Practical life

I shampooed the downstairs carpets this week and of course Aaron wanted to help. He’s getting quite useful around the house! He empties the washing machine and lays the table for me every day. Sometimes he will also wipe the table, sweep up with the dust pan and brush or hoover the carpets, although the results aren’t perfect yet. I might teach him to clean the bathroom sinks next!

Those crazy unschoolers

I’ve finally got round to compiling some information on unschooling. This is the educational style that I’ve most been looking forward to researching, but I was also dreading it as it’s such a huge subject to cover. I’ve heard about unschooling since I was homeschooled myself, but on the surface it sounds like a pretty crazy idea and I doubted that unschooled children could ever have a good standard of education. However, having a toddler/preschooler of my own has made me realise that children really are natural learners. There is so much that can be learnt just from everyday life.

Unschooling has several similarities to Montessori education as far as philosophy is concerned, although how it works in practice is quite different. Whereas unschooling involves “strewing” the child’s environment with interesting things and giving them freedom to learn, Montessori involves preparing the environment with ordered materials, giving a brief presentation lesson for each material and allowing the child to work at their own pace.

My opinion on unschooling has changed a lot and I now see how it could work really well for some families. It’s not an approach I could follow completely, as I prefer to work through things in a fairly logical order to make sure that everything is covered, but it has made me appreciate the value of child-led learning. Spontaneous learning initiated by Aaron seems to be some of the most memorable learning that happens in our house. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Aaron glanced up at the ceiling and noticed that the lamp shade was a triangle shape, which led to a trip around the house to see what other shaped lampshades we have. (Geometry)
  • Throwing sticks and stones into a fountain led to a discussion about floating and sinking. (Physics)
  • Playing with ice cubes from a drink was a learning opportunity about freezing and melting. (Chemistry)
  • Yesterday I was getting the washing in and Aaron asked about the sun and when it was going to get dark. I picked up a duplo man, a bouncy ball and a play food orange to demonstrate why we have day and night. (Astronomy)
  • Aaron is fascinated by letters at the moment and is well on his way to knowing many of their names and sounds simply by following his own interests watching a Maisy DVD and playing with a Vtech laptop toy that he’s ignored for the last two years! (English)
  • Today Aaron asked for pink paint while he was doing some sponge painting. We don’t have any, so I gave him red and white paint to mix. (Art)
  • Books! We have loads around the house and whenever he fancies he brings one (or a pile!) for me to read to him. Books can be the starting point for talking and learning about pretty much anything!

I think the main thought I will take away from my research on unschooling is that there doesn’t have to be a distinction between educational and non-educational activities. I’m also hoping to use strewing as a tool to encourage child-led learning around our home. Here are three articles that give some ideas of how to practically incorporate strewing into daily life:

Setting the stage for play and learning

Whatcha strewin’?

Spread a discovery learning buffet


I don’t usually enter giveaways, but this one at Living Montessori Now was just too amazing to resist. Just look at all those yummy digital Montessori materials! *drool* Her blog looks really interesting too, I’ll definitely have to go back for a browse. There are also a few free materials available from Montessori Print Shop here.

Furniture fun

Furniture tends to be used rather than played with. We sit on it and eat off it everyday without giving it a second thought, but with just a few alterations it can provide hours of fun!

Here is Aaron’s house made out of sofa cushions.

Next we decided to add a roof using one of my woven wraps.

Playsilks are great for decorating your house, or for hiding underneath.

A tunnel may be fun but a tunnel with a house at the end is even more fun! Four dining room chairs and a blanket make a great den.

Washing baskets make good boats, or cars, or trains, or whatever takes your fancy really.

Aaron informed me that Tabitha’s highchair was a bridge.

And of course when you’ve had enough of crawling, climbing and hiding, you can always jump from one armchair to the next! Incidentally, climbing is incredibly important for brain development.

So just for today, our sitting room has been turned into an adventure playground.

