Favourite books of 2015

In no particular order, here are some of the books that I have particularly enjoyed reading in 2015.

French Kids Eat Everything

I used to think that fussy eating was caused mostly by bad parenting, but now that I have one fantastic eater and one extremely fussy eater my views are a little less black and white! My mum lent me this book and it was a very interesting read, with some helpful guidelines to implement.

Lessons At Blackberry Inn

A lovely old-fashioned fictional book about a homeschooling mother and homemaker, which includes some details of the Charlotte Mason method of home education. It was an easy and pleasant read, and reminded me a little of the Anne of Green Gables series.

Parenting in the Pew

I’m sure many Christian parents have struggled from time to time with the issue of children in church. Rather than focusing on how to keep children quiet and well-behaved in church, this book looks at why children should be there and has lots of practical suggestions for how to teach children to participate in worship.

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

A lovely look at this Biblical account and very relevant to women who feel the pressures of busyness, tiredness and worry, with wise advice about balancing time in the “kitchen” (work) and time in the “living room” (worship). I’ll definitely be re-reading this book!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

I have read numerous books on decluttering and simplicity over the years, but this is the one that has had the most impact on my life. Personally I found the author’s writing style a little annoying, and as a Christian there are some spiritual aspects to ignore and different values to consider, but the method itself is brilliant. I started doing Konmari back in the summer, took a break for a few months due to morning sickness and have only recently restarted, but it is already making a huge difference!

The Surrendered Wife

This is not a Christian book and no assumptions should be made based on the title! I haven’t finished reading it yet but it’s basically about giving up control in order to benefit from increased emotional intimacy. There are some good ideas which make sense, and also some more extreme ideas which sound slightly crazy! It is a challenging read and mentally I find myself saying “but…” to a lot of it, but I’ve also seen how implementing some of the principles has had a positive impact.

So, what are your favourite books that you’ve read this year? I don’t read as much as I would like but am always interested in recommendations!

Meet Pixel the budgie!


We picked her up yesterday and she is already doing really well with taming and training. To avoid filling this blog with lots of budgie exploits and photos, I’ve set up a dedicated budgie page at www.pyjamaschool.co.uk/budgie. I’ve added Aaron as a contributor so hopefully he may write about the budgie too!

Just an ordinary day


Today was a good day. Not a very productive one, but a good day nevertheless.

I woke up this morning feeling very dizzy and lightheaded, so we didn’t get any of our usual housework or schoolwork done. The children played aeroplanes, hide and seek, marbles and Mario Kart on the Wii. Aaron asked me to listen to him play a new piece of music he learned at his piano lesson last week. We also practised counting in Japanese ready for his karate lesson tomorrow.

At midday we walked down to Lidl to get some lunch, hoping that fresh air and food would make me feel better (it did). We listened to a robin singing, admired some cheerful daffodils and talked about catkins being a type of flower. I told the children that Grandpa had found lots of ladybirds in the allotment shed, which led to a discussion about hibernation and whether ladybirds lay eggs.

On our way back we passed their cousins’ house and Uncle Tom popped his head out to chat. He gave the children a pound each, so we stopped at the greengrocer. Tabitha spent about ten minutes choosing between a punnet of grapes, a pack of mini eggs and a polyanthus plant. The mini eggs won in the end, although she wants to go back and get some polyanthus plants for our balcony planters.

By the afternoon it had turned out beautifully sunny. I decided that getting outside was more important than catching up on other things, so I asked the children where they would like to go. We eventually settled on a park in another town. Aaron chose to take his wooden sword and shield and Tabitha brought her doll and pushchair.

In the car, I put on our French CD for the first time in a while. We practised numbers, greetings and asking each other what foods we like. Tabitha spotted some rooks by the roadside and one was perched on a sign just above our heads when we parked, so we got a great close-up view of it squawking.

I sat on a bench in the sunshine for a couple of hours reading Siblings Without Rivalry while the children played. The park we went to has two fenced playgrounds as well as a wooden fort area in between. The second playground wasn’t really visible from where I was sitting and Aaron was initially nervous about going there without me being close by, but I encouraged him to go with Tabitha. I’ve been doing a module about outdoor play at uni and I’m conscious that they have very few opportunities for unsupervised outdoor play. Later they made friends with a little one year old and I saw them chatting away to her dad/grandad.

