Reading around the net

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and have really appreciated some of the posts by Julie Brennan, the founder of the Living Math website.  She encapsulates some of what I’m thinking at the moment and also seems to have had children who are similar to Edward in terms of their orientation to language, rather than maths.  I’m copying two of her recent posts on the Living Math yahoo group here to remind me of these thoughts as I continue to mull these things over!

“I wanted to share something about the idea of “doing math.”  When my kids were in early elementary, I followed the Charlotte Mason idea of not pushing any more than 15-20minutes of *structured* math time daily, although if we were on a roll, we’d keep on going. But part of the reason I could be very comfortable with that was the realization that  we “did” a lot more math than that throughout the week and weekend, because reading math readers, playing games, and activities using math are just as valuable learning times as formal, sit-down math lessons. These activities are often even more efficient than formal lessons at this age. We spent many, many hours learning math this way in the evenings, weekends and summers beyond a typical “school” day. We would have as long as an hour and a half long math sessions at night sometimes, with them begging to keep going and me having to say no more because it was past bed time. I didn’t let the time we did the activity take away from the fact it was learning time.

Virtually all of us parents grew up in school where learning was compartmentalized. You learned at school, you played at home, and because we were “schooled” we often resisted learning at home after school, unless we were fortunate enough to have an inspiring school experience or parents who were able to inspire us even after a long school day.  It can be easy to retain this compartmentalized view of learning when we are homeschooling, and it sometimes takes work to shift our way of thinking and recognize just how much learning can be accomplished beyond the formal, sit-down lessons, particularly BECAUSE we are homeschooling and can provide our kids with lots of opportunities to do so, without burning them out with formal lessons to the point they resist learning any other time.

Homeschooling means we don’t have to compartmentalize, schedule or define learning times, and so our family “did math 7 days a week, as many times a day as we wanted to, without counting the minutes or the times, because I already knew we were well over the few hours a week that school kids might be spending, and even that would be in a classroom without the efficiency of one-on-one interaction.

So don’t downplay those times when you play games, when you skip count in the car in a game-like manner (most of my kids learned skip counting by us “skip” skip counting, I’d say 2, they’d say 4, I’d say 6 and so on, it was fun).  Those are as valuable and “countable” learning hours as the formal lessons.

Over time, I learned to use curricula as a tool, not a taskmaster, and to celebrate what I saw that they were learning, the progress, not worrying about all the benchmarks. They all did hit them in their own time, and not one of our kids was “behind” by late middle school, in fact the youngest is now taking algebra as an 8th grader and I thought she’d be the one to take the most time getting there based on her pace of learning in her earlier years. But when she was ready, wow, she took off. Again I reiterate, we did not avoid math, we didn’t “not” do math, but we were able to infuse our lives with many, many hours of math by weaving it in our daily lives through games, activities, oral math (which takes away the burden especially to boys of having to master the physical skill of writing at the same time they are trying to learn math concepts), and reading any time of the day, but especially at bed time. It’s amazing how much math you can cover on a Friday night when they know they can stay up longer if they keep asking for more stories. I wrote up some of our reading time math sessions a number of years ago here: and you can see just how much math is actually being covered when they don’t even perceive it as work or effort.”


“The difference I found was that at younger ages, two of my kids had a very strong drive to learn language-oriented things, and this is where they were willingly challenging themselves. I could have tried to challenge them with more math at the expense of their self-motivated language learning activities, and in fact I tried with my oldest, but it was a failure in the elementary years. I needed to find ways for these kids to learn math that could “hook” on their current drive to learn language and their need for context, which is why we went the way of lots of math literature, math history, games and lots of “talking math” problem solving, etc.

For both of these kids, their arithmetic development was behind their language development all during their elementary years, until about 7th to 8th grade when it radically caught up to their language development. I said arithmetic, because they did learn a lot of math in those years, it was just off the beaten traditional path. Both now are very good at math and enjoy it intrinsically, willingly learn it, even my 21 year old who just does math for fun.