Charlotte Mason

Another page added to the Educational Styles section! To be honest, I’m not having strong feelings one way or the other about the Charlotte Mason method. It reminds me very much of how education must have been back when my 1906 teacher’s handbook was written (which is absolutely fascinating to read by the way). I like the idea of a Book of Centuries so we’ll use that for history when Aaron is older, but on the whole this approach just doesn’t inspire me. So rather than waffling on about my own thoughts, I’ll share a few resources that might be useful to anyone wanting to know more about this method.

Ambleside Online is “a free homeschool curriculum designed to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own private and correspondence schools. Our goal is to be true to Charlotte Mason’s high literary standards. Ambleside Online uses the highest quality books and costs no more than the cost of texts. The curriculum uses as many free online books as possible, and there is no cost to use this information or join the support group”. You can also read The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason on their website.

Simply Charlotte Mason contains lots of information about the method, including a free e-book titled Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.

Catherine Levison is one of the authors who brought this educational philosophy up-to-date and her website can be found at A Charlotte Mason Education.

Here’s a website about Nature Study – Charlotte Mason Style. Looks like lots of interesting stuff here, I’ll have to come back to it another time and read through it properly for ideas.

The Five In A Row curriculum isn’t strictly Charlotte Mason, but it is a similar approach in that it uses good quality literature to learn from rather than textbooks. Some home educating families use the FIAR unit studies combined with Charlotte Mason techniques such as narration, dictation and copywork.

Out and about

We’ve been out and about enjoying the lovely sunshine. Yesterday we went to Home Grown Kids and Aaron headed out into the big garden as soon as we arrived. It was so hot in the sunshine that eventually the littler children started taking their tops off and of course Aaron had to copy. Unfortunately he was wearing dungarees so he ended up running around in just pants and shoes, much to the amusement of all the mothers! I didn’t take my camera, perhaps it’s just as well! Although there were some very cute moments with Tabitha and her baby-friend when they kept trying to take off and put on each other’s shoes which would have been great to capture.

My mum had the day off work and wanted to borrow Aaron to do some gardening this morning. He enjoyed digging and spotting worms and centipedes. Then this afternoon we walked to the garden centre. I’ve been a bit slow getting my act together this year and as we only have a balcony and no transport it makes gardening a bit of a logistical challenge. For ease I bought a tomato kit and a herb kit. I also bought some dwarf sunflower seeds as I couldn’t resist their name “Little Dorrit”! On the way home we stopped to feed the ducks and sat in the sun for a while.

Aaron helped me to sow and water the seeds and Tabitha had some sensory fun exploring the compost. I think it’s very important that children learn where food comes from. I remember watching a Jamie Oliver programme and being horrified at a class of children who couldn’t identify basic vegetables, let alone know how they were grown! Last year we grew some courgettes and dwarf beans in pots on the balcony. This year, in addition to the tomatoes and herbs, I’m hoping to do some carrots, beetroot, radishes and salad onions if I get round to it!

What’s in the box?

Today has been relatively peaceful and not too hectic, so I thought it was a good chance to give you a peek into our work box system in action. We have six boxes at the moment, which seems just about right for Aaron.

In the first box was a Bible story and memory verse. With Easter coming up, we’ve just started a little series that will last about four weeks on the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I’ve chosen a page to read out of “Little Hands Life of Jesus” by Carine Mackenzie for each day, along with four very simple memory verses (or parts of verses) to learn.

Next we had some cutting activities to practise scissor skills. Aaron loved cutting up the plastic straws! My dad phoned while we were doing this and had the idea of sticking the cut-up pieces into oasis to make a porcupine, so that’s something we might try later in the week. There were also some strips of paper for Aaron to cut along the dotted lines. His first few attempts were nowhere near the line, but his accuracy improved quite quickly. Most of the time he insists on holding the scissors upside down with his thumb at the bottom, which probably makes it harder.


In the next box were our five Funnix letters to review. We make up different games to play with the magnetic letters each time we use them. Today I turned the lidded cardboard box into a hungry letter monster. First Aaron fed the monster one letter at a time, calling out the letter names to make the monster open its mouth. Then the monster told him what letter he wanted to eat and Aaron had to find it. There were lots of silly monster noises and munching of fingers and toes, so it was great fun.