While we were there, we walked up into the town to visit one of my favourite shops and buy some Little Wigwam placemats that I’ve been wanting for ages. We really need something to protect our old wooden dining table and PVC tablecloths don’t seem to last for long in our house.

By the time we got home it was time to cook dinner. Aaron sat and looked through his illustrated dictionary that I had left out for him. We had a conversation about “knife” and “knight” starting with a k instead of an n. After dinner, we all had fun finding continents, countries and flags on our new placemats.

Before bedtime Tabitha bounced on the mini trampoline whilst listening to her violin accompaniment CD. She noticed that some tunes sounded sad and so we discussed major and minor key signatures.

We recently moved the children back into separate rooms, so we have a lovely new bedtime routine where I snuggle up with each of them in turn and read them a chapter from a book. Tabitha is currently listening to the Rescue Princesses series while Aaron is enjoying the Dinosaur Cove series.

Universal Credit for home educators

Back in January 2012, I wrote about the effects of the Welfare Reform Bill and Universal Credit on home educating families. I also shared the letter of response I received from the Department of Work and Pensions. At the time, very few home educators were interested in the implications of Universal Credit, probably because it seemed so far away, but the roll out has now been accelerated. Over the last few days it seems that home educators are finally paying attention and worrying about how it will affect them.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment which will replace Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

Why will this affect home educators?

There are two main reasons why Universal Credit will affect many home educators. Firstly, self-employed people will be expected to earn over a certain amount. Secondly, both parents of a couple will be expected to work once their youngest child reaches the age of 5.

Self-employed parents

Under Universal Credit, self-employed people will be expected to earn the equivalent of minimum wage for the required number of hours. If they earn less, this minimum income floor will be used to calculate their payments rather than their actual earnings, potentially leaving families worse off by hundreds of pounds each month.

Self-employed people will have to supply monthly accounts or have their payments suspended. New businesses will get a 12 month start up period during which the minimum income floor will not apply, and individuals are limited to one start up period in every five years. Those who are already self-employed when transferred onto Universal Credit will get a 6 month period during which the minimum income floor will not apply.

This change will particularly affect single home educating parents. Currently, many single parents choose to be self-employed and work 16 hours per week in order to claim Working Tax Credit to top up their earnings, regardless of how much they actually earn. This will no longer be possible, meaning that many single parent home educators will need to seek employment or give up home educating if they are unable to make their business profitable enough.

From April 2015, self-employed people will have to prove that their self-employment is genuine and effective if they earn less than the equivalent of national minimum wage for 24 hours per week. Failing to do so could presumably result in the loss or reduction of Working Tax Credits, although there is very little information available yet about how this will be implemented. This change is separate to Universal Credit.

Couples with a stay-at-home parent

Under Universal Credit, couples with children will have to nominate a “lead carer”. The non-lead carer will be expected to work full-time, whilst the lead carer will be expected to look for part-time work once the youngest child is 5 years old and full-time work once the youngest child is 13. Before that, when the youngest child is aged 1-4, there will be various work-related requirements which the lead carer must comply with. People who do not meet the requirements set out in their claimant commitment will have their benefits sanctioned.

Update: it was announced in George Osborne’s summer budget speech 2015 that “we now expect parents with a youngest child aged 3, including lone parents, to look for work if they want to claim Universal Credit.” It is expected that this change will take effect from April 2017.

At the moment, couples with one parent in work are able to claim top-up benefits according to their household income. This means that families can currently choose to have the other parent stay at home and make do on a low income. Under Universal Credit this choice will no longer be available for low-income home educating families. The lead carer will have to work or seek work, dramatically reducing the number of hours they have available each week for home educating their children. Those who are seeking work must make preparing for and getting a job their full time focus. Even once in work, there will be continuous pressure to increase their earnings as much as possible.