I cannot tell how much of their faster language development / slower math development had to do with their internal drive and motivation, and how much of it was natural aptitude. It had to be a combination of both. But as they grew and matured, their overall capacity to learn more complex things grew, and their drive and motivation to learn increased. It was kind of like how young kids may not like a certain food even though it is frequently on the family table, and then suddenly they begin to start eating it, their “palate” expands. In the research she cites with the London cab drivers and the bus drivers, there is a huge difference to childhood math learning – the cab drivers CHOSE to learn the complex routes to achieve a personal goal. In the case of compulsory childhood mathematics education, the choice factor and personal goals are missing, so the motivation has to be supplied in some other way. A really great teacher can motivate a lot of students to learn something they might otherwise have not wanted to learn, but even then, a student who does not want to learn simply won’t.”

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Primary Proms

We had a trip down to London last Thursday to see the Primary Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.  The children and I went down in the morning so we could fit it a quick visit to the Natural History Museum before the concert.  My lovely hubbie had offered to spend the day working at Oak Hill library so he could drive us to Cockfosters and we would only have a tube trip, rather than a train trip on top of that.  We haven’t been to London for a long time so the older three were very excited about going on the tube.

Edward practising to be a commuter, reading the Metro!

Edward practising to be a commuter, reading the Metro!

Once we’d arrived in central London and navigated multiple flights of stairs with the pushchair, we only had 45 minutes in the museum but that gave us time to walk through the dinosaur gallery and see the huge, model T-Rex.  Lydia was scared of it and wanted me to carry her past: it reminded me of the last time we visited that museum, when Isaac must have been a similar age and was also frightened of it.

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We ate our sandwiches as we walked to the concert hall and arrived to a very pleasant surprise: we had a box all to ourselves and could even take the pushchair in with us.  We had a wonderful view of the stage and the magnitude of the hall and Carys could wander around to her hearts content without me worrying about disturbing anyone else!

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The music itself was an eclectic mix of pop choir, big band, classical, brass band and a wonderful percussion group.  There was lots of audience participation, which made it fun for the children, although it was rather loud at times (imagine several thousand schoolchildren shouting and screaming!).  We had a great time and definitely hope to go again next year.


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Positives and Negatives

There has been lots of learning in the past few days – about myself and the children!  First for what we’ve done.  On Tuesday,

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Later on, Isaac asked for the recycling box and he and Lydia

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Day 1

Day 1 of ‘the great experiment’ and we’ve survived 😉  Looking back on the day this evening, there has been much to encourage.  As I thought, Isaac is ideal material for this sort of approach: he literally buzzes with ideas all day long!  This morning, he came to me with a book called How Things Work, wanting to make something from it.  While it is a wonderful book, the contraptions in it all require quite complex materials (the one he wanted to make needed rubber tubing, which we don’t have to hand).  In response, I gave him another book called Explore Simple Machines to see if that would spark his interest (I bought this a while ago with the intention of using it with him but haven’t due to time).

Happily, he was immediately taken with it and spotted a picture of a shaduf (we read about this last week in The Story of the World) in the levers chapter.  Although this wasn’t actually one of the projects in the book, it looked doable so we spent an hour in the garden making one.  Edward and Lydia both got involved in finding the sticks and Isaac was so excited – it was really lovely.

Lydia went inside and got an empty wet toilet wipes container, filled it with water and brought it out for one of her favourite activities – cleaning!  She loves doing this at the moment, so brought a wipe and started cleaning the car.  Once Isaac had played with his shaduf for a while, he wanted a wipe container too.  I found an old tablet container in the recycling box so he joined in cleaning the car.

Over lunch, we listened to a CD of Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Hansel and Gretel) then I read more of Little House in the Big Woods.  While the younger ones had their naps, Edward and I played with a wooden labyrinth maze game.

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A Sea Change?

Sometimes I think that the record of our home education journey will show a rather indecisive, fumbling attempt to give our children an education :-S  I started this academic year planning to take a more serious approach to formal academics.  Well, four weeks in and this week, Andrew and I have come to the decision that a sea change may be in order.

Behaviour has been an issue in our home for the past weeks – including mine!  Tempers are frayed, bickering is the order of the day and there is not much in the way of fun and laughter.  This isn’t the home we want for the children.  Of course, as Christians, we believe that there are heart issues at the root of all these things.  However, on a more superficial level, we’ve come to the conclusion that our (well, mostly my) approach to home education is not helping.  My lofty designs for a rigorous academic approach is meaning that we’re spending a lot of time indoors, I’m becoming impatient if we don’t cover the ground I’d planned and as Andrew said, life in our house is beginning to resemble an army camp!

I spent a lot of time pondering these things – and praying – last week and have come to several conclusions.  First, that my penchant for planning is in danger of becoming an end in itself.  My desire when we first started to think about HE was a personalised approach, a fit for each child rather than a ‘one size fits all’ model.  However, I find myself meticulously typing out my plans for Edward so they are there for Isaac (and Lydia and Carys) when his time comes.  In the end, heading towards exactly the kind of model I always wanted to avoid.  Second, that my plans for the children are not only over-optimistic (in terms of what we can fit in) but are too much centred around what I think would be a good thing to do.  I have tried to work around their interests in some ways, particularly Edward’s (remembering our manhole and road sign projects) but as the workload increases, I’ve being more and more led by my own ideas, which needless to say, are strongly influenced by the fact that I, myself, was schooled.  Although we’re not at this point (yet), I can see us heading down the ‘replicating school at home’ model, which is not what we wanted to do.  I can see resistance in the boys particularly and this is far from the love of learning that we want to foster in them.  Thirdly – and most importantly – we believe that relationship is more important than curriculum content but that is not reflected in our home at the moment.  We’re not fostering good relationships in our home.  If the children grow up with good academic qualifications but not following God or with healthy relationships with us and each other, that, to us, will be an epic fail.

So, in true-to-form, fairly extreme style, we’ve decided to abandon most of the plans I made at the beginning of the academic year!  I feel that HE is an art and a craft.  I’ve become pretty good at the craft of it but I think that the art of HE eludes me for now: the art of understanding your child and tailoring how you approach their education accordingly (I think I understand the boys but tend to fight against the parts of them that don’t fit in with the educational model we’re using), the art of creating an atmosphere of learning that is encouraging, exciting and person-building, the art of meshing all this with family life and the myriad other parts of running a household.  So the next few weeks are going to be an experiment in getting back to our original vision.  That vision was formed when we had a 3 year old and a 1 year old.  How we do it with four children of 7, 5, 3 and 1 will look different but the essential vision remains the same.

We’ve both been reading about autonomous education or unschooling.  We’ve known about it as a concept since the beginning of our HE journey, although only as one of those rather nebulous ideas that you can’t quite grasp and aren’t inclined at the time to look into in more detail!  I’d always written it off as an approach for us because of my love of schedules and planning and also because it does seem like an even bigger leap in the dark than HEing in the first place.  We’re not fully convinced that this is the way for us to go forward but I suppose this is what the experiment of the next few weeks will look most like.  This will be a major step out of the comfort zone for me but one thing I’m convinced about is that as their mummy, my job is – with Andrew – find the best way for us to give our four precious charges the childhood and education they deserve.

I hope that we and our children look back on this and interpret it as a healthy willingness to make a change when one was needed, instead of staying with the safe and habitual!  I’ll be keeping a journal of sorts about what we’re doing each day so this may also herald more regular posting on this blog (wonders never cease!).

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Our week: 22nd – 28th September

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Our week 15-21 September

We’ve all been ill this week with coughs and colds so school has been a half-hearted affair :-(.  At the beginning of the week, before we all fell ill, we spent a day with some home-educating friends, Caroline, Toby and Zachary.  We went to Wimpole Hall and had a lovely walk around the walled garden, which in the sun still gave a glimpse of summer amidst all the wet and windy weather we’ve had recently.


We read ’10 Black Dots’ this week.

Ten Black Dots

This is a simple book, aimed more at Isaac and Lydia than Edward but we all enjoyed the activity together.  We read the book then attempted to recreate our own with some dot stickers (red and blue, not black!).  Edward did this with me two years ago and this time, wanted to make his own book alone.  What he produced – entitled ’10 Red Dots’ was excellent.  He thought of some fantastic ideas – 8 red dots as cones on a busy road, 9 red dots as balls juggled by a clown.

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