Next Aaron did a few pages from a sticker activity book.

This box had an old shapes puzzle that is far too easy for Aaron, but I got it out because it includes a hexagon. There were also some printed worksheets introducing hexagons, which Aaron traced or coloured in. We reviewed ovals and rectangles as well.

The last box contained bubble wrap with three different sizes of bubbles. Aaron had fun painting (and popping!) them, then we pressed a piece of paper over the top and ended up with some beautiful prints.

Early learning

“When the child is five the growth of the brain is 80 percent complete.

When he is six the process of brain growth is, as we have said, virtually complete.

During the years between six and sixty we have less brain growth than we had in the single year (and slowest of the first six years) between the ages of five and six.”

– Glenn Doman


“What is placed in the child’s brain during the first six years of life is probably there to stay. We should, therefore, make every effort to make certain it is good and correct. It has been said, ‘Give me a child for the first six years of life and you can do with him what you will thereafter’.”

– Glenn Doman


Sugar free blueberry muffins

  • 1/2 cup milk (cow’s, almond, or any other kind!)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (buy this from a health food shop)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup blueberries

Beat milk, agave nectar and egg together. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt. Add blueberries. Spoon into twelve muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees C.

Mine turned out rather funny shapes but they were absolutely delicious. The outside is quite firm but the inside is very soft and light. Technically these muffins still contain sugar because agave nectar consists mainly of fructose. However it has a really low glycemic index so it’s safe for diabetics and much better for children as there’s no sugar rush. Great for enjoying a guilt-free treat now and then! Easy Sugar Free Recipes has loads more tasty-looking recipes to try.

Busy bee

Our dressing up chest is rather empty. At the moment it contains a pirate hat, a crocheted eye patch and a foam pirate sword. So when the mum who organises our home-ed group activities rang to say that the children would be dressing up this week but pirates were out, I had one evening to make an outfit out of supplies we already had around the house.

After making a mental list of what materials we had available and a quick web search for inspiration, I decided to do a bee. Aaron is interested in insects and sometimes pretends he is a bee buzzing from flower to flower.

For the wings I drew two overlapping circles on the side of a sturdy cardboard box and cut it out. Aaron helped me to paint both sides yellow.

I used a pair of black stripy knee-high tights to stretch over the wings. Any pair of black tights would probably do but the stripy ones gave a really good wing-like effect. The shoulder straps were made out of ribbon threaded through holes.

For the body, I found an old black shirt of mine and a pair of black trousers that are a bit too short for Aaron. I cut up lots of strips of yellow fabric from my material bag. The power supply and pedal for my sewing machine has gone missing somewhere in the chaos otherwise known as our loft, so I used PVA glue to stick the strips onto the clothes.

For the antennae, I used two pipe cleaners and two pom poms. First thing this morning I nipped over to the shop and picked up a cheap yellow head band to attach them to.

Here’s Aaron after wearing his costume for two hours in the park this afternoon, so it’s a bit muddy and he’s wearing a jumper underneath for warmth.

Tabitha was a pumpkin as I didn’t have time to make her a proper costume. She wasn’t very willing to pose for the camera though…

…until Daddy bribed her with a piece of blueberry muffin.

Speaking of which, I found a great recipe for “sugar-free” blueberry muffins which I’ll share tomorrow.

Random ramblings about Steiner

I’ve added a page on Steiner to the Educational Styles section. Steiner education is something that I’ve been interested in for a while but haven’t known much about until recently. About two years ago I noticed posters in our town advertising a Steiner mums and toddlers group. I never got round to enquiring, although I read their blog from time to time and realised that the meetings had moved to a countryside location that would be difficult to get to anyway. I was interested to hear that they were setting up a Steiner Kindergarten school and decided to do a bit more research into it. Fast forward a few months and I’ve also met several of the lovely families involved with the project at various home education meets.

I love the simple, natural approach that Steiner education seems to follow. It reminds me of my life-long dream to go back to the kind of lifestyle described in Little House on the Prairie! In the early years it encourages imaginative play through toys made of natural materials and limits media exposure, both of which make sense to me. I’ve certainly had a rethink about the kind of toys we buy for the children since learning about Steiner.

