal, the guide to the phenology wheel and many more resources for your family.

She’s the real deal guys and if you’re lost in the depths of nature study, especially over the winter months, then get stuck into Exploring Nature With Children; it’s a great investment.

As many of you know I’m hopeless at following any kind of curriculum or pre-written plan in our homeschooling but ENWC doesn’t expect my total commitment, it even works for people like me! You can dip in and out, follow it to a ‘t’ or just read the poems if you like, it doesn’t matter.  I love the flexibility and versatility of the book. The book and journal walk hand-in-hand with the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy offering inspiration, further suggested study and reading as well as weekly encouragement to just get outside with your children.

So what are you waiting for? Check out Exploring Nature With Children today; download the PDF and get started!

Exploring Nature With Children is a complete, year-long curriculum designed to guide you, step by step, through an entire calendar year of nature study. Completely self-contained, this book has all the information you need to make nature study happen regularly for your family.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are ‘affiliate links.’ This means I may make a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to make a purchase

Life On The Park – January

Hazel Catkins

“Chill airs and wintry winds! My ear has grown familiar with your song; I hear it in the opening year, – I listen and it cheers me long.”

‘Woods in winter’ – Longfellow

It’s almost one year since we put our house on the market and our year of major transition began; if you’ve stepped in the door of our new home, ‘Rehoboth’, you will have heard the story of God’s provision and our overflowing gratitude for this place of space He has given us.

He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” Gen 26:22

Our 1930’s extended English semi-detached home is set right on a city park; as I write I can see the squirrel attempting entry into my bird feeders as the long-tailed tits look on from a nearby tree wishing him away. The trees are waving their bare tops into a dark wintry sky and children are beginning to make their way through the park to their homes after a day at school.

We’ve lived in this home three out of the four seasons of the year and we’re excited to see spring explode from our doorstep.

So, here marks the beginning of a twelve-part series; I want to take you on an exploration of Life On The Park where I’ll journal what we see, hear and experience each month of the year. Are you in?

January

(scroll down for the audio recording, listen whilst you read!)

The darkness can be pretty overwhelming; really, apparently most of us living here in the UK are majorly deficient in vitamin D and I can see why. We really don’t see the sun; oh sure it gets light, but for days on end as the light comes up the clouds entirely cover the wide open sky and it’s as grey as you imagine when reading about the ‘menacing moors’ in ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The sky-line across the park is layered with varying shades of grey, brown and slightly orange bare trees; apart from the handful of evergreens in my front garden the tree-line is a scattering of charcoal-like spindly statues.

The gulls fly low, gather most mornings to swoop and squawk over the nearest field. The rose-ringed parakeets have stayed the winter and make their presence known loudly at times; despite their tropical origin, the parakeets are fully able to cope with the cold British winters, especially in suburban parks where food supply is more reliable.

The river is full and flowing fast due to the winter rainfall; you can hardly see the stepping stones my children love to wade through when I have enough energy to deal with wet clothes or bedraggled children!

Over the first few days of January we were visited by the impact of ‘hurricane Eleanor’; I was awoken by what sounded like rocks being thrown at our window and wind howling through any crack it could find. As the hailstones thumped against our window, thunder and lightning exploded right above our home; the room lit up blue but within a few dramatic moments the storm moved across the park and on to better things!

On one afternoon walk last week I was delighted to find the hazel tree had a beautiful display of male catkins shaking in the wind for our pleasure; the pink, star-like females are soon to follow winning first place in our calendar of firsts!

Through the frost and fog the birds are daily making their way to our feeders; long-tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, sparrows, and robins frequent the feeders whilst Mr. and Mrs blackbird along with their friend the song thrush graze on the seed and fruit I scatter on the ground.

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The collared doves and pigeons clumsily gather in our back garden pecking at the remains of the day from the bird-table.

Our nature highlight for January, albeit gruesome, was our visit from a sparrowhawk whilst he devoured a small bird he obviously spotted on the Boden bird table. My children and I looked on from the school room window to see him pluck the bird bare then polished him off peck by peck. It wasn’t the most pleasant of sights but it was an incredible learning experience!

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Shoots are beginning to appear but their identity still remains a secret; rumour has it the snowdrops are about to make an appearance in the park – I’m yet to spot them but I’ll keep you posted.

It’s a frog’s life!

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“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”
—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The picture above was the scene that met us last week as we gathered with our friends for our weekly homeschool sports session; as my older children were lost in dodge ball I took a stroll over to the moat of the old castle ruins with my younger children and a few of their friends. The water is still and teaming with life; in a seemingly small, inner city park we’ve witnessed so much beauty through the changing seasons and this day was no different.