Although the guidance states that normal school hours and childcare availability will be taken into account, it is unlikely that this will be much help for home educators. In fact, it could be argued that home educators will have less choice about the jobs they apply for because home education does not need to take place between certain hours. The letter I received from the Department of Work and Pensions made it very clear that home educating parents claiming Universal Credit will be expected to find work regardless.

Will Universal Credit really go ahead?

Yes, it is really happening. It’s true that Universal Credit has been delayed and there have been many problems rolling it out. However, it is estimated that 1 in 3 Jobcentres will be using Universal Credit for new claims by early 2015. Most existing claims will be switched over to Universal Credit during 2016-2017. Some parties have stated that they would review Universal Credit if elected in the upcoming general election, but it is unlikely to be scrapped completely due to the huge costs involved.

Why does it matter?

Home education should be an option for all families, not just those with high incomes or two parents. Couples should be able to choose between living on a single or joint income, based on what is right for their family. It should not be up to a stranger to decide how many hours per week a parent is capable of working. Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage would be a far better solution than devaluing the role of stay-at-home parents and putting pressure on them to work longer hours and earn more.

Some people argue that the taxpayer should not have to pay for parents to stay at home. However, economists have demonstrated that investing in the care and education of children actually offers better economic and social returns than traditional forms of investment. Home educators already save the taxpayer money by not sending their children to school, and single earner families pay significantly more tax than dual earner families on the same household income. Additionally, if both parents have to work then the taxpayer will have to pay for up to 70% of any childcare costs, which for parents with two or more children could actually exceed their hourly wage.

Some families will be able to meet the Universal Credit work requirements and continue home educating their children, but many more will not. Those families will have to choose between sending their children to school or living in poverty. Don’t assume that just because you don’t claim benefits now that it won’t affect your family, unexpected unemployment can happen to anybody.

There have been a lot of social media discussions recently about which parties support home education. I’m not going to talk politics (not in this post anyway!), but I just want to point out that despite claiming to support freedom for home educators, the Conservatives are effectively attacking home education through the backdoor by making it as difficult as possible.

Where can I find more information?

Official Universal Credit Information Site

Gov.uk – Universal Credit and Your Family

Gov.uk – Universal Credit and Your Claimant Commitment

Citizens Advice Bureau – Universal Credit

Turn2us – Universal Credit

Ed Yourself – Benefits, Welfare Reform, Universal Credit

Ed Yourself – Universal Credit Sanctions

Lantern walk

This afternoon we went for a lantern walk at Two Rivers. The children had made their tissue paper lanterns earlier in the week.
As dusk fell, we all walked through the woods in a long procession, singing as we went.
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Afterwards we enjoyed hot soup and homemade bread rolls.
It was cold and rainy, but we enjoyed the warmth of the bonfire and watched the sparks fly high into the air.
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Cuisenaire rods

Maths is a daily topic of conversation with Aaron at the moment. He’s been able to do simple addition and subtraction for ages, and I introduced the concept of division (sharing things out) several months ago. We haven’t really touched on multiplication yet, but as Aaron started to add more than two numbers at once he discovered it for himself. He’s begun saying things like “six ones is six” or asking me what three eights are.

Until now Aaron has been surprisingly good at working things out in his head, but as he begins working with larger numbers and more challenging concepts I feel that he needs concrete manipulatives to help him reach the correct answer. Time to get our Cuisenaire rods out while he is showing an interest!

First we explored the fact that each rod has a number value.


Aaron soon realised that he could add the rods together in different ways to make the same number.


Then we worked out some different ways to make ten by adding two numbers.


There were some interesting patterns to notice.


As we discovered each number bond, we recorded it with our magnetic numbers.


Then we challenged ourselves to find other ways to make ten, using as many rods as we liked.


After lunch, we played a “race to 30” game. We all took it in turns to roll the die and add the corresponding rod to our track. I need to get another die so that we can add and multiply the rods too!


I’ve had this brilliant list of suggestions for Playing with Cuisenaire Rods bookmarked for ages, so I expect we’ll be using some of the ideas over the next few weeks.

Cuisenaire Rods aren’t a traditional Montessori material but they do share similarities with number rods and bead stairs, making them a reasonable alternative for those on a budget or with limited storage space. The only disadvantages are that they aren’t segmented to show each unit and they can’t be used as hundred squares or thousand cubes, but I think we’ll probably move onto a base ten set later on.