I’m not quite so keen on the emphasis on art and creativity throughout the later school years, nor on the fact that children copy their lessons (very often in the form of intricate drawings) from the blackboard straight into their work book. The Steiner approach doesn’t really seem to cater for different learning styles and I think I would have been driven mad by all the artwork as a child! I remember regularly coming home from school fuming because I’d had to do more “colouring in”. I would also have been very bored without any formal learning until 7 as I was the kind of child who really needed the academic stimulation.

However, my main objections are due to my Christian faith. I don’t agree with the anthroposophical views on reincarnation and karma, Christ and Satan or the second coming of Christ. I would be concerned about the daily morning verses, the blessings said for food, the esoteric patterns used in craftwork and the emphasis on mythological creatures. Although Steiner education celebrates all religions and anthroposophy is not a direct part of the curriculum (the principles are mainly used for training teachers), I simply don’t feel comfortable exposing my children to it.

So Steiner education is not for our family, but I still feel that I can take a lot of positive things away from their approach. It’s changed the way I think about toys and imaginative play. I will also make more of an effort for the children to spend time with nature, whether that’s simply playing in the mud or growing vegetables. I might also set aside a corner for a nature table, which is a popular Steiner idea. Storytelling is something I need to work on, I love reading books but find telling stories much harder.

It’s been that kind of week

You know, the kind where nothing seems to go right (like sugar-free banana muffins that collapse as flat as pancakes when you take them out of the oven) and nothing seems to get done. Tabitha has been fussy all week so I’m exhausted and grumpy. She did have an excuse for the first few days as the poor girl had three teeth coming through at once. It feels like we’ve done nothing at all but in reality that’s not quite true.

At the beginning of the week Colin moved some furniture around in the study/schoolroom and we had a good clear out. We’ve been to homeschool meets, a birthday party and played outside in the sunshine. The children have wandered around the house naked, mainly because undressing herself is one of Tabitha’s newest accomplishments. We’ve read loads and loads of books. Aaron’s current favourite is “Fix-It Duck” and he knows it so well that he can fill in any words that I leave out. He’s also keen on the Gumdrop series and likes to re-read books to Tabitha after I’ve read them.

The only remotely creative thing I’ve done with the children was building a duplo house this afternoon. Aaron has been playing with it ever since. He made soup in the kitchen and then served it up at the table, complete with a warning that it was hot. He got one of the men to climb up the tree, he made the little girl go down the slide and he took the mummy and baby for a walk in the pushchair before putting the baby to bed because she was tired.

And here’s a few photos of my cutie pie, just because she makes me smile even on the bad days.

Counting objects

I just had a very proud mummy moment when Aaron picked up The Very Hungry Caterpillar from the bookshelf, sat down on the floor and read it to himself. When he got to the fruit pages he pointed at each one and counted them perfectly. “One apple. One, two pears. One, two, three plums. One, two, three, four strawberries. One, two, three, four, five oranges.” Although he’s been counting and naming numbers in order for ages, that’s the first time he’s managed to count so many objects without any mistakes at all.

How to build a cardboard castle – Part 2

This is what I ended up with after Part 1. Time to transform it into a proper castle!

First the castle got a couple of coats of dark grey paint to cover up all the writing on the boxes.

Then I mixed up a lighter grey and used a sponge to try and give a mottled stonework effect.

Next I used a very pale grey for the stonework at the edges of the walls and painted the drawbridge brown.

I was planning to add detailing with a black pen, but all the pens I tried just scraped the paint off. I ended up using black paint and a fine paintbrush instead.

I printed some flags onto card and stuck them into slits cut in the top of plastic straws. I was planning to use some wool to make two ropes for the drawbridge but haven’t got round to doing that yet.

A couple of playsilks became the moat and surrounding grass.

And here’s Aaron enjoying playing with the finished castle.


Nautical theme bedroom

This has absolutely nothing to do with home education but a while ago I shared how we made salt dough sea creatures for Aaron’s bedroom. I was asked to post photos when it was finished and finally got round to taking some.