Before reaching the dense area of water we could hear the day time croaking and creaking from the army of frogs gathered; I can only imagine how loud and intense the evening sounds must be. The sheer amount of frogs congregated in one area was astonishing; they were moving amongst each other; climbing, nudging, tumbling, competing and yes, mounting – or as many of the children that day beautifully commented, they were ‘hugging’.

Collections of spawn were beginning to form and congeal around these incredible creatures; some drifted towards the bank but it also moved along as the frogs shifted in the water. As the children disappeared to play one by one I was left mesmerised by God’s awesome creative genius and knew I had to come back to photograph the amphibians in greater detail.

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The following day, around the same time my youngest daughter and I returned to the same spot to be met with more than double the amount of frog spawn – this army were hard at work.

We watched quietly, listened to the sounds and took photos with our eyes and camera of these sacred moments of life from the water below us.

We don’t just merely study ponds, water, movement and life; may these late winter observations bring refreshment to our souls and respect for God’s earth and creation. Let’s never think we’ve ‘seen it all before’, may we absorb our observations like a new day, a beautiful sunrise or a moment of reprise in our day to say ‘thank you’ and create a lasting memory.

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The frog by nature is both damp and cold,
Her mouth is large, her belly much will hold;
She sits somewhat ascending, loves to be
Croaking in gardens, though unpleasantly.

John Bunyan

We love these beautiful stories by Angela Sheehan, try to get your hands on a copy of ‘The Frog‘ – a wonderful living story of a frogs life!

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True & Noble

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“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

C. S. Lewis

This morning I woke up to an 8-year-old using my butt as a pillow, a 5-year-old with freakishly long legs casually strewn across our king size bed like she owned it and a dog nudging my arm with his wet nose to get my attention – and somewhere through this repeated reprise of yesterday was my husband, inching his way out of the bed in an attempt to start his day

But it’s not like I ask for the uncomfortable holding on to the edge of the bed kind of nights but I don’t fight them. And this piece isn’t about my organic parenting style, I think it’s about love and leadership and the sacrificial matrix of mayhem and melody that we, that I live in – in abundance!

Head over to True and Noble to see the rest of this post…

The Connected Child

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Guelder Rose Berry

Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.

Charlotte Mason

I’m sure I’ve heard and observed murmurings of great connected conversation from my children over the 9 years we’ve been home educating, but my third born, Micah, has really brought home to me the beauty of what Charlotte Mason called the ‘science of relations’. We offer our children a feast of lives and love and literature and they make the connections and communicate them through their voice and life.

This is a beautiful thing to experience.

Earlier on this year we were taking a family walk across Hartshill Hayes Country Park in Nuneaton, the view from the top is idyllic; the rolling hills of the English countryside dotted with farmhouses and cows took our breath away. Micah stood quietly for a while soaking up the view and then confidently declared “Mummy, look – it’s like a Constable painting”. We’d been studying the English painter for over 6 weeks using the picture study portfolio from SCM, taking a couple of minutes every week to silently soak in and stare at brush strokes and themes; the children then one by one narrate what they see, how they feel and what they think about this week’s particular painting. I then hang the print somewhere around our dining room for them to glance at throughout our day, for it to linger in their minds and touch their hearts.

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Snowberry

And it’s these books and sounds and collections and conversations around the table; the repeated rhythm of an educated family life that make a lasting imprint on our children’s minds. We stay well away from dumbing down the capacity of thought and understanding that our children have; great art, literature and lives create ‘higher thought’ – a rolling hill dotted with a farmhouse and cows becomes a live Constable painting, how rewarding is that?

I’ve learnt to listen to the chatting whilst walking, gathered around the table or driving along in the car; my 13-year-old stopping the chat to point everyone to look at the glorious early evening moon, or whilst sharing about Wordsworth’s life and poetry my 5-year-old remembers that “Beatrix Potter also lived in the Lake District”, my eldest son relating our reading of history to our old testament bible reading or one of my favourites; how the 1805 nursery rhyme ‘baby bunting’ referred to in Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s ‘Each peach pear plum’ reminded my youngest son of the story of Moses as a baby caught in the reeds.

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Harvest Moon

Thought really does breed thought, and just as we trust the process of nutrition in our children’s bodies, whether we sneak a handful of spinach into a blended pasta sauce or hide courgette (zucchini) in their breakfast muffins (or maybe they take it gladly), we must trust the process of feeding our children the wonderful feast of literature and lives that Miss Mason suggests; it will produce in them not only incredible ideas and great thought but also “developing capacity, character, countenance, initiative and a sense of responsibility” (C M Mason, vol 6)

I collect these connections like treasure; I’ve learnt to trust the process of observation and narration and see the beauty whilst on this journey of experience in these educating days. These off-hand comments from my children come like wild flowers picked by a grubby toddler; thrust into my hand and heart as the most natural thing in the world, but for me – I smile and place another gem in the trove knowing their minds and lives are richer and fuller.