Hello 2013

We spent the morning doing some craft kits that the children were given for Christmas. This mainly involved Daddy hammering nails, Mummy wielding a hot glue gun and burning herself repeatedly, Aaron painting and Tabitha generally adding to the chaos. In the afternoon we decided to go for a nice peaceful walk and ignore the mountain of housework!


Tabitha was getting tired n the way home and we hadn’t taken a sling, so Colin popped her into his rucksack!


It wasn’t long before she fell asleep, so it must have been fairly comfortable!


I’m quite excited about 2013. Colin starts his new job tomorrow and I have some childminding work lined up, so things are looking up. These aren’t exactly resolutions, but I do have three goals for the next year.

Declutter and simplify!

The urge to simplify has hit me again recently. About 18 months ago I read “Simplicity Parenting” and had a huge toy clearout. I did do some decluttering of the rest of the house, but I’ve always struggled with sentimental attachment to things. I think I’ve managed to mostly overcome that now, so this time I want to get rid of as much “stuff” as possible (anyone want a juicer by the way?).

When I’m feeling overwhelmed at the task and not knowing where to begin, I find the Zen Habits blog really helpful. Another inspiration has been Miri from Here We Are Together. She has just started a new blog called Declutter To Happiness, which I’m really looking forward to following.

Make our home beautiful

Colin and I set up home together when we were students, and budget has always been the deciding factor when choosing household items. However, I’ve reached the point where I would rather save up longer for good-quality and ethically-made items that will last for years. From now on, when things need to be replaced I will choose the prettiest option rather than the cheapest. I also want to fill our home with lovely handmade items. So far all my crafting has been for the children or other people, but this year I will dedicate some time to making things for our home. It may seem like this is at odds with my first goal, but seeing cheerful, colourful things around the house makes me feel happy, especially in the winter.


Enjoy lots of family days out!

Now that Colin is working every day the children and I will be seeing a lot less of him, so we’ll need to be more intentional about spending quality time together as a family. I’m aiming to go out together at least two Saturdays out of every month. As I was looking through my photos to choose some favourites from 2012, I noticed that many of our happiest memories are from trips out and about, so it’s something I want to place more importance on.

Unlike last year, I don’t really have any plans as far as home education is concerned. I’m pretty relaxed and go-with-the-flow about it at the moment. 🙂

Do you have any goals for 2013?

2012 in photos

























♥ Wishing you all a happy and blessed new year! ♥

13 homemade gift ideas

I know it’s completely the wrong time of year for this post, but I couldn’t reveal some of these ideas before Christmas for obvious reasons! If you’re stuck for handmade gift ideas next year, pop back and have a look for inspiration. Or if you usually find yourself in a panic in December, why not start crafting sooner?


Wrist warmers, hats and scarves make lovely seasonal gifts and you can choose a pattern and yarn to suit almost anyone. Bags, dish cloths, doll’s clothes, hair accessories, leg warmers, pot cosies, socks, toys… the possibilities are endless and Ravelry has loads of free patterns. I knitted this scarf for my mum and the sequins in the yarn made it really pretty.



My wonderful friend Ali made this beautiful flower decoration for me, which makes me smile every time I walk past it. Crochet is quicker than knitting and it’s fairly easy to learn the basics. Most things that can be knitted can also be crocheted, but you can also make small shaped decorations and amigurumi creatures.


Needle felting

Needle felting can be used to make 3D figures, flat pictures or add details to woollen items. These sea creatures were great fun to make. Felt through a star-shaped cookie cutter and glue the star to a stick or dowel to make a magic wand, or hang on a string to make tree decorations.


Wet felting

Aaron and Tabitha helped me to make these felted soaps, which look pretty wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a ribbon. Wet felting can also be used to make balls, shaped items and flat pieces of felt suitable for mats and wall hangings.


Framed art

My lovely sister-in-law Jess gave us these beautiful scrapbook-style pictures to hang in the children’s bedrooms.  A few months ago I used Wordle to create a piece of framed word art for my parents’ wedding anniversary. You could also use buttons to create a monogram letter on a pretty paper background.