The bedding and bunting were from eBay, the curtains were from Argos. I bought the round canvases from Wilkinsons and painted them (very badly) myself.

The life-ring came from a gift shop in Poole. We got the octopus towel from Boots ages ago.

And of course there’s the salt dough fish hanging in a toy net that my Grandma gave me a few years ago.

I might add a fishy lampshade, some seashells and a few beach shop knick-knacks at some point, but I’m fairly pleased with the overall effect. It’s the first time I’ve ever done (or had) a themed bedroom so it was quite exciting to see it gradually come together. My next project will be Tabitha’s room!

Tissue box toy

I’ve had this lovely idea from Anna bookmarked for a while. (Incidentally The Imagination Tree is one of my favourite sites and is full of wonderful ideas for small children. I highly recommend a visit!) When I first saw it I remembered how much fun Aaron used to have emptying packets of wipes and felt quite guilty that Tabitha never has the chance to do this because we use reusable wipes! So yesterday I got out my material bag and cut up about twenty different squares, which I put inside a tissue box along with the small playsilks. Tabitha had time for a quick play before bed.

I also figured out why my photos have been so blurred recently. The flash settings on my camera have been wrong ever since I got it back from repair. I wish I’d noticed sooner as it would have saved so many photos!

Dyeing playsilks with food colouring

Tacey over at The Good Enough Parent shared this very helpful post about Dyeing Playsilks. I’ve been wanting to buy some for a while so I thought I’d give this a try instead. I bought four 90 x 90 cm silk scarves and six silk handkerchiefs. The scarves were out of stock so the store lady kindly replaced them with 110 x 110 cm for the same price. All of that cost me about the same as one or two proper playsilks. I haven’t dyed the big ones yet as I need more vinegar, but here are some photos of the handkerchiefs. I’m planning something for Tabitha with these.

Unfortunately my dyeing session came to a premature end thanks to this.

I couldn’t get the cling film off one of the bowls so I stupidly took my oven gloves off. I was planning to just loosen the edge with my nails and then put the oven gloves back on to peel the cling film back, but the pressure had built up so much that the steam came whooshing downwards as soon as there was a tiny gap for it to escape. My index finger was burnt quite badly with some of the skin peeling slightly, while my middle finger fared a little better. After holding my fingers in cold water for two hours I went to bed with an ice pack strapped to my hand and crying like a baby. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must be to have severe burns all over your body. Fortunately it is feeling a lot better today. Now I just need to buy some more vinegar and dye the big silks for Aaron to play with.

How to build a cardboard castle – Part 1

Whilst browsing for ideas to use up my empty toilet rolls, I came across this. But although I was inspired, I wanted something a little more like the castle that my brother and I spent hours playing with at my grandparents’ house when we were younger. In the end I came up with something completely different and my toilet rolls are safe for another day!

castle 21 Cool Toilet Paper Roll Creations

To make the castle I used two empty veg boxes. They are usually returned to be reused but for various reasons we haven’t placed an order for a couple of weeks and so the boxes had been sitting around in our under-the-stairs cupboard. As one box wouldn’t have been tall enough for a castle, I decided to stick the second box upside down on top of the first box. This actually turned out really well because the rims along the top edges of each box became the battlements for play figures to walk along. If you don’t have boxes like these then you could use one taller box and make the battlements separately.

I cut the base out of the second box (it’s upside down in this picture).

Next I marked out where I wanted to cut, turning the corners of the box into towers.

I got a bit distracted by Tabitha whilst I was cutting this side and ended up cutting out the wrong set of squares!

Here is the second box after I’d finished cutting it. The bottom bit was once the top of the box and the top part was once the base.

Then I stuck the two boxes together at the rims and used pegs to hold it in place until the glue dried. You can see how I’ve cut the crenels and merlons (nope I didn’t know what they were called until I looked it up) correctly on the front wall but not on the back.

It’s nowhere near finished but I think it looks quite impressive already! Come back soon to see how we make the drawbridge and decorate the castle.