“…how full is the life he has before him?”

Charlotte Mason

 

The Simple Feast

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We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 183).

The delectable ‘feast’ is one of the appeals of a Charlotte Mason Education; the variety of stories and lives and lessons to fill our children’s hearts and minds excites me and brings joy as I plan for their learning days.

After a long summer of adventures, camping, conversations around back yard candles and firelight; after days of late nights and later mornings, unplanned food thrown together, memories from car to beach we’ve kicked off our ninth ‘formal’ learning year this week (because everything is learning right?). I leaned more towards a ‘soft launch’ allowing the children to adjust, orientate and for me to communicate our new course of travel over a few days; then it’s heads down, ears open, hearts ready to soak up what our year may bring.

Despite my slow approach to launching straight into all of our subjects and schedule, in spite of a splattering of summering still humming in the background like a busy worker bee; as I sat and reflected on our day I was overwhelmed by the impact of what I had served up.

So here’s our day, a very normal day but a day where I paid attention to conversation; I noticed voices and opinions, actions and reactions, methods and themes of play and I can heartily say there was no veneer – this was a feasting day!

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I yell the children downstairs as I finish preparing breakfast to the quiet soundtrack of our beloved British radio favourite ‘Classic FM’; Dave noticed one track was from the film ‘Love actually’ before he left for work.

We gathered around the table and I read ‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye and discussed the contrast of sorrow and kindness, heartache and joy and how they are synonymous to each other. We talked about her starting to write poetry at 7. This caught Micah’s attention and he went on to talk about Roald Dahl’s writing hut. Micah later set up a writing table in our garden to write his books. He was inspired to not allow the fact that he is a child hinder him or hold him back from publishing a story…

We then looked at our first Murillo painting; each child narrated and Nyah was the only one to notice the dog in the bottom right hand corner of the painting. We discussed the angel up in the sky on the right hand side being there to signify a miracle, a true work of God. We discussed Roman architecture, disciples, how the angel looked like a unicorn and how there was a possibility of the guy on the balcony being a spy (smile).

We then read from the Bible; we read the beginning of the story of Joshua attempting to enter the Promised Land, going in as spies and Rahab helping them – one child commented on Rahab telling the king that they weren’t there anymore but knowing she had hidden them. Why would she lie?

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As I read to the children Micah drew his version of Murillo’s painting (unprompted) in pencil.

We read together John 3:16 and committed to memorising it this week.

They bickered – I addressed it; I spoke to them about peace and how to make good choices of when to speak, stay silent, and why not to react to their siblings.

We prayed; everyone prayed.

We then got on with work in the house; folding laundry, wiping down the bathroom, making beds, brushing teeth, emptying and refilling the dishwasher.

Then it was heads down for listening and learning independently (if old enough); I talked through with Nyah and Joel their schedules, books and expectations – they then got on with grammar, copying out poetry and fables, map study, foreign language, reading Shakespeare – the maths launch is tomorrow for the older children.

I orientate Micah with his new schedule and eight year old expectations; he goes on to copy out a quote about nature, begins to study his list of spellings, starts to study a map of Europe and watches an online maths lesson.

Our youngest learner Sienna starts ‘life of fred’ (‘living’ maths) and learns that x always equals x and y always equals y. No matter which way round 5 + 2 is (i.e. 2+5), it will always equals 7.

We read A A Milne poetry together and she chose some ‘beautiful’ words to copy out and add to her homemade flash cards. We read a nature story and looked for more interesting words.

After a group effort of hashing lunch and a pot of tea together we fell straight into our quiet reading half hour; between us we had the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Five children and It (audio), Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a biography about Louis Pasteur and Krista Tippett’s ‘Becoming Wise’ open and being lapped up.

We also realised we hadn’t quite finished ‘Miracles on Maple Hill’ before the summer break so I read aloud one of the two chapters we have to finish the book.

My younger children interspersed their reading and listening with games, songs, dancing around the garden, playing ‘Hulk’, making potions and being ‘scientists’, Lego and lots and lots of drawing.

Micah scribed a ‘book’ at his writing table and also had a bit of time playing a game on his Kindle fire.

We observed an Orb Weaver spider on a huge web wrapping up a fly, we found honey fungus growing under a tree, we noticed the life cycle of a ladybug was happening on a bush right in our backyard after one of the children spotted a pupae on a leaf.

The September sun was warm enough to play long and hard outside.

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The day turned into early evening and dinner was prepared; the table was set, Dave came home and together we all breath and eat and connect and converse about our very normal day.

It is the duty of parents to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain its body with food – Charlotte Mason