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This set of shadow puppets was cut out of black card with a craft knife and each figure was glued to a lollypop stick. You could choose characters from a book or fairytale, or a favourite theme such as dinosaurs or transportation. Alternatively you could do stick puppets along with a puppet theatre made from a painted cardboard box and fabric curtains.

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These lacing blocks were fairly simple to make, only requiring a saw, a drill and a sander (or some sandpaper). A beeswax and olive oil polish adds a lovely finish. Other ideas include making a rustic photo frame by lashing sticks together with twine, or using a pyrography tool to decorate wooden spoons and cutouts.



I made some lemon curd for our neighbours (please excuse the food in the background, it was Christmas Eve and we had family coming round for a feast!). My brother made some wonderful chutney this year and my sister-in-law added pretty labels with matching fabric covers, which made it look much more special than my lazy slap-a-label-on-the-lid version!


Cross stitch

Bookmarks, coasters, fridge magnets and keyrings are all quick and easy cross stitch projects. Alternatively you could add small cross stitch sections to larger household items (we were given a towel with a beautiful cross stitch edging as a wedding present) or use giant cross stitch on a cushion cover.



Embroidery is not as simple as cross stitch, but can easily be applied to most kinds of fabric. There are transfers available if you don’t want to do it freehand, or you could embroider around hand prints or children’s drawings.


Salt dough

Hand or foot prints make lovely keepsakes for grandparents and other relatives. The Imagination Tree has a great idea for turning them into tree ornaments.



A pretty jar of coloured, scented or textured playdough makes a good gift for young children. You could include a seasonal cookie cutter or small plastic figures to add to the fun.


Children’s artwork

Aaron painted these canvases for his Grandpa and Grandad (with a bit of help). Babies and toddlers can join in too, as Pinterest has lots of suggestions for making artwork out of hand or foot prints.


So there you go, lots of ideas for homemade gifts and I haven’t even mentioned sewing! What gifts did you enjoy making this year? Did you receive any lovely handmade gifts? I’d love to hear!

To “The Christmas Fairy”

I have absolutely no idea who you are or whether you will read this, but thank you so much for your wonderful gifts. We were so surprised when we realised that there was nothing on the box or the labels to identify who they were from!

It feels like you know us very well, because the gifts are just perfect. Mine is something that I’ve wanted for a while, but I’m sure I didn’t mention it to anyone so I have no idea how you knew! Colin has already started reading the book (I’m looking forward to reading it after him), and Aaron and Tabitha’s presents are both things that I’ve had on my mental wishlist for them. They enjoyed playing with them this morning and I’m sure they’ll provide many more hours of enjoyment and learning! You’ve obviously put so much thought into choosing gifts for us.

Thank you Christmas Fairy, it was such a lovely thing to do and your kindness has really touched us! Wishing you a very happy Christmas and new year, with lots of love from the Bryant family.

Busy Christmas crafting

Christmas CraftingDrinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, cream and flake. Printing wrapping paper. Making gifts for friends. Playing with gingerbread playdough and snowdough. Enjoying beautiful flowers. Making Christmas cards. Knitting.

We’re going on a dragon hunt

On Saturday, Aaron and I went to the Steiner kindergarten Christmas fair at Instow. There were lots of stalls selling beautiful hand crafted items and a little nativity play done by the children. It was a cold but beautiful day, so we played on the beach for a while and Aaron drew a picture of me in the sand. I hope I don’t look quite that grumpy in real life!


While we were there, Aaron spotted a stall selling wooden swords and shields. He chose a plain wooden sword with a wrapped hilt and a shield with a flower on the front. Then of course I had to go back and buy a set for Tabitha too! We got her a sword with a painted silver blade and a shield with a silver heart.

Today we put them to good use by going on a dragon hunt! The children tracked dragon footprints across the frosty grass, watched dragons flying in the sky, found dragon teeth on the ground and duelled each other on the way home. Mummy may or may not have joined in enthusiastically when Tabitha got tired *cough*. It’s a good thing I’m the one with the camera!