When we started homeschooling seven years ago, the only other homeschoolers I knew lived five thousand miles away.
My instinct told me that public school was the wrong environment for my son, who at four years old was already known as ‘the naughtiest boy in the class’. And my intense daughter (six), clearly needed more downtime than her busy schedule could provide.
I knew nothing of my son’s twice-exceptionality or my bright daughter’s intensity. Even after we met other local homeschoolers, I felt out of my depth and wondered what I was doing wrong.
To add to my stress, my kids’ grandparents were vehemently anti-homeschooling. Even my husband thought I was crazy. I was anxious and second-guessed myself at every turn.
Here are 8 things I wish I’d known when we started homeschooling …
I first met My Little Poppies blogger and podcaster Cait through the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. Her children are a bit younger than mine, but we have very similar homeschooling styles and her blog is wonderfully relatable and inspiring.
I’ve also used Cait’s comprehensive book and game review lists many times when buying gifts for young friends and relations.
Spoiler: the reasons are anxiety, boredom, and a clash in learning styles – all of which can strike any homeschooling family, even those who don’t have intensity and sensitivity. Again, I’d love you to head over and read my tips. 🙂
* * *
Finally, my post about what my grade 6 son is learning this year is very nearly done – watch this space!
What all my heroes had in common was that they were each, in their own ways, out there making a difference in the world. They didn’t wait until they had a perfect product before they put themselves out there. They knew that, if they waited, their ideas might never see the light of day.
‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there but it won’t be pretty along the way, and that’s as it should be.’
Sue Elvis – now a friend, I’m happy to say – continues to inspire me in the way she’s never afraid to publicly try new things. When I woke up yesterday morning to a new video Sue had made I thought, ‘Why not make a video of my own?’ So here it is – my first Navigating By Joy video!
My non-pretty video about our unschooling day
I recorded my video at the end of a lovely day with Cordie and Jasper. I didn’t do anything special to prepare. The little bit of make-up I’d put on in the morning had disappeared with the tears of laughter I’d cried during the day. But . . . ‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect…’!
In the video I talk about our day and the different ways my children learn.
Cordie showed me how to trim the ends of the film, but other than that it’s unedited.
Would you be kind enough to watch and let me know what you think? (Kind feedback appreciated!)
Perhaps I could make a short video every now and then, sharing what we’re doing. I could record the audio separately as a podcast for people who prefer to listen as they get on with other things. What do you think?
Here are links to the resources I mention in the video. Let me know if I’ve missed anything. 🙂
Have you ever wondered why there are so few blogs about homeschooling older children? I used to. Then my kids became tweens.
We’re still unschoolers, but the hands-on activities that used to make up our day are gradually being replaced by independent projects, reading and outside classes. And photos of tweens reading, watching YouTube or even quietly crafting aren’t quite the same as cute pics of little ones doing colourful science experiments and messy art projects.
Our homeschooling is just as much fun, but these days the enjoyment lies more in the conversations we have, the puzzles we ponder and the jokes we share.
Looking back over the first six years of homeschooling
Back in the anxious, early days when we started homeschooling I used to wonder how I’d cope with the pressure when my kids reached senior-school age (11, here in the UK). But now with one child near the end of her first senior-school year and the other just turned 11, I feel calmer and more confident than ever.
One of the reasons I feel so relaxed is that having spent the last six years alongside my children, I know them pretty well. I know how they learn, what interests them, what their quirks are and what inspires them. Of course Cordie and Jasper are still changing – now more than ever, perhaps – but thanks to our time together I have a much better understanding of who they are and how I can support them.
Time’s also given me perspective. Over each year that I’ve watched these two young people blossom, my faith in unschooling and in their ability to learn what they need grows stronger.
As homeschoolers we’ve always forged our own path. Whenever I’ve had a wobble and tried to steer us in a more schooly direction, my kids have made it clear they were having none of it. Like when they refused to follow any maths curriculum – which led us down the living maths route, something I’m truly appreciative of (at least in hindsight!).
Looking ahead to the teen years
Now we’re looking ahead to the teen years and exams, I’m so thankful for how we’ve done things.
All those ‘random’ science experiments really did both spark an interest in science and give my kids a solid grounding in chemistry and physics.
Living maths prepared them better than I could even have imagined for taking on trigonometry, algebra and geometry.
And I recently realised that the reason it’s taken us five years to read three volumes of The Story of the World is because these days I can barely read a sentence without stimulating an intense debate about how such-and-such leader is repeating the mistakes of so-and-so who came before him, or how the Napoleonic Empire relates to the UK’s forthcoming referendum on whether to stay in Europe!
Last year was a huge turning point for me. I discovered that my son is twice-exceptional and that both my kids and I have the innate personality traits known as overexcitabilities, which explains why we’ve always found ourselves at the fringes of homeschooling communities. After years of feeling isolated I found my tribe and launched a new blog to help others find theirs, too.
Now, equipped with even better information about who my children are and how I can support their learning, I’m looking forward to the next stage of our us-schooling adventure.
What’s next on Navigating By Joy
Launching Laugh, Love, Learn has taken most of my blogging energy so far this year, but now it’s up and running I’d like to check back in here more regularly.
I’m so appreciative of the bloggers who continue to write about their teens’ learning. I may not be as creative and organised as my friends Sue and Claire but if I can even inspire one person to trust their instincts and keep on home-educating their kids in the way that feels right to them, it will be worth it!
Here are a few ideas for what I could write about:
How living maths has worked out for us
How Jasper (11) has taught himself to read, write and spell
Cordie’s (12) passion for linguistics
How Jasper’s learning chemistry
How we’ve been learning foreign languages
Our unschooling routine
What each of my children is learning about
My kids’ goals and dreams
What would you be interesting in reading about? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
A few weeks ago I was chatting with a young friend who was about to start senior school. “I’m excited, and a bit nervous too,” admitted Lily.
“And how are you feeling about not starting senior school, Cordie?” Lily’s mother asked C(11).
C(11) considered for a moment, then replied with a smile, “I’m feeling very not nervous.”
People have often asked how long we plan to continue home-educating. Many assumed we’d stop at the end of junior school (age 11), or before GCSE’s (age 14). While I’m hoping to support my children learning at home until they’re at least 16, I would never stop them from going to school if they wanted to.
Daniel, one of C(11)’s old school friends has chosen to go away to boarding school. His mother was telling me how excited he was about the prospect of spending so much time with his friends doing fun activities. “I bet Cordie would love it, too,” she added.
My husband’s parents generously contribute to all their grandchildren’s education, so boarding school wouldn’t be out of the question if either of our children ever wanted to go. I mentioned Daniel’s excitement to my extroverted, energetic daughter.
“Do you think you would like to go to a school like that?”
“It sounds amazing,” replied C(11). Then she sighed contentedly and added, “But I could never give up all this.”
I used to think that as a home-educating parent I’d feel the pressure rise when my children reached senior school age. Towards the end of the last summer holidays I kept expecting to suddenly wake up one morning thinking “Holy cow! Cordie’s going to be in big school! We’d better get serious!”
But that didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself thinking about how much C(11) had learned by herself all summer long. I reflected on the thought-provoking conversations I have with her and J(10), during which I find myself wondering where they got their huge vocabularies and ability to express themselves. I marvel at their enormous zest for life, their self-confidence, the self-set goals they eagerly work towards. And I feel so thankful we’ve found our unschooling groove.
I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschooler’s Weekly Wrap-Up.
I knew the author and I were going to get along when I read this description of his natural style of work:
“Flaky, ideas-based, more comfortable at the strategic level than the ‘doing’ level, allergic to detail, instinctive, crazy-making and ridiculously unrealistic about what’s achievable in a given time period.”
(Naturally organised people don’t need productivity systems.)
What a productivity ninja looks like
Here’s the fantasy future-me I was imagining about after I’d zipped through the opening chapters:
– I glide through my days with Zen-like calm and clarity
– I am mindful of my energy and attention levels and use them wisely
– I can focus with serene efficiency because I find it easy to stay either in boss mode or worker mode at any given time
– because I always know the most important things I want to do, I enjoy a sense of completion each day when I’ve achieved them
– I reach Inbox Zero at least once a day. (I’ve missed several payment deadlines recently because of an email inbox that ran to many screens, so this one was very appealing.)
How to become a productivity ninja
The backbone of the productivity ninja system is your list of projects and your master task list.
A project is any ‘to do’ item that requires more than one physical action (task) to achieve. If you’re not able to commit to doing at least one task on a project in the near future, you need to either scrap the project or move it to your good ideas list.
Once a week, wearing your boss hat, you review your list of projects. This means that when you’re in worker (doing) mode, you need only refer to your master task list, which will show you with ninja-clarity what you need to do – you don’t get distracted by having to do any high-level thinking about what the next step is.
Example: I’m in the process of making various photo products – a wall calendar, desk calendar and various Christmas albums as gifts for family members. I tend to procrastinate about working on my photos, mainly because I can never remember where I left each project. Have I put my selected pictures into an iPhoto album yet? Do I need to edit any photos? Have I uploaded them to PhotoBox? But by spending a few minutes once a week noting exactly what needs doing on each photo product, when I have a spare moment I can go straight to my computer and get editing, sorting or uploading.
How can being a productivity ninja make you a more relaxed homeschooler?
You’re probably wondering how all this ninja talk relates to relaxed homeschooling.
Thanks to the ninja-productivity process, my master task list contains every homeschool-related activity I want to do, as well as all my other upcoming responsibilities and hobby-related goals.
I have sub-lists of the activities I need to do with my children – buddy maths, writing games and science experiments, for example – and what I can do without them, like research, planning, or setting up an experiment. I can also see what non-homeschooling activities or jobs I want to get done that day.
I use Toodledo to sort these lists because I find automated lists thrilling (it’s a geek thing), but you could just as easily use a pen and paper.
The reason the productivity ninja system is such a powerful tool for child-led homeschooling is that I’m not dependent on getting anything specific done with my kids in order to feel a sense of completion.
Thanks to my master task list, I find it much easier to respect how my children choose to spend their time and resist pressuring them into fulfilling my agenda. My daily list might include ‘do copywork with J, do buddy maths with C, read aloud from Waves’ – but my kids get to choose which, if any, of those activities get done.
So if C(11) wakes up inspired to take photos for her Arts Award project or record herself singing, or J(9) wants to spend the morning making a stop-motion animation film, I can save my ideas for another time. Meanwhile I can easily see from my daily checklist how I can make best use my time without that child or alone.
Thanks to my master task list, even on rare days when both my kids want to spend the whole day doing their own thing, I still end the day with a sense of achievement because I know I’ve spent my time doing tasks which take me closer to my goals.
And if the children invite me to join them on one of their projects or in a game, I can shuffle my list with ninja-like flexibility and go and play.
*This post contains affiliate links but I bought my own copy of the book and wrote this because when I love something I want to share it with all my friends and my husband says he’s heard enough Productivity Ninja talk for now thank you very much. 🙂
I was going to write about our family’s approach to screen time last week. I must have been writing further outside my comfort zone than I realised, because I kept procrastinating and – well – here I am ten days later with a post about some other fun stuff we’ve been doing recently. Quantum physics, computer art and an old favourite, slime.
C(10) had a friend to sleep over on Thursday. I find weekday playdates a great excuse to try fun projects we’ve been meaning to get around to. This week we made slime with borax, using Sci-Toys’ fun with boron recipe. Everyone found it very cool to see their slime instantly coagulate when they added borax solution to their glue.
The older kids looked at the structure of the borax molecule and we talked about polymer cross-linking. Our slime didn’t turn out like the shop-bought kind. It wasn’t as stretchy and snapped more easily. We’ll have to experiment some more. 😉
Do you know a good slime recipe? What makes for stretchier slime? I’m hoping one of these polymer recipes will work.
While making their slime, my kids reminisced about the many times they’ve mixed cornflour and water. C(10)’s friend had never made cornflour gak, so while I cleared away the borax mess, they made a bowlful each which they happily played with for ages.
J(8) asked to learn about quantum physics this term, which led us to the Uncle Albert trilogy. In the first of these entertaining chapter books Uncle Albert and his niece Gedanken discover the theory of relativity. The second book is about black holes and the shape of the Universe. And in the third book, Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest, Gedanken finds herself in (Lewis Carroll’s) Wonderland, where she becomes small enough to examine close up the behaviour of electrons, photons and other tiny atomic components.
All three of us enjoyed the Uncle Albert books immensely. We now know a great deal more than we did about the science of the very big and the very small. We had fun testing our knowledge in the quizzes weaved into the end of each story.
On busy days when we have to leave the house at, say, 10AM, it’s easy to round everyone up for a few chapters of a good book (compared with, say, an open-ended maths session). Which makes for efficient use of time (and better maths later in the day, with a relaxed mum who isn’t watching the clock). (How do people manage to get everyone out of the house for school by 8AM?)
C(10) has spent many hours over the last few weeks creating art on the computer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my all-rounder daughter so passionate about one thing. She’s inspired by Canadian (homeschooled) artist Fin, whose FinsGraphics YouTube channel she’s been following for a long time.
Like Fin, C(10) likes to create Minecraft-style “blockhead” art. Fin uses Photoshop, but C(10) has found she can do most of what he does using the free GIMP software instead.
Watching C(10) learn how to use GIMP has been interesting. The complex interface frustrated her at first. So I grabbed a computer and sat down alongside her, and we figured it out as we went along.
When C(10) saw me researching my queries I think she realised that (1) you need a bit more than intuition to use this kind of software, but (2) all the information you need is out there if you know how to look for it. Good learning.
Here’s the picture I made on that first day we messed around together. I’m not at all artistic so I’m rather pleased with it as a first attempt, but you can see how unpolished it is compared with C(10)’s – that’s all the manual work-arounds I had to resort to because I don’t know my way around GIMP.
As well as leaving me behind on GIMP, C(10) has been using social media to share her creations with her global artist network in a way that has left me feeling rather technologically backward. Oh well, at least I know where to go for help.
C(10) wants to “explore the laws of physics. Like, what makes vacuum cleaners work? How do aeroplanes and helicopters fly? What charges up batteries?”
I’ll be learning this alongside the kids here. I enjoyed physics it at school but didn’t study it for long. When I was 13 I missed a term of school because of a road accident and had to drop a subject (physics). The time has come to catch up on what I missed!
J(8) threw in, “And I want to learn about quantum physics.”
“Sure!” I replied brightly, wondering where on Earth I’d find resources to teach quantum physics to an 8-year-old (or a 43-year-old).
I needn’t have worried – the scientists have it covered. Just look at this Minecraft Mod, designed to teach kids about quantum physics. And YouTube has dozens of videos on the subject. (The kids may be teaching me some science this term.)
History (with a bit of English and science overlap)
C(10) and I will continue with our chronological study of world history (we’re two-thirds through The Story of the World volume 2). We’re especially looking forward to learning about the Elizabethan period and Shakespeare.
We’ll visit the Royal Museums Greenwich to complement our SOTW study of the early explorers. The children are looking forward to standing astride the Prime Meridian, with one foot in the Earth’s Western Hemisphere and one in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Many homeschooling parents follow the school system and grade their children’s work. Perhaps they think it will make their kids accountable, motivate them to improve, or get them ready for public exams later down the line.
But many research studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of giving children grades. Their results show that far from encouraging kids, they may be doing the opposite.
1. Grades decrease learning enjoyment
Studies show that when children are focused on getting a good grade, they engage less deeply in what they are doing. Even really fun projects are less enjoyable when the prospect of being graded hangs over the student.
Grades tell children that extrinsic rewards are more important than the intrinsic value of learning itself.
Over the course of their childhoods, kids internalise this message – until finally they’re ready to take their places among the overpopulated ranks of deeply unfulfilled adults in “successful” careers.
2. Graded students choose the easiest assignments
When grades are given, the implicit message is that they are more important than learning.
When children are told that grades will be awarded for their work, and are then given a choice between an easy task and a more challenging one, almost all will take the easier option. Why choose the opportunity to learn new skills over the chance to “be successful”, when the grade is what counts?
In contrast, when there is no prospect of the task being graded, children will often choose the project they can learn most from, even if it is the most difficult.
3. Grades discourage deep and critical thinking
Children who know their work is being graded will inevitably focus on getting inside the grader’s head as they carry out the task, instead of bringing their own valuable, unique perspective to what they are learning. Why waste time engaging with material on their own terms when what counts is what the teacher/examiner looking for?
Books are skimmed and memory techniques are employed as students take the shortest possible route towards the highest grade. Thinking is shallow and superficial – not deep, critical or lateral.
What’s the point in taking time to explore the connections between the current topic and what was learned last month, when your efforts won’t be rewarded in the all-important grade?
People with a fixed mindset believe that talents and abilities are set and cannot be changed by effort. Failure is a sign of not being good enough.
On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that effort and practise help them improve. Mistakes are a natural part of learning – an opportunity to grow.
Dweck gives dozens of examples in Mindset of how a growth mindset contributes to happier, more successful living.
What’s mindset got to do with grades? Giving grades for achievement, good or bad, contributes to a fixed mindset. People tend to use grades to label themselves. Good grades mean students are less likely to opt for challenging learning adventures in the future – why risk slipping off the pedestal? And if you get a bad grade, it means you’re no good – so what’s the point in trying?
The good news is that mindsets can be changed – my kids have already begun to change theirs just by listening to parts of the book (which I highly recommend for all home-educating mums).
As for grades – if they must be given, much better that they be awarded for effort. (Though can anyone other than the student really know how much effort went into a piece of work?)
Better still, instead of a letter to label themselves with, offer respectful, authentic feedback that helps kids along their learning journeys.
For more views on giving kids grades from experienced homeschooling mums, head